As we get deeper into the 2014 FIFA World Cup there is a growing enthusiasm surrounding the U.S. Men’s National Team. It’s an excitement that started decades ago when the United States was just beginning to make a name for itself in the world of international soccer. Fast forward to now where the U.S. fans have built up expectations to see their team advance into the Round of 16 and beyond.
The United States have qualified for the World Cup seven consecutive times after missing every tournament from 1954-1986. The ascending support and overall talent of the U.S. has captivated sports fans across the nation for the past twenty-plus years. Fans of the red, white and blue have been treated to a lot of exciting moments during that time so let’s take a look back at some of the most memorable ones.
2002 World Cup vs. Mexico: Dos A Cero
The 2002 World Cup was played in South Korea so to watch the United States play live meant you’d either be waking up really early or staying up really late. Either way, going to work the next day wasn’t going to be fun. That is unless we’re talking about the day of the Round of 16 game between the U.S. and rival Mexico.
A lot was on the line for the United States after their disappointing showing in the previous World Cup The U.S. hadn’t advanced past the first knockout game since their first World Cup appearance in 1930 when they make it to the Semi-Finals. They started out the 2002 World Cup looking like a team of destiny, advancing through the group stage after a shocking win over Portugal in their first match and a tie against host South Korea in their second.
The Mexican team came into the game undefeated, winning their group with a pair of wins and a draw. Their confidence was brimming before the match against the U.S. as they were already looking ahead to the quarterfinals. Their pregame smiles quickly faded as the United States jumped out to an early lead in the eighth minute.
Mexico would put continuous pressure on the U.S. backline throughout the game but a missed call by the referee when American John O’Brien touched the ball with his hand inside the box would be the turning point. Distracted and possibly feeling a letdown, the Mexican squad couldn’t keep up with a countering U.S. run that ended with a Landon Donovan goal in his first World Cup. The 2-0 victory quickly became one of the most memorable World Cup moments in American soccer history and will forever be remembered by the name bestowed upon the game; Dos a Cero.
2010 World Cup vs. Algeria: Donovan’s Stoppage Time Magic
After a disappointing 2006 World Cup in which the U.S. didn’t win a game, the success of the 2010 effort would hinge on their final group stage match against Algeria. A pair of come from behind draws saw the United States head into their third game with the possibilities of winning their group or not advancing at all.
Algeria nearly took control of the match in the opening minutes but saw their hope of an early lead deflect off the crossbar behind American goalie Tim Howard. The U.S. rebounded and had multiple opportunities to open the scoring but couldn’t solve the stout Algerian defense. Clint Dempsey appeared to break through but had a goal disallowed on a controversial offside call. Soon after that Dempsey had a shot hit the crossbar but got an instant chance to redeem himself when the rebound came right back to him, only to send the second shot wide of an open net.
The game remained scoreless through ninety minutes and it was beginning to look as though the United States would be eliminated from the World Cup despite not losing a game. That was until Landon Donovan put his stamp on one of the most memorable goals in U.S. Soccer history. He sprinted with the ball down the field from his own end and found Jozy Altidore just outside the box. Altidore centered the ball to Dempsey whose shot was stopped by the Algerian goalkeeper. The ball popped in front of the keeper where a streaking Donovan made no mistake, driving the ball into the back of the net and sending the U.S. through to the Round of 16. It was the first time the United States had won their group since the 1930 World Cup.
2002 World Cup vs. Portugal: An Upset For The Ages
When the 2002 World Cup began there wasn’t much hope given to the United States squad that had lost all three of its games in the previous World Cup. Combine that with the U.S. drawing a very tough group in ’02 and it’s understandable why very few gave the American’s a chance in their opening game against Portugal.
All those thoughts went quickly out the window as the United States jumped all over the Portuguese team during the first half. By the 36th minute the U.S. held a shocking 3-0 lead which was truly astounding considering the widely publicized goal-scoring issues the American’s had during the qualification games. Combine that with Portugal’s roster that featured top-tier talent such as Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Nuno Gomes, among others.
