U.S. Soccer: The Top 13 Greatest Games in United States National Team History
The game of football, as it is called by just about every country outside of the United States, has been part of the culture of some of the oldest countries in the world for centuries with the game taking on so much more than being just a hobby or pastime. In football-crazed nations across Europe and South America, soccer is a way of life, an escape from the struggles of what reality creates for the average citizen.
Just as football has been instilled in the everyday life of the English, Italians, Germans, Spanish, and French, the game has since found yet another home in the already crowded community of nations that have fallen in love with the beautiful game.
The United States served as a hotbed where the game of soccer would continue its growth around the world into one of the most powerful nations on earth. Since its expansion into the US, Americans have embraced the sport and all that it has to offer.
Taking into considering the tremendous gap between the amount of years Americans have been playing soccer and how long Europeans have been playing the game, it is truly remarkable where United States soccer is today.
From historic upsets against some of the world’s best teams, to late-game heroics on the world stage, to winning hardware in some of the world’s most prestigious tournaments, both the US Men’s and US Women’s National Teams have participated in some absolutely terrific matches over the years.
There has been no shortage of entertainment watching them play, and there have been plenty of blissful moments that have left us filled with the pride of calling ourselves Americans.
So without further ado, here are the top 13 greatest games in US National Team history, all of which resulted in a “W” for the Americans.
13. USA vs. Colombia (1994 FIFA World Cup)
USA hosted their first ever World Cup in 1994 and set the record for the biggest total attendance in World Cup history, drawing close to 3.4 million spectators throughout the month-long tournament.
The Americans received a great deal of support at the Rose Bowl in one of the most impressive wins in the country’s history. For those who saw ESPN 30 for 30’s The Two Escobars, you already know the story behind the game.
For those who don’t know, Colombia entered the tournament as a serious contender but carried the weight of an entire nation on their backs. In the end, the pressure proved to be too much for them and because of it the United States had nothing to lose against the fifth ranked team in the world.
USA held their own in the game despite waves and waves of attack from Colombia. The Americans survived multiple scares on defense after the Colombians nearly scored on several occasions early in the game.
The United States weathered the storm long enough to muster a counter attack against the South Americans. In the 35th minute, a John Harkes cross intended for Ernie Stewart was redirected by Andres Escobar and made its way past the goalkeeper. The own goal shockingly put the Americans up 1-0 and gave the 90,000 spectators a reason to get fired up.
USA then scored a second goal in the 56th minute after Tab Ramos’ shot fell to the feet of Ernie Stewart who scored the goal.
Up 2-0, the United States wound up holding on to win the game 2-1 after a late goal by Adolfo Valencia.
With no professional soccer league in America, it didn’t matter. The win against Colombia propelled USA onto the knockout stage of the 1994 World Cup and set up a Round of 16 matchup against the eventual champions Brazil. After a poor showing in the 1990 World Cup, USA captivated the entire nation in and laid the groundwork for the future generations of soccer players in this country.
12. USA vs. Brazil (1998 CONCACAF Gold Cup)
The fourth edition of the CONCACAF Gold Cup included 1994 World Cup Champions Brazil, who was invited to take part in the tournament against CONCACAF’s best teams. Brazil finished second in Group A behind Jamaica, which set up a semifinals match-up with the United States.
Brazil dominated much of the game and had various opportunities to score but could not beat Kasey Keller that day. Many call this game the best game of Kasey Keller’s legendary career, as he made ten saves and recorded a very impressive clean sheet against one of the best teams in the world.
Keller kept his team in the game long enough to see Preki give the US a 1-0 lead in the 65th minute on an assist from Eric Wynalda.
USA kept Brazil out of the net and managed to come up with one of the biggest upsets in soccer history. The semifinals win against Brazil sent USA to the finals to face, who else but Mexico.
11. USA vs. Norway (1991 FIFA Women's World Cup)
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In the first ever edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup held in China, USA took center stage. Led by legendary Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm, the Americans dominated their competition and made the finals without losing a single game. The team won games convincingly, thrashing Chinese Taipei 7-0 in the quarterfinals, and Germany 5-2 in the semifinals.
