NATAL, Brazil - They lost one striker to a hamstring injury and another had his nose bloodied.
They gave up an excruciating tying goal with eight minutes remaining.
But there was no way of keeping the United States down Monday night.
The Americans exorcised ghosts of World Cups past with a dramatic 2-1 triumph over Ghana in the Group G opener for both teams at Arena das Dunas.
John Brooks, one of coach Jurgen Klinsmann's five German recruits and a halftime substitute, headed home Graham Zusi's corner kick in the 86th minute to give the USA a fighting chance to reach the round of 16 with three points for the victory. Clint Dempsey had opened the scoring for the U.S. only 29 seconds into the game.
"It's a great moment for me," said Brooks, who scored his first international goal. "Unbelievable. I had a dream [two days ago]. I told some teammates I dreamed I scored in the 80th minute and we win the game. And now it was the 86th minute and we won."
With the likes of Portugal and Germany looming, the Americans desperately needed a victory in their first game to have any chance of advancing. They also avenged their last two World Cup exits, as Ghana eliminated the Americans in 2006 and 2010.
The Americans will face Portugal in Manaus on Sunday and Germany on June 26. Germany rolled over the Portuguese, 4-0, earlier Monday.
"We just have to grind it out and push and push," Klinsmann said. "We have some great spirit."
Added Dempsey, the captain: "Everybody played their hearts out."
The win may have come at great cost. Jozy Altidore went down with a strained left hamstring in the 18th minute and center back Matt Besler was forced to leave the game at halftime with a right hamstring injury.
Dempsey, who became the first USA forward to score in each of three World Cups, was knocked out of the game for two minutes with what likely is a broken nose. He said he went "as long as I could. I had trouble breathing. I coughed up blood."
Vice President Joe Biden joined 39,760 spectators -- there reportedly were 20,000 USA fans -- to watch an entertaining and physical match.
Only 29 seconds after kickoff, Dempsey gave the loud American fans something to cheer about.
DaMarcus Beasley started the scoring sequence with a throw-in to Dempsey, who returned the ball to the left back. Beasley passed to Jermaine Jones, who sent the ball to Dempsey, who faked out defender John Boye in the penalty area and launched a left-footed shot from seven yards that bounded off the far right post past goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey.
It was the quickest USA World Cup goal in history and the fifth-quickest goal in Cup history.
Ghana just about laid siege to the U.S. goal for most of the second half and tied it in the 82nd minute on Andre Ayes' pretty shot past goalkeeper Tim Howard near the left post.
"I was still convinced we were going to win the game after the equalizer," Klinsmann said. "I thought another two or three opportunities would come."
He was right. Only four minutes later, Brooks found a seam in the Ghana corner kick defense and headed a one-bouncer home. Brooks is the first substitute to score for the U.S. in 30 World Cup games.
After scoring, Brooks lay flat on the field for nearly two minutes. "I thanked God for the great moment," he said. "I couldn't believe it."