Ranking USMNT's 16 Greatest World Cup Goals

John D. Halloran@JohnDHalloranContributor IIMay 8, 2014

Ranking USMNT's 16 Greatest World Cup Goals

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Although the United States men's national team are still viewed as minnows on the world stage by most football fans, they do have many World Cup moments and goals of which they can be proud.

    This summer, the USMNT will head to Brazil for their seventh straight World Cup and, in celebration of that, here are the team's 16 greatest World Cup goals.

    They are ranked considering three factors. The first factor was how important the goal was to the team's success in the tournament. The second was the aesthetic beauty of the goal. The final factor was how important the goal is in the team's history.

No. 16: Own Goals, 1994 and 2002 World Cups

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    As bizarre as it might sound, two of the most important goals in U.S. World Cup history were own goals.

    The first came in the team's historic 1994 win over Colombia, when a cross by John Harkes deflected off Andres Escobar and into his own net.

    The second came in 2002, when a cross by American youngster Landon Donovan went off Jorge Costa and in, contributing to the United States' 3-2 win.

No. 15: Bert Patenaude, 1930 World Cup

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    Few U.S. fans will know Bert Patenaude, but he bears a special place not only in USMNT history but World Cup history as well, as he was the first player to ever score a hat-trick in the tournament.

    The quality of the strike that gave Patenaude the hat-trick is unknown and is relatively unimportant as the U.S. beat Paraguay 3-0 in the match.

    Nevertheless, it is an important part of USMNT history, and the third-place finish in the 1930 World Cup represents the team's best-ever finish in the tournament.

No. 14: Joe Gaetjens, 1950 World Cup

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    Like Patenaude's goal, the quality of Joe Gaetjens game-winner against England in the 1950 World Cup can't be evaluated.

    Still, the U.S.'s 1-0 win over England in the tournament was so dramatic that it was later chronicled in a book by Geoffrey Douglas called The Game of Their Lives and made into a movie with the same title.

    England were widely considered the greatest team in the world heading into the match, while the U.S. had lost their last seven matches by a combined score of 45-2. One apocryphal story of the 1950 match has it that English newspapers believed the 1-0 scoreline must have been a typing error and reported the game was won by England 10-0.

    But as great as the stories are, the match meant little for the U.S. in the tournament, as they finished last in their group and were eliminated.

No. 13: Clint Dempsey, 2006 World Cup

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    As disastrous as their performance in the 2006 World Cup was, in retrospect it's hard for USMNT fans to remember that the Red, White and Blue were still alive going into their final group-stage game against Ghana.

    The U.S. had tied Italy and even had chances to win the match against the Azzurri, but they still needed a win against Ghana and some help in the goal-differential department to advance.

    Although the U.S. went down early, Clint Dempsey equalized right before the half with this thunder strike.

    Unfortunately, Ghana would go on to score the next goal, and the U.S. would be heading home.

No. 12: Clint Dempsey, 2010 World Cup

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    No one thinks that Clint Dempsey's goal in the 2010 World Cup was a quality one—it wasn't—but the tally was important.

    Without a draw against England, the U.S. would have tied Slovenia on points—and all other tie-breaking criteria—and advancement to the round of 16 would have come down to the drawing of lots.

    Thank you, Robert Green.

No. 11: John O'Brien, 2002 World Cup

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    Many American fans have only a vague memory of John O'Brien, as his career was cut short by injuries, but he scored one of the most important goals in U.S. World Cup history.

    In the 2002 World Cup, the U.S. faced Portugal in their opening match. O'Brien, who played his club football for Dutch giants Ajax, scored the opener on a put-back (at the 3:44 mark of the video above) in just the fourth minute of the match, as the Americans would go on to win 3-2.

No. 10: Paul Caligiuri, 1990 World Cup

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    Most people will remember Paul Caligiuri as the man who scored the "shot heard 'round the world," the World Cup-qualifying goal that sent the U.S. to the tournament in 1990.

    But Caligiuri also scored their first goal in that tournament, a nice little effort beating a defender and the keeper in a 5-1 loss to Czechoslovakia.