The US women faced Norway in the first ever Women’s World Cup final and established themselves as the best soccer team in the world for years to come.
Akers scored twice and sealed the deal for the United States. To be the first nation to win this tournament is truly special. It was just the start of a rich tradition of women’s soccer in America.
10. USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago (1989 World Cup Qualifier)
After a 40 year absence from the World Cup, the United States finally qualified for Italia ’90 by beating Trinidad & Tobago in front of 40,000 in their final World Cup Qualifier in Port of Spain.
A 35-yard strike by Paul Caligiuri, known as the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” found the back of the net and booked USA’s to the World Cup for the first time since 1950.
The goal by Caligiuri is the most important goal in American soccer history and one that jumpstarted soccer in this country. Ever since this famous game, the United States has qualified for every World Cup and has become a rising power in world football.
9. USA vs. England (1950 FIFA World Cup)
Most of us weren’t even born when the United States and England met in the 1950 FIFA World Cup, but nothing short of a miracle took place that day in Brazil. It is believed to be the biggest upset in World Cup history, and it is still hard to fathom what happened in that game considering the American team consisted mostly of semi-professional players who worked other jobs to support their families.
England entered the tournament as one of the favorites to win the World Cup and went into their match against USA underestimating the Americans. USA’s goal was to keep the game respectable, but they ended up doing much more than that.
Despite England dominating most of the possession and goal-scoring opportunities, they could not find the back of the net. United States, with their post-World War II fighting spirit, never gave up and shocked the entire world by beating the Three Lions.
With a mail-man, mill-worker, funeral director, and several veterans from the war on their roster, the underdog American side upset the “Kings of Football” 1-0 on a goal by the Haitian-born American, Joe Gaetjens.
In the most memorable battle between both nations since the American Revolution, the United States came away with one of the most incredible wins in sports history.
8. USA vs. Mexico (2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup)
Old rivals Mexico and USA met once again in a Gold Cup Final, this time in front of a pro-Mexican sold out Soldier Field in Chicago in 2007. Going into the tournament, Mexico had won four Gold Cups while USA won three times.
USA went down 1-0 in the game before Brian Ching drew a penalty kick and Landon Donovan converted in the 62nd minute, tying Eric Wynalda for most goals for the US national team.
Then in the 73rd minute, Benny Feilhaber scored one of the nicest goals in US soccer history to put the Americans ahead by a score of 2-1.
USA held off the Mexican attack and came away victorious after El Tri nearly tied the game late in stoppage time.
This win was huge for American soccer as it booked USA’s place into the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, which would provide the team with a great opportunity to prepare for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
7. USA vs. Mexico (2002 FIFA World Cup)
The heated USA vs. Mexico rivalry entered a new chapter in the 2002 when both teams met for the first time in a World Cup tournament. Mexico historically had most of the success in this rivalry game, but USA went into the game winning four of the last five meetings against Mexico.
Not only were both teams competing against each other in the World Cup, but both teams met each other in a Round of 16 match that would result in the loser being sent home.
Brian McBride put USA on the board early with a goal in the eighth minute thanks to a brilliant run by Claudio Reyna down the right flank.
Landon Donovan then doubled the lead in the 65th minute with a powerful header past the Mexican keeper, sending the American crowd into a frenzy.
Prior to this game, the US had only won two World Cup games and finished last in the previous World Cup hosted by France in 1998. This win against their bitter North American rivals sent the United States on to the quarterfinals and the excitement carried over to World Cup 2006.
6. USA vs. Portugal (2002 FIFA World Cup)
USA faced a tough order playing against Portugal and the legendary Luis Figo in their first match of the 2002 World Cup. In Group D, along with the likes of Portugal, Poland, and hosts South Korea, no one ever could have expected the United States to get out of the group.
USA sent a message to the world on June 5th, 2002 when they shocked the universe and knocked off Portugal 3-2.
