Friday, May 27 had to have been one of Jonathan Mensah’s toughest days out on the football field and that is saying a lot for a 26-year-old who has played in two World Cups, five Africa Cup of Nations as well as in Italy, Spain, France and Russia.
Mensah was part of a Columbus Crew team that was mauled 5-0 by Toronto FC with his personal performance the subject of intense scrutiny.
The Ghana international had a hard time dealing with Tostaint Ricketts, fouling him for the penalty that resulted in the opening goal before going on to have an evening to forget.
It prolonged what has been a tough introduction to Major League Soccer for Mensah, the highest-earning Ghanaian in the league, but over the next week he is hoping to show soccer fans in America that there is a lot more to him than the defender they have seen who gets turned and beaten for pace.
Mensah is part of the Ghana side that will play two internationals in Houston and Connecticut against Mexico and the United States respectively. The game against the States will be familiar to him too in what is an emerging soccer rivalry.
It will be the fourth meeting between Ghana and the United States and the first outside the World Cup. In three games in that competition, Ghana have won two and lost one. Mensah started and finished both macthes and says there is a growing sense of rivalry developing between the two nations.
‘It is a rivalry that is building up’, Mensah tells KwesÃ©ESPN. ‘The games have been intense and there is a proper knockout feeling to the one I have played in, as if you were playing in the semi-finals of a cup competition,’ he adds.
Mensah speaks of how before a second-round game against the USA at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa — which was decided by a stunning Asamoah Gyan goal in extra time — they were constantly reminded about an earlier meeting at the 2006 World Cup in Germany when the Black Stars won through a Stephen Appiah penalty.
In Brazil three years ago, Mensah and his colloeagues conceded a late goal to lose for the first time in the group stage.
‘All the games have ended 2-1 and we have won most of them so in many ways this would be revenge or continuation,’ he says. ‘It is a friendly game but it would be tough to call.’
For Mensah, the game could mean more than that. He says: ‘I can’t argue with those who think I haven’t played my best since I came here. It is up to me to keep improving game after game.’
That improvement is also needed for him to force his way back into the Black Stars after he was dislodged from the starting line-up by Leicester City’s Daniel Amartey. That effectively ended a run of almost seven years when Mensah — considered one of the most talented Ghanaian centre-backs — always got into the team after graduating from the Under-20 World Cup-winning team.
He feels that sometimes the jury has been out on his Major League Soccer career too early and is adamant he has not felt like he is there for a holiday.
‘I never underrated the league before and now that I am playing here I have even more respect for the MLS,’ he says.
Mensah now hopes the respect for him will go a notch up after the two matches against the USA, before translating that to his club side.
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