Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman arrived at Estadio das Dunas in Brazil wearing a Graham Zusi jersey. The Sporting Kansas City part-owner hoped one of his club’s two players — Zusi or Matt Besler — would play a role in a United States national team victory against Ghana.
He got a little more than he bargained for.
Zusi supplied the assist on John Brooks’ game-winning goal in the 86th minute of the Americans’ 2-1 victory Monday at the World Cup in Natal, Brazil.
That was the good news.
The bad? Besler subbed out of the match at halftime because of tightness in his hamstring.
“I can’t say I’ve ever lost my breath that many times in a match, whether it was a goal being scored, Besler coming up injured or ‘Zeus’ delivering the game-winning pass,” Heineman said. “It was really surreal for Mike (Illig) and I to be here.”
Besler started the match, but Zusi came off the bench in the 77th minute, subbing in for Alejandro Bedoya. Less than 10 minutes later, Zusi hooked a corner kick into the middle of the box, which Brooks headed home for the game-winning score.
Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said Zusi’s initial positive impact came long before the goal.
“He settled the game down for the U.S. He was really good,” Vermes said. “And it was a perfectly-hit corner. He just put in in a great place, which is always dangerous against any team.”
The go-ahead goal came with Besler out of the game.
He came up lame after a slide tackle late in the first half, though he remained in the game until halftime. U.S. Soccer announced his removal as precautionary.
“He seemed like he was able to run, so it seemed more like a tweak than a pull, but he probably did the right thing coming off,” Vermes said.
The Americans held a 1-0 lead when Besler sustained the injury. The advantage came on a first-minute score from Clint Dempsey — much to the delight of the more than 10,000 fans who joined a watch party at the Power & Light District in downtown Kansas City.
Sporting KC striker Dom Dwyer and winger Soony Saad were among those in attendance, along with former Sporting KC forward Kei Kamara.
Dwyer praised Dempsey’s footwork on the first goal.
“He had three class touches,” Dwyer said. “It was just a class goal from Dempsey.”
The U.S. also saw forward Jozy Altidore leave the match in the first half because of a strained left hamstring. He immediately called for the training staff after falling to the ground. He was diagnosed with a strained left hamstring.
Aron Johannsson subbed into the match for Altidore — a spot that may have been reserved for Landon Donovan had he been included on the World Cup roster. But Donovan was surprisingly one of the final seven cuts.
“There’s no doubt Landon Donovan was missed today,” Vermes said. “To have been able to bring Landon in today would have been fantastic. He would have excelled in that environment.”
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