John O’Brien scored early after knocking the ball in the net after the Portugese goalkeeper gave up a rebound.
Landon Donovan added another goal in the 27th minute after his shot/cross deflected off of Jorge Costa and snuck past the keeper.
Brian McBride put an exclamation on the game by sending his diving header into the back of the net in the 36th minute. Up 3-0, USA had a convincing lead.
As Portugal tried to stage a comeback, they came up a goal short and lost to the United States. This result instilled a lot of confidence in the United States team and its fans and made everyone realize that this team could beat anyone on any given day.
5. USA vs. Egypt (2009 FIFA Confederations Cup)
Facing elimination after losing to Italy 3-1 and Brazil 3-0, USA’s chances of advancing onto the next round of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup were virtually impossible. The Red, White, and Blue needed to beat Egypt by three goals and hope that Italy lost by three goals to Brazil.
It seemed highly unlikely that the World Cup champions from 2006 would lose by such a wide margin, and it seemed equally as unlikely that USA would break out for three goals against a tough Egyptian side given that USA only scored only one goal up to that point.
Fans who watched the game tuned in just to watch USA put on a good show before they would be exited from the tournament. Not many believed that the Americans would play another game in the tournament.
Charlie Davies tapped home a goal in the 21st minute after the Egyptian goalie fumbled the ball around in front of the net. At this point, US fans were excited for the young Charlie Davies, but they weren’t thinking semifinals at all.
In the 63rd minute, the ball found its way to Michael Bradley, who placed it perfectly past the goalkeeper. It was at this moment when people actually started believing that it was possible. Italy was trailing Brazil big and USA needed just one more goal.
Then it finally happened. Clint Dempsey put the Americans ahead by three when he headed in a beautiful cross by Jonathon Spector in the 71st minute. Now all they needed to get through to the semifinals was for both results to hold.
Switching back and forth between both games, Americans saw that Italy lost 3-0 to Brazil, and that USA retained their 3-0 lead against Egypt all the way to the end.
USA had perhaps the most improbable tournament run in the 2009 Confederations Cup. They needed everything to go right on that day and it did. Many people often recall USA beating Spain in the Confederations Cup, but without accomplishing what they did in this game, that meeting with Spain never would have happened.
4. USA vs. China (1999 FIFA Women's World Cup)
The summer of 1999 was all about USA in the Women’s World Cup. This was the first Women’s World Cup hosted by the Americans and the first World Cup hosted by the United States since the 1994 Men’s tournament.
USA took on China in the final in front of the biggest audience ever to attend a women’s professional sporting event. 90,185 spectators packed the Rose Bowl and witnessed one of the most memorable events in all of sports.
After 120 plus minutes of scoreless soccer, the game went to a penalty shootout to decide the champions of the world. USA and China converted their first two shots in the shootout, but Briana Scurry turned away China’s third attempt. The Americans scored their next two penalties and this set the stage for something special.
Brandi Chastain stepped up to take the kick despite missing a penalty kick against China in the 1999 Algarve Cup. Chastain made up for it by scoring the penalty kick and winning the World Cup for the USA, their first since 1991. This game put women’s soccer on the map and created such excitement in this country that people today still remember Chastain’s celebration and what an incredible game it was.
3. USA vs. Spain (2009 FIFA Confederations Cup)
This semifinal matchup in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup was a battle between David and Goliath. USA entered the game a tremendous underdog against the European Champions. No one even gave the Americans a chance in this game.
Jozy Altidore scored the biggest goal in his career in the 27th minute, outmuscling the Spanish defense and banking the ball off of the post and into the net. Clint Dempsey then did the unthinkable and sealed the USA’s ticket to the finals by sneaking behind the defense and knocking the ball past Iker Casillas in the 87th minute.
At the time, the United States was the first team to beat Spain since Romania did so in November of 2006. This was the second time in the country’s history that USA defeated a number one ranked team in the world, and it also provided them with their first appearance in a FIFA final since 1916.