The U.S. would escape the group phase and advance to the Round of 16 where they would pull off another big upset against heavy favorite Mexico in the famous Dos a Cero game. If not for a controversial no-call on a hand ball that kept a U.S. goal from going in the net against Germany in the quarterfinals, the Americans could very well have advanced to the World Cup’s final four.
1994 World Cup vs. Switzerland: U.S. Announces Arrival As Legit Soccer Competitor
In 1994 the entire world of soccer had its eyes on the United States as the U.S. was hosting the World Cup for the first time in its history. As for the American team, there wasn’t much thought of them being any kind of competition against the rest of the world as they came into the ’94 World Cup having lost their three matches in 1990 and not winning a World Cup game since 1950, the last time they had qualified for the tournament.
The U.S. opened its ’94 group stage with the first ever World Cup game to be played indoors, a match against Switzerland at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. A venue that normally featured an artificial surface, the Silverdome had natural grass installed for the three games that would be played there over a ten-day span. In order to maintain the grass, the humidity was turned way up inside the dome so anyone attending a game there would certainly be feeling the heat.
That didn’t exclude the American team as they came out looking overwhelmed by a very talented Swiss club. U.S. goalkeeper Tony Meola was stellar, making several impressive saves to keep the game at nil-nil. That was until the 39th minute when Switzerland finally broke through on a bending free kick that found the upper corner of the net behind Meloa.
At that point, it looked as though the U.S. team was living up to the meager expectations that the world of soccer had set for them. As halftime drew near, nothing much was thought of free kick awarded to the American’s when John Harkes was fouled about thirty yards away from the Swiss goal. That’s when Eric Wynalda, probably the most popular U.S. soccer player of his generation, shook the foundation of American soccer.
Wynalda took the free kick, sending a shot over the Swiss wall of players and bending the ball from right to left. The ball curved towards the upper-left corner of the net, striking the crossbar and landing in the net. The movement on that ball is something that was truly special and well-deserving of all the recognition it has earned in the years since. That goal was proof to the world that the American’s belonged in the World Cup. While the game would end in a 1-1 draw, it was truly a win for the United States.
2006 World Cup vs. Italy: U.S. Earns Respect From Eventual Champions
The 2006 World Cup wasn’t exactly a memorable one for the United States. They came into the tournament with high expectations as the fifth ranked team in the FIFA World Rankings after making it to the quarterfinals in 2002 but hopes quickly came down to Earth after an ugly 3-0 loss in their opening match against the Czech Republic.
Following the loss, the U.S. came into their second Group E game against powerhouse Italy needing a positive result to keep their hopes of advancing alive. While the result from the game didn’t make any difference for the American’s as they finished the World Cup without a win, the heart shown by the U.S. team in this game is something that has resonated with both players and fans ever since.
Italy drew first blood in the 22nd minute but the United States answered quickly, tying the game five minutes later. There wouldn’t be any more goals scored but what makes this match so memorable has nothing to do with the offense.
A trio of red cards led to one of the greatest efforts ever seen from a U.S. World Cup squad. The first red card went against Italy as midfielder Daniele DeRossi threw an elbow that bloodied the face of American Brian McBride. The one man advantage enjoyed by the U.S. was short lived though. Pablo Mastroeni was issued his own red card just before halftime and then two minutes after the break a second red card was given to Eddie Pope, leaving the Americans a man short for almost the entire second half.
Not only did the United States hold their own and keep the Italians from taking the lead but the U.S. almost broke the tie in their favor. DaMarcus Beasley put one past Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon but the goal was waived off due to an offside call on Landon Donovan who was said to be obstructing the view of Buffon on the play. Despite that, the Americans picked up a hard earned draw against an Italy team that would eventually win the 2006 World Cup but more importantly, the U.S. team earned the respect of their peers for the way they battled and didn’t let the demoralizing calls effect their effort or attitude.