Thursday Top Ten: USMNT Wins

Thursday, March 17, 2011 | View Comments
- Keith Hickey

This is the first edition of a new recurring feature, the Thursday Top Ten. We hope you enjoy it!

The United States Men’s National team has played many games. Some were losses. Some were draws. Some were wins. And a select few of those wins have attained a mythological status amongst soccer fans. Here are the ten best USMNT wins.

#10 Egypt 0-3 USA - June 21, 2009 - Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg, South Africa

We were virtually eliminated by the time the game started. The U.S. had lost, perhaps expectedly, to Brazil and Italy by a  combined score of 6-1. To rub salt in that wound, the “Traditore” himself, Giuseppe Rossi, had scored twice against us.

To progress, the U.S. would have to beat the African champions, Egypt, on African soil, where they had beaten Italy 1-0 and taken Brazil to the brink before losing 4-3, and hope that Brazil would be able to defeat World Champions Italy. On top of that, the U.S. would have to overcome the worst goal difference in the group. The Yanks had a disappointing -5, compared to Italy’s +1 and Egypt’s 0.

When Charlie Davies twisted and hustled his way to a goal in the 21st minute, most thought it was a mere consolation goal. And then, in a space of just eight minutes, Italy fell apart in the other match. Luis Fabiano netted twice in succession, and Andrea Dossena scored an own goal, opening a door for the U.S. Two more goals and no change in Italy’s favor meant the U.S. would go through to the semi-finals.

The U.S. attacks came thick and fast. Jozy Altidore’s 51st minute shot beat the keeper but was kept out by the arm of an Egyptian defender, an offense overlooked by the referee. Then Michael Bradley poked home a Landon Donovan cross in the 63rd, leaving the Americans just a single goal from triumph

Just eight minutes later, Jonathan Spector whipped in a cross from the right flank. It was met by the head of Clint Dempsey, went past the Egyptian keeper, and settled in the back of the goal. At that moment, the U.S. were level on points with Italy and Egypt. They were tied on goal difference with Italy, Egypt being 1 goal inferior. But the Americans, unwilling to give up in the face of adversity, were ahead on goals scored, and went through.

#9 USA 3-0 Argentina - July 14, 1995 - Estadio Parque Artigas, Paysandú, Uruguay

Fresh off the most commercially successful World Cup of all time, the U.S. was invited to take part in the Copa America, South America’s continental championship. Drawn with Chile, Bolivia, and defending champions Argentina, the Yanks were expected to take their beatings gracefully and go home without much of a fight. They, however, had other ideas.

Two first half goals from Eric Wynalda were enough to secure a shock 2-1 victory against Chile in the opening match. The next game was a close 1-0 loss to Bolivia, the winner scored by future DC United legend Marco Etcheverry

The final match, though, was against not a middleweight pretender like Chile or Bolivia, but the heavyweight champions of South America, Argentina. Stacked with players like Javier Zanetti, Gabriel Batistuta, Diego Simeone, and Roberto Ayala, the Argentines were widely expected to walk the match. An hour in, Frank Klopas, Alexi Lalas, and Eric Wynalda had scored, shocking every soccer fan in the Western Hemisphere.

That win propelled the U.S. to the top of the group. In the quarterfinals, they defeated arch-rivals Mexico on penalties before going out 1-0 to World Champions Brazil in the semi-finals.

#8 Mexico 0-2 USA - June 17, 2002 - Jeonju World Cup Stadium, Jeonju, Korea

There is nothing the U.S. loves more than winning against the old rivals, Mexico. Unless that is, beating them dos a cero, two to nothing. And at a World Cup no less? Perfection. A red card for Rafa Marquez just made the continental bragging rights even sweeter.

The 2002 World Cup is the modern high point of the U.S. soccer program, and 2-0 over Mexico is the most cherished game of that unjustly ended run. It was the swansong of a generation of legends, and the coming out party for a young forward named Landon Donovan, who took home the best young player of the tournament award, and whose header for the second goal of the match is one of the best moments in USMNT history.

#7 USA 3-0 Paraguay - July 17, 1930 - Estadio Parque Central, Montevideo, Uruguay

The United States was not always a minnow on the world stage. At one point, the U.S. was a powerhouse, upsetting the traditional seats of power. This is best illustrated by the 1930 World Cup, where the U.S. placed third, losing in the semifinals to Argentina after defeating Belgium and Paraguay in the group stage.

Which of those two wins was superior is beyond me to say, but the latter is notable for one special event. Bert Patenaude, a twenty year old striker from Fall River, Massachusetts, scored the first ever World Cup hat trick when he put three past the Paraguayans. That record stands as a testament to the power and popularity of early American soccer.

#6 USA 1-0 Algeria - June 23, 2010 - Loftus Versfeld Stadium, Pretoria, South Africa

It had been a frustrating World Cup so far for the United States. Midfield errors cost the U.S. an early goal against England only cancelled out by the most costly of slip-ups from England keeper Robert Green. A limp first half against Slovenia required second half heroics to salvage a draw, and a potential winner was called back for a phantom foul.

The U.S. sat in second place in Group C, but weren’t guaranteed of going through. A draw against an Algeria side who had held England to a scoreless finish, coupled with an England win against Slovenia, would see the U.S. sent home at the group stage for the second tournament running. Only a win would ensure progression, while a draw would be reliant on Slovenia not losing to England.

