8 Best World Cup Moments in USMNT History
That the United States has never won the World Cup does not preclude it from having created a handful of memorable moments at the most prestigious event in sport.
It’s not all about winning, after all, and like many footballing nations (even Brazil holds its 1982 team that didn’t make the semi-finals in considerable esteem) the U.S. has had plenty to cheer about over the course of its 84-year association with the competition.
The United States men’s national team was just one of 13 outfits to contest the inaugural World Cup in 1930, and ahead of the 2014 tournament—the 10th for the U.S.—we thought we’d take the opportunity to review some of the best moments in Stars and Stripes’ history.
Following are eight of them, and they bind together the long and memorable history of the USMNT in the World Cup.
8. United States 3-0 Belgium: July 13, 1930
The United States’ story at the World Cup began, appropriately, at the very beginning.
Kicking off in mid afternoon at Estadio Parque Central in Montevideo, Uruguay, it took just 23 minutes for Bart McGhee—a Scotland-born New York Nationals attacker—to open the scoring against Belgium in one of the first matches of the 1930 World Cup.
Tom Florie doubled manager Robert Millar’s side’s lead just prior to the hour-mark, and in the 69th minute Bert Patenaude rounded out the scoring in the 3-0 victory.
The win also produced this piece of trivia: United States’ goalkeeper Jimmy Douglas kept the first clean sheet in World Cup history.
At the end of the tournament the USMNT had finished a respectable third.
7. Italy 1-1 United States: June 17, 2006
It was the “K.O. in Kaiserslautern.”
Having lost 3-0 to the Czech Republic in their Group E opener at the 2006 World Cup, the United States went into their second match against Italy needing at least a draw in order to retain a chance of going through to the round of the 16.
Their hopes took a hit when Alberto Gilardino opened the scoring for the Azzurri in the 22nd minute, but just six minutes later Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi was issued a straight red card for an elbow to the face of Brian McBride that left the striker’s face covered in blood.
A minute later level terms were restored through a Cristian Zaccardo own goal, but the De Rossi incident had so unsettled the affair that USMNT midfielder Pablo Mastroeni followed him down the tunnel for an early bath on the stroke of half-time.
Two minutes after the restart United States defender Eddie Pope became the third player to receive his marching orders, but despite the numerical disadvantage the CONCACAF outfit was able to hang on for the draw thanks to the goalkeeping heroics of Kasey Keller.
6. United States 3-2 Portugal: June 5, 2002
The United States’ magical run to the last eight of the 2002 World Cup began in Suwon, South Korea—in the middle of the night for those watching back home.
Incredibly, the USMNT took the lead after just four minutes against heavily favoured Portugal. Earnie Stewart’s corner kick was a good one, and John O’Brien was on hand to smash the ball into the back of the net at the far post.
Just prior to the half-hour mark the U.S. extended their advantage when a young Landon Donovan saw his cross from the right, intended for Brian McBride, deflected into the back of the Portugal net by defender Jorge Costa.
And seven minutes after that the United States led 3-0 when McBride finally got one for himself—his diving header connecting with Anthony Sanneh’s cross and leaving Portugal goalkeeper Vitor Baia with no chance.
Beto would pull one back for the Iberians, and a Jeff Agoos own-goal would cut the deficit to just a single goal with 19 minutes remaining, but at the final whistle the USMNT had done enough to take a memorable six points off a legitimate World Cup contender.
5. Slovenia 2-2 United States: June 18, 2010
After playing England to a 1-1 draw in their 2010 World Cup opener in Rustenburg, the United States found themselves 2-0 down to Slovenia and heading out of the tournament at the half-way point of their second Group C match at Ellis Park.
Slovenia, having beaten Algeria five days prior thanks to a 79th-minute goal by Robert Koren, had taken the lead through Valter Birsa and then extended it with just three minutes remaining in the opening period through Zlatan Ljubijankic.
But a gutsy display from USMNT midfielder Michael Bradley swung momentum after the restart, and by the 48th minute the North American side were back to within a goal thanks to Landon Donovan’s strike.
Then Bradley, himself, equalised with just eight minutes to go in normal time as the United States earned a vital draw.
4. United States 2-1 Colombia: June 22, 1994
The United States opened their home World Cup in 1994 with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland at the Pontiac Silverdome.
Four days later, however, they gave their fans a win to celebrate when they defeated favoured Colombia 2-1 at the Rose Bowl.
Andres Escobar accidentally opened the scoring for the USMNT when he tipped a cross from the left beyond his goalkeeper in the 35th minute, and shortly after the restart Earnie Stewart scored what proved to be the winner when he split the Colombian defense and beat goalkeeper Oscar Cordoba with a first-time finish.
Adolfo Valencia would pull one back for The Coffee Growers in the 90th minute, but by then it was a case of too little, too late.
3. United States 1-0 England: June 29, 1950
Perhaps the United States' most famous international victory came in June of 1950 when they beat heavyweights England 1-0 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
The 1950 World Cup was the Three Lions’ first, and a side including the likes of Alf Ramsey, Tom Finney and Stan Mortensen had been tipped to do well—and maybe even win the trophy—in Brazil.
But shortly after Finney came close to opening the scoring in the first half it was 1-0 to the USMNT—Joe Gaetjens having headed the ball into the back of the net after connecting with Walter Bahr’s cross.
In the 60th minute U.S. goalkeeper Frank Borghi did well to save Mortensen’s free kick, and the United States went on to secure an improbable win that helped knock England out of the World Cup.
2. United States 1-0 Algeria: June 23, 2010
The United States finished atop a World Cup group for the first time in its history in 2010, thanks to a last-gasp Landon Donovan winner.
Group C, which also included Algeria, England and Slovania, had come down to the final matchday, the USMNT went into their contest in Pretoria knowing they’d need a win and some help from England in order to progress.
Algeria, who had played England to a scoreless draw in Cape Town, were resilient from the opening whistle.
But in second-half stoppage time American goalkeeper Tim Howard began a play that would involve Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey before Donovan was able to tap a rebound past goalkeeper Rais M’Bohli.
The victory did wonders for the popularity of football back home, as countless millions of fans were able to watch the late dramatics in the early afternoon.
1. Mexico 0-2 United States: June 17, 2002
The United States and Mexico have a virulent and longstanding rivalry in international football, but one of their most celebrated meetings—at least on the northern side of the border—took place in the round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
Mexico had progressed to the knockout round by winning a bracket including Italy, Croatia and Ecuador and went into the match in Jeonju as the unquestioned favourite.
The United States, meanwhile, had shocked Portugal, drawn co-hosts South Korea and lost to Poland en route to second place in Group D.
But it was the USMNT that opened the scoring after only eight minutes—Brian McBride taking a quick free kick before finishing a play that grew in danger after Claudio Reyna’s run down the right.
Then, midway through the second period, Landon Donovan gave the Americans some breathing room when he arrived in the nick of time to direct Eddie Lewis’ cross from the left past Mexico goalkeeper Oscar Perez.