Not to be confused with the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” this game is being called the “Miracle on Grass” and is one of the greatest accomplishments in all of United States sports history.
2. USA vs. Brazil (2011 FIFA Women's World Cup)
A US loss to Sweden in the final match of the group stage for the Red, White, and Blue set up a difficult matchup against Brazil and five-time player of the year, Marta, in the quarterfinals of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
USA was off to a great start after they took the lead in the second minute on an own-goal by Brazil’s Daiane. Brazil would respond by holding most of the possession throughout the game until it eventually hurt the United States.
In the 65th minute, Marta found her way past two American defenders in the box and made a diving attempt at kicking the ball while making contact with US defender Rachel Buehler. Referee Jacqui Melksham pointed to the penalty spot and called a questionable penalty kick.
Melksham then showed Rachel Buehler the red card, leaving the US with 10 players against a dangerous Brazil side. Cristiane stepped up to take the penalty kick but was denied by Hope Solo, who came up with a tremendous save. As Solo and the rest of the Americans began to celebrate, the referees inexplicably ordered a retake because of encroachment by a US player, a call rarely whistled by referees in soccer.
Marta lined up to take the penalty this time and got Solo to lean the wrong way. Tied at one, the game would go to extra time with a fatigued and shorthanded US team trying to at least take the game to penalty kicks.
Before anyone had a chance to think about a potential penalty shootout, Marta struck again in overtime putting Brazil in front for the first time in the game with a possible offside not being called. The US had a mountain to climb, but never once did they keep their heads down. Instead, they came together with the “never say never” attitude that this country is all about and showed a lot of heart.
The USA pressed on with some great scoring opportunities but simply could not get that elusive goal. Playing against the clock and the gamesmanship of the Brazilian players who did all they could to try and run out the clock, USA was down to its final minutes in the tournament. With three minutes of stoppage time added because of Erika’s “injury”, Abby Wambach headed home the game-tying goal off of a fantastic left-footed cross from Megan Rapinoe in the 122nd minute, the latest goal in World Cup history.
Off to penalty kicks, Hope Solo proved why she is the best goalkeeper in the world. She stopped Daiane’s shot and gave USA the lead on penalty kicks. Alex Krieger stepped up to try and send USA on the semifinals and she placed it perfectly in the corner of the net.
This game grabbed headlines everywhere and won over the hearts of Americans. From almost being eliminated to winning on penalty kicks is one truly remarkable story.
1. USA vs. Algeria (2010 FIFA World Cup)
Heading into their final game in the group stage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup against Algeria, the United States needed a win to advance out of Group C and onto the knockout stage of the tournament. After a draw against world power England and a controversial draw against Slovenia in which Maurice Edu’s late goal was unbelievably disallowed, another draw would not be good enough for the United States to advance to the next round of the tournament.
The US saw themselves in a familiar situation early in the game as the Algerians almost struck first, blasting a shot off of Tim Howard’s crossbar. The US finally took control of the game and had tons of goal-scoring opportunities but somehow could not put the ball in the back of the net. Adding to the frustration, another US goal was wrongly disallowed, this time because of a nonexistent offside call on Clint Dempsey.
As time started to tick away, USA’s chances to win the game became slimmer and slimmer. Another early exit from the World Cup seemed to be all but certain. But the US did not give up. They kept on fighting for that winning goal.
A near goal-scoring opportunity for Algeria landed in the arms of an onrushing Tim Howard who quickly threw the ball out to his right back. Donovan then received the ball and sprinted down the field and found Jozy Altidore in front of him. Altidore then sent a through ball to Dempsey, who was denied another goal. Just as it seemed like it wasn’t USA’s day, Landon Donovan was there to snatch up the rebound and score the biggest goal of his career.
It was the latest goal in the country’s history (91st minute) and quite possibly the biggest goal in the history of this country. Not only did it send USA though to the next round, it gave them top spot in Group C over England. It was one of the most dramatic goals in World Cup history scored by one of the most popular soccer players this country has ever seen.