    The goal didn't help the U.S. win anything, but it was the first World Cup goal by an American player in 40 years and the first of the modern era for the USMNT.

No. 9: Landon Donovan, 2010 World Cup

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    In the 2010 World Cup, after tying England 1-1, the U.S. faced off against Slovenia. Things did not go well in the first half, and the Americans found themselves down 2-0 heading into the locker room.

    However, shortly after the half, Landon Donovan found himself alone down the right wing. He dribbled the ball towards the net, looking to slot it across to a teammate.

    When no one arrived, Donovan decided to go it himself, top-shelving the ball into the roof of the net from a near-impossible angle and jump-starting the American comeback.

No. 8: Michael Bradley, 2010 World Cup

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    After Donovan had started the U.S. comeback against Slovenia, Michael Bradley finished it (that is, of course, assuming there actually was a foul on Maurice Edu's disallowed game-winning goal later in the match), scoring a beautiful toe poke (at the 2:21 mark) past the Slovenian keeper to level the match at two goals apiece.

    The point proved vital in helping the U.S. advance out of the group.

No. 7: Clint Mathis, 2002 World Cup

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    With his iconic mohawk, Clint Mathis entered U.S. World Cup lore in 2002 by helping the Americans advance out of the group with this beautiful strike in the team's 1-1 draw with South Korea.

    Mathis took down a service in the area with his right foot, then finished it on the half-volley with his left to help the U.S. earn a vital point and advance to the round of 16.

No. 6: Eric Wynalda, 1994 World Cup

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    Many fans won't remember this goal from Eric Wynalda—the game wasn't even televised in some areas of the U.S.—but it was as important a World Cup goal as any other.

    In 1994, before their dramatic showdown with Colombia only four days later, the U.S. earned a vital point against Switzerland with this free-kick strike by Wynalda.

No. 5: Brian McBride, 2002 World Cup

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    This header from Brian McBride proved to be the game-winner in the USMNT's 3-2 win over Portugal in 2002.

    The win was a major upset, as Portugal were thought to be one of the favorites in the tournament, and it helped propel the U.S. into the round of 16.

No. 4: Landon Donovan, 2002 World Cup

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    In 2002, after advancing out of the group, the U.S. faced longtime rivals Mexico in the round of 16.

    Up 1-0 in the second half, Landon Donovan scored this header to create the 2-0 scoreline that would forever be etched into this CONCACAF rivalry.

    The U.S. would go on to play Germany in the quarterfinals and, except for a handball on the line by Torsten Frings, make the greatest World Cup finish in American history.

No. 3: Landon Donovan, 2010 World Cup

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    This goal by Landon Donovan is the undisputed No. 1 in terms of pure emotion—any American fan would find it impossible to watch the above video without getting chills.

    In 2010, in the dying minutes of the group stage and needing three points to advance to the round of 16, Landon Donovan scored this simple put-back to lift a nation.

No. 2: Brian McBride, 2002 World Cup

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    In their magical run at the 2002 World Cup, the U.S. defeated Mexico 2-0 (in the now famous "dos a cero" score line) in the round of 16.

    The game-winner in the match was scored on a nice little finish by American legend Brian McBride.

    The U.S. would go on to lose in the quarterfinals, but for at least this one tournament, the team earned much of the world's respect.

No. 1: Earnie Stewart, 1994 World Cup

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    This goal by American legend Earnie Stewart proved to be the game-winner against Colombia in the 1994 World Cup and is arguably the most important goal in the team's history.

    While many have done their part before and after Stewart, the win against Colombia resulted in the iconic images of American players walking around the Rose Bowl after the match draped in American flags.

    Americans' interest in this peculiar game had been piqued by the team's performance in 1994, and the sport would never be the same again in the United States.

    If the U.S. hadn't won against Colombia they would have exited the tournament early, and the 1994 World Cup might have gone down as a blip in American sporting history soon to be forgotten. 

    Instead, the fledgling U.S. team won American hearts and a cohort of new fans. Major League Soccer would be born in 1996, and the U.S. would experience a steady if uneven rise for the next two decades.

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