Dom Dwyer enjoys dream debut as U.S. beats Ghana in Gold Cup warm-up
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- The U.S. men's national team defeated Ghana 2-1 in an international friendly on Saturday. Goals from Dom Dwyer and Kellyn Acosta put the U.S. up 2-0 only for Asamoah Gyan to pull a goal back on the hour with a stellar free kick. But the U.S. was able to see the game out for yet another 2-1 result between the two teams, but one that gives the Americans some momentum heading into the start of the Gold Cup next week.
Here are three thoughts on the match.
1. Dwyer, Guzan, Acosta have days to remember
English-born Dwyer had to wait a long time to get his U.S. citizenship. He first came to the U.S. from England back in 2009 to attend junior college. Not even his marriage to U.S. women's national teamer Sydney Leroux was able to speed up the process. Dwyer finally received his U.S. citizenship back in March, and it proved to be worth the wait. He latched onto a deflected shot in the 19th minute of his U.S. national team debut Saturday and pounded his volley past Ghana goalkeeper Richard Ofori, delivering his trademark back-flip in celebration.
Dwyer became the 48th U.S. player to score on his debut and the first U.S. player to accomplish the feat since Paul Arriola did it in a friendly against Puerto Rico on May 22, 2016. Dwyer and Leroux are the second husband-and-wife team to score in U.S. national team history. Claudio Reyna and his wife, Danielle Egan Reyna, were the first, though Dwyer and Leroux were the first to score after they were married.
To be fair, Dwyer probably should have scored more than once. Kelyn Rowe played him into the box in the 17th minute, but the Sporting KC striker was unable to get a shot off. Dwyer had some ragged moments, struggling at times to link passes with his teammates. But overall he was solid in terms of his holdup play, and his mobility did plenty to stretch Ghana's defense -- he drew one heavy foul from Ofori that earned the Ghana goalkeeper a yellow card -- while also applying some defensive pressure of his own. One steal of Dwyer's early in the second half set up a good chance for Rowe.
It proved to be an excellent day for Brad Guzan, as well. The U.S. goalkeeper did exceptionally well to save Asamoah Gyan's penalty in first-half stoppage time, diving to his left to touch the ball around the post. Guzan otherwise commanded his box well in the face of a steady diet of crosses by the visitors. Guzan was beaten in the 60th thanks to Gyan's free kick, but that was down more to the quality of Gyan's strike than Guzan's positioning.
Acosta took a bit longer to grow into the game, as his passes didn't always find their intended target. His set-piece deliveries left plenty to be desired, too, but he got stronger as the match went on and gave the U.S. some valuable breathing room in 52nd minute, bending his free kick around the wall and leaving Ofori flat-footed for his first international goal. His ability to cover ground also helped stifle plenty of Ghanaian counterattacks in a positive win for the hosts.
2. Differing fortunes for other fringe players
Among the other winners on the day were midfielders Joe Corona and Dax McCarty. Corona brought some needed composure to the U.S. midfield and created a chance for Dwyer in the 14th minute. McCarty was the picture of efficiency, linking passes in midfield and doing his bit to clog the middle.
However, there were up and down moments for some other U.S. performers. Rowe had some bright moments with his clever touches, helping to spark some dangerous U.S. attacks, but was at times wasteful with some passes in a mixed-bag performance. Jorge Villafana was involved in the buildup to Dwyer's goal but was also whistled for the penalty that Guzan saved, as well as the foul that led to Gyan's goal.
Paul Arriola endured a difficult day, struggling to make much of an impact in the attack as his passing was off.
Among the defenders, Matt Besler did the most to impress, putting out plenty of fires with some timely interceptions and clearances. Graham Zusi held up decently, as well, and was sharp with his distribution. Matt Hedges was a bit inconsistent, though he was given no favors from referee Ismael Cornejo, who seemed to have it in for the U.S. center back.
3. U.S. gets what it needed
The Gold Cup comes at an awkward time for the team's non-MLS players. Most have been off for over a month, and getting back to full fitness can take time. Ghana is also an opponent that is far superior to the Americans' group stage opponents this coming month, and for that reason, the match proved to be a useful exercise. Manager Bruce Arena collected some useful data points, in particular on some players who have scant international experience.
To be clear, there are always areas of improvement. The U.S. team's game management is in need of sharpening, with Ghana having a little bit too much attacking space for comfort as the second half wore on. That will likely improve in time as the team's overall fitness level and familiarity with international play improves. All told, Arena got exactly what he wanted out of the match, and the fact that the U.S. won will provide confidence, as well.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.