When Jermain Defoe scored against Slovenia in the 23rd minute, the need for a win became vital. But Algeria stood firm. For ninety-plus minutes, they camped out in their half, frustrating the American attack.

And then in stoppage time, the game moments from death, daylight. Tim Howard’s powerful throw found the path of a desperately sprinting Landon Donovan. America lept to its feet, willing Donovan forward. He laid off for Jozy Altidore. American hearts jumped into American throats. Altidore’s low cross to Dempsey was touched away by the Algerian keeper. A cry of anguish escaped from American lips. And then, like a cliched old Western, the Cavalry arrived. Donovan exploded into the box and lashed the ball into the bottom corner. America rejoiced. 1-0. America was through.

#5 USA 2-1 Colombia - June 22, 1994 - Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

Now, it can be remembered as nothing but tragic. The murder of Andres Escobar, the defender who scored the own goal that opened led to his team’s downafall, is, and always will be, the lasting memory of this game.

But it should not be forgotten how huge this game was for American soccer. 94,000 people crammed into an American stadium to see American players win a game of soccer on the World’s biggest stage. The players who represented the U.S. in this game, players like Marcelo Balboa, John Harkes, Eric Wynalda, Alexi Lalas, Paul Caligiuri, Cobi Jones were the pioneering generation who formed the backbone of Major League Soccer.

It proved that the U.S. was good enough to go to the World Cup and win. It was empirical proof of America’s rise as a footballing nation. And, later tragic events aside, it was one of the greatest moments in the history of American soccer.

#4 Spain 0-2 USA, June 24, 2009 - Free State Stadium, Bloemfontain, South Africa

They were the best team in the World. A year before, they had been crowned champions of Europe. A year later, they would be Kings of the World. Coming into this game, Spain were unbeaten in a record 35 games, having won a record 15 on the trot. The core of the team was comprised of FC Barcelona players who had just completed the League, Cup, and Champions League treble. They were the top ranked team in the world by a comfortable margin.

And we beat them.

In 90 minutes, on neutral ground, in a competitive game in the semifinals of a FIFA tournament, we beat them. Jozy Altidore scored in the first, Clint Dempsey scored in the second, and the best team in the planet failed to score at all, and the U.S.A. reached the final of a FIFA tournament for the first time ever.

#3: Trinidad and Tobago 0-1 USA - November 19, 1989 - National Stadium, Port of Spain, Trinidad

Paul Caligiuri’s hopeful volley against the Soca Warriors was the watershed moment of modern American soccer. That goal, the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” announced the long-awaited return of the United States to the global stage for the first time in forty years.

Although the U.S. had been awarded the hosting duties of the 1994 tournament a year earlier, there were doubts about the ability of the U.S. to hold their own, and of the interest that the average American would have in the tournament. This game proved that the U.S. was good enough to make it to the World Cup on its own merits (And the 1994 tournament was a fantastic success).

Everything good that has occurred in American soccer since that day - the formation of MLS, the six consecutive World Cup qualifications, Alexi Lalas’s hair - has built on Caligiuri’s goal.

#2: USA 1-0 England - June 29, 1950 - Estádio Independência, Belo Horizonte, Brazil

The Miracle on grass. The game of their lives. The greatest upset in the history of ever. The one that they made that movie with John Harkes about. It was inconceivable. The idea of such a result was laughable. England, the inventors of the game, arguably its foremost practitioners, with squad of top level professionals, up against a rag-time bunch of part-time Americans.

The eventual 1-0 in favor of the colonials was so unexpected it was assumed to be a transmission error by some British papers, which ran the score as 10-1 in favor of the Three Lions.

This game however, would ultimately become an oasis of shining soccer achievement in a vast desert of sporting anonymity. It would be another forty years until the United States qualified for a World Cup. But it will always hold a special place in America’s soccer mythology.

#1: USA 2-0 Mexico - February 28, 2001 - Crew Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

It was cold. Bitterly cold. The mercury huddled a few notches below freezing, a biting wind chilled the 24,329-strong crowd to the bone, and Brad Friedel wore shorts. It was a World Cup Qualifier against the undisputed regional powerhouse, Mexico. What happened that night would go down in the soccer history of both nations as “La Guerra Fria, The Cold War.

The U.S. was just three years removed from the debacle of the 1998, and had only just snuck through from the previous round of World Cup Qualifying, finishing just a single point ahead of second and third place finishers Costa Rica and Guatemala. The previous year, the U.S. had been unceremoniously dumped out of the Gold Cup quarterfinals on home soil by Colombia, and now, they were facing their arch rivals in the opening game of the CONCACAF hexagonal series.

This game ticked all the right boxes for big U.S. games. A moment of sublime brilliance from Clint Mathis. Brian McBride with a typically Brian McBride facial injury. The “Dos A Cero” scoreline. Rafa Marquez getting carded. Goals from Josh Wolff and Earnie Stewart saw the U.S. freeze out the Mexicans, who wouldn’t beat the U.S. on American soil for more than nine years after.

But to single out one reason why this game was great would cheapen its value as a whole. It set the tone for a campaign that ultimately saw the U.S. achieve its highest World Cup finish since 1930 (And it should have been higher).

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