US Soccer: The Top Ten Victories in the History of the Men's National Team

Sal Cacciatore@@scacc8Contributor IIJuly 3, 2012

US Soccer: The Top Ten Victories in the History of the Men's National Team

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    With Independence Day approaching, what better time to look back on the greatest wins in the history of the United States men’s national team?

    While soccer may lag behind other sports in terms of popularity in the States, US Soccer has taken many strides in the right direction recently, in addition to having a number of great moments in its history to celebrate.

    With that in mind, here are the top 10 wins in the history of US men’s soccer.

10. 1998 Gold Cup Semifinal vs. Brazil

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    The first and only victory for the United States against mighty Brazil came during the 1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

    Though the Gold Cup is the North American championship, in the past, teams outside the continent have been invited to play, and this was the case with Brazil. Unlike 1996, in which the Seleção sent a youth team to the Gold Cup, in 1998, Brazil sent a senior side.

    The Brazilians, the defending World Cup champions at the time, advanced to the semifinals to face an underdog American team.

    In a game that is remembered for heroic goal keeping from Kasey Keller, the United States prevailed 1-0, with Preki scoring the goal.

9. 1994 World Cup Group Stage vs. Colombia

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    Although this group stage game is tragically remembered more for the own goal that led to the murder of Colombian defender Andres Escobar, it was also the first World Cup victory for the United States in 44 years.

    Despite playing on their home soil, the US were again underdogs against a strong Colombia team. 

    But in front of a packed Rose Bowl crowd, the Americans were able to prevail 2-1. The infamous Escobar own goal put the US ahead in the 35th minute, and an Earnie Stewart goal in the 52nd helped ensure the victory.

    The three points the United States earned in the match were crucial to the Americans advancing out of their World Cup group, a feat the team had not accomplished since 1930.

8. 1930 World Cup Group Stage vs. Belgium

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    The first World Cup, staged in Uruguay in 1930, still marks the best-ever performance by a United States team in the tournament, as the Americans reached the semifinals after topping their group.

    In their first game in the tournament, the United States hammered Belgium 3-0. Interestingly, the victory would mark the first clean sheet in World Cup history.

    After their win over the Belgians, team USA triumphed by the same score over Paraguay, before being humbled by Argentina 6-1 in the semifinals.

    Though at the time there was no third place game in the World Cup, FIFA would retroactively award the bronze to the United States.

    The victory against Belgium marked the first of only three wins against European opponents in the World Cup for the US (the others: against England in 1950 and Portugal in 2002).

7. 2012 International Friendly vs. Italy

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    In February of 2012, the United States would travel to Genoa to face Italy for a friendly. They headed into the match winless all-time against the Azzurri, failing to get a victory in their ten previous matches.

    This would finally change, thanks to a 55th-minute Clint Dempsey goal which would give the United States a 1-0 win.

    Granted, the match was only a friendly and came against an Italian side tinkering with some new players. Nevertheless, the win on European soil against a traditional soccer powerhouse was a historic one for the United States.

6. 2007 Gold Cup Final vs. Mexico

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    Heading into the 2007 Gold Cup, the United States had already won the event three times. 2007, though, would mark the first time they would best Mexico, their bitter rivals, in the final match to take home the trophy.

    After coasting through the group stage and topping Panama and Canada in the knockout round, the US was set to face El Tri in Chicago for the championship.

    Mexico took the lead just before half time thanks to a goal from José Andrés Guardado, but Landon Donovan would equalize from the penalty spot in the 61st minute.

    Twelve minutes later, Benny Feilhaber would give the United States a 2-1 lead via a beautiful long-range strike, and that would be the final score of the match.

5. 2010 World Cup Group Stage vs. Algeria

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    After draws in their first two World Cup games against England and Slovenia, the United States entered their group stage finale against Algeria in danger of being eliminated in the first round of the tournament for the second straight time.

    With the score line 0-0 after 90 minutes of play, it certainly looked like this would be the case, as England’s victory over Slovenia the same day made it necessary for the Americans to pick up all three points to advance.

