Ten years ago today, the United State’s men’s national team scored a huge upset, one that would propel the team to where it is today.
June 5, 2002 marked the Americans' opening game of the 2002 FIFA World Cup against Euro 2000 semifinalists Portugal.
Not much was expected of the United States after they floundered in the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, losing all three group stage matches, scoring one goal and finishing last in the field of 32 teams.
But 2002 ushered in a new era.
The United States raced out to a 3-0 lead within the first 36 minutes of the match, putting the Portuguese players on their heels. The U.S. scores came from John O’Brien, an own goal and a diving header from Brian McBride.
Portugal would claw back within one goal, thanks in part to a Jeff Agoos own goal, but the U.S. team held strong and finished the game with the victory.
It not only was the start of the best World Cup run for the U.S. since 1950, but the win sparked a whole new attitude and set of expectations for the nation.
The team would escape the group stage and face Mexico in the round of 32, where they would defeat their archrivals 2-0. It was the second consecutive match the teams played that ended with that score line in the USMNT’s favor and continued in a string of “dos a cero” matches in a decade of dominance in the region.
It saw the Americans reach the quarterfinals of the tournament, the first time since 1950, where they would lose a 1-0 heartbreaker to eventual runners-up Germany.
It was only the third time an American player—Claudio Reyna—was named to the All-Tournament team and the first since 1950. It established the idea that American players could compete with and against the world’s best.
It was the beginning of a fantastic (and still ongoing) career for Landon Donovan. In that game against Portugal, a then 20-year-old Donovan started and made his World Cup debut against Portugal. It was his cross in the 29th minute that was deflected into the goal to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead.
Since then, he has developed into one of the team’s best players, the country’s all-time leader in goals and assists and has played hero multiple times for the national team, including the final game of the group stage in the 2010 World Cup. He is now making a run to play in his fourth World Cup as the team readies itself for qualifying for the 2014 tournament.
Much credit has been given to then-head coach Bruce Arena for instilling in his players the confidence they needed to believe they could beat such a good team. It’s a confidence seen in the team in other big games over the years that helped them beat elite teams.
It’s also the current attitude that new coach Jurgen Klinsmann is trying to instill in his team. He wants the team to play aggressively and with confidence that they can, in fact, beat anybody. It’s an attitude that helped the team defeat the Italian national team in Italy this past February.
The United States has emerged as a good soccer nation. The team is no longer taken lightly around the world. And while they may not always come out victorious, they challenge themselves and compete with the world’s best. Expectations are continuously raised for the team.
And it all started 10 years ago today with a landmark victory over Portugal in the World Cup.
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