    In stoppage time, however, the United States got the goal they needed to win. Though a Clint Dempsey shot was blocked, Landon Donovan scored off the rebound to give the team a dramatic victory that would send them to the next round.

    Though the US would be eliminated by Ghana in the Round of 16, the win over Algeria nevertheless stands as one of the most dramatic finishes in US Soccer history. 

4. 1990 World Cup Qualification vs. Trinidad and Tobago

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    The period spanning from the 1950s to late 1980s will be remembered as a dark age for the United States national team.  After making it to the 1950 edition of the tournament, team USA would fail to qualify for the next nine World Cups. 

    Heading into its final game of the 1989 CONCACAF Championship (which doubled as the regional championship and World Cup qualifying event in the pre-Gold Cup era), the United States needed a victory to make it to Italia ’90. A draw or loss against Trinidad and Tobago would mean their opponents would take CONCACAF’s second and final World Cup berth.

    But in the end, the United States did get the win they needed, courtesy of Paul Caligiuri’s brilliant 30th-minute goal, which gave the US a 1-0 win. 

    The victory took the US back to the World Cup for the first time in 40 years, but also helped to ward off some critics who felt the United States was an unfit host for the 1994 World Cup.

    After qualifying for the 1990 edition of the tournament, the United States has also qualified for every subsequent World Cup.

3. 2009 Confederations Cup Semifinal vs. Spain

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    The 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup gave United States soccer fans a wild ride. The US qualified for the tournament by virtue of their 2007 Gold Cup triumph, but it initially seemed like they would be in store for an early exit.

    The United States dropped its first two group stage matches to Italy and Brazil by the scores of 3-1 and 3-0 respectively. As a result, the Americans needed to win their third game against Egypt by at least three goals, while also having Italy lose to Brazil by at least three goals in order to have a chance at qualifying for the next round. Almost miraculously, both outcomes occurred, as the final games of the group stage each ended 3-0.

    What happened next was almost equally improbable, as the United States triumphed over the defending European Champion Spain 2-0. The Spanish, at the time, topped FIFA’s world rankings and were in the midst of a record 15-match winning streak and 35-match unbeaten streak (tied for the longest ever).

    Undaunted, goals from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey gave the United States the stunning result.

    Up next for the team was Brazil in the final, where it looked at first like yet another upset would take place. In the end, however, the US could not hold on to its 2-0 halftime lead and fell to the Seleção 3-2.

    Still, the win against Spain, who since have won the World Cup and another European title, remains an impressive one for the United States.

2. 2002 World Cup Round of 16 vs. Mexico

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    In the 2002 World Cup, held in Japan and South Korea, the United States advanced to the knockout stages thanks in part to a 3-2 upset win over Portugal.

    In the Round of 16, the Americans pulled off another upset, defeating Mexico 2-0 thanks to goals from Brian McBride and Landon Donovan. 

    The victory was the first ever for the United States in a knockout round of a World Cup, and also marked the first time they defeated their neighbors to the south in regulation away from American soil.

1. 1950 World Cup Group Stage vs. England

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    While it may have received little attention at the time it happened, the 1-0 United States victory over England is perhaps the greatest triumph in the history of American soccer.

    Heading into the World Cup, the American and English teams could not have been more different. England was making a heralded first appearance in the World Cup and the team was among the favorites (they had stayed out of the first three tournaments due to a dispute with FIFA over the status of amateur players).

    The United States, on the other hand, merely sent a team of semi-pros to Brazil.

    Despite the disparate reputations, it was the underdog Americans who pulled off the 1-0 group stage victory. Haitian-born Joe Gaetjens scored in the 38th minute, deflecting Walter Bahr’s shot into the English net with a diving header.

    The win was so improbable that, according to legend, English newspapers believed the 1-0 score line that was transmitted via wire service was a misprint, so they instead published the score as 10-0 England (though according to the BBC, this is an erroneous myth; regardless, the existence of such a legend speaks to the magnitude of the upset).   

    Though neither England nor the United States advanced out of the group in 1950, the match between the two teams that year will be forever known as one of the biggest upsets ever in a World Cup, as well as an immortal moment in American soccer history.