The 10 greatest moments in USA World Cup history
Ahead of the 2022 World Cup, Alex Buck ranks the 10 greatest moments in US soccer history.
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The US men’s team, led by star man Christian Pulisic, will head to Qatar with the hopes of advancing from Group B and into the knockout stages. Group B will see matches against England, Wales, and Iran. The USMNT have a good shot at making the knockout stages of the tournament, where they will be looking to tough it out and advance far beyond expectations. It’s a young group, but there’s a lot of belief in the squad.
USA Best World Cup Finish
The USMNT currently do not have any World Cup trophies to their name. However, the best finish was third in the 1930 World Cup, almost 100 years ago. However, the tournament only featured 13 teams at the time. It was the very first World Cup, and four years later would expand to 16 teams, before it became 32 teams in 1998.
Since the expansion, the US men’s team has not been able to advance past the quarter-finals, a finish they achieved once in 2002. The 2002 squad is the greatest team the US has ever put together. This USMNT lineup included stone-wall goalkeeper Brad Friedel, midfield legend Cobi Jones, Claudio Reyna as captain, and Landon Donovan and Brian McBride up front. The group of USMNT players beat Mexico 2-0 in their only knockout stage win in any World Cup, before losing to Germany in the final eight.
Ranking the 10 Greatest Moments in USMNT History
10. USA vs Colombia | 1994 World Cup
The USA was out in numbers as a crowd of 93,000 packed the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena.
The US team took a 1-0 lead due to an own goal from the Colombians, before Earnie Stewart doubled the lead in the second half. Despite a last-minute goal from Colombia, the Americans won the game. It was their only win of the tournament and quite the spectacle at the Rose Bowl stadium. An iconic event in US soccer history.
9. USA finish third | 1930 World Cup
While the tournament has grown dramatically since 1930, it would be wrong not to recognize the USMNT's efforts to finish third in the very first World Cup tournament.
There were only 13 teams at the time, which would increase to 16 four years later at the 1934 event. The 1930 World Cup took place in Uruguay, and the host country would eventually win the competition.
The USA featured in a group alongside Paraguay and Belgium, winning both games. At the time, only the top team in each of the four groups advanced to a knockout round, so the USA headed straight for the semi-finals, where they would lose against Argentina.
8. USA vs Slovenia | 2010 World Cup
The USA soccer team had drawn with England in the first group game before facing Slovenia in game two. Slovenia seemed a beatable team, but despite several chances going forward, the USA found themselves down 2-0 on the day.
Bob Bradley made a couple of changes at half time, and the US came back out in the second half ready to fight their way back into the game. Landon Donovan got behind his man just three minutes into the half, and crept into the penalty area before slamming home the first goal of the day for the USMNT, getting them right back in it.
It then wasn’t until the 82nd minute that Jozy Altidore headed down a long ball from the back for midfielder Michael Bradley to run on to and poke home. The US had equalized, and the bench cleared into a bundle on top of Bradley in celebration.
It had been a scrappy game all day, with Slovenia playing rough and fouling the US often, and then in the dying moments Landon Donovan put in a cross from a free-kick that Maurice Adu ran onto and volleyed home, only for the referee to disallow it. They were robbed of the win, but the comeback was still a fantastic achievement on an international stage.
7. USA vs Group A | 1994 World Cup
The United States of America hosted the World Cup in 1994. The USMNT featured in Group A along with Switzerland, Colombia and Romania.
They opened with a draw against Switzerland before beating Colombia 2-1, whilst wearing the early 90s jerseys covered in stars.
Advancing through the group stage was a great achievement for the USMNT and meant the hosts would go through to face eventual tournament winners Brazil in the next round. The US fought well but were holding on against a dangerous-looking Brazil front line featuring Romario, a star of the tournament, and Bebeto. It was Bebeto who got the winning goal in the 74th minute as Brazil won 1-0, eliminating the USA.
6. USA vs England | 1950 World Cup
While the 1950 USA men’s soccer team was not the most memorable, and things have dramatically improved for US soccer since then, the team did pull off an impressive win against England at the 1950 World Cup.
Captained by Ed McIlvenny, the US beat England 1-0 after forward Joe Gaetjens put the team ahead in the 38th minute. At the time, it was easily the greatest victory in US soccer history, having taken down a giant in the England national team.
5. USA vs Group C | 2010 World Cup
In 2010, a US men’s team led by Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey went undefeated in Group C, ultimately winning the group. It was the first time in 80 years that the USMNT roster had won their World Cup group.
England had gone into the tournaments as the group favorites, but the US team's two draws against both England and Slovenia, before the famous win against Algeria, were enough to earn the US five points and first place in the group.
Exhausted from the thrilling game against Algeria, the US lost to Ghana in the round of 16, but the group stage performances had given the fans quite a thrill.
4. USA vs Portugal | 2002 World Cup
The USA faced a star-studded Portugal side during a group stage game at the 2022 World Cup in Korea. Portugal had superstars such as Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Pauleta amongst their starting lineup, but it was the USA that stunned Portugal on the day.
The game was played in the middle of the night for viewers in America due to the vast time difference in Korea, but it was worth the sacrifice to stay up for. The US took a 3-0 lead in stunning fashion, finished off by Brian McBride scoring the third goal. They then did their best to lock up and hold on, and while they conceded two goals, they won 3-2, marking one of the greatest games in US World Cup history.
3. USA wins tournament bid | 1994 World Cup
The impact of the United States winning the right to host the 1994 World Cup changed everything for the game of soccer in America.
In 1994, there were no real options for American players to play club soccer in their own country. Following the tournament, the MLS was formed, and players like Cobi Jones were able to return to America and feature for teams in the states.
Since then, the MLS has grown tremendously, with stars such as Thierry Henry, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Andrea Pirlo all playing for MLS franchises. The growth of the MLS has been amazing to watch, and it all started with the USA’s winning bid for the 1994 World Cup.
2. USA vs Mexico | 2002 World Cup
The USA men’s soccer team's only knockout victory in World Cup history came against their main rivals Mexico during the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan.
Claudio Reyna captained the team in what would become a scrappy, tense game after Brian McBride fired the US in front just eight minutes in after a surge down the right-hand side from Reyna.
Players were tussling all over the field with tensions rising between the two sides as the game went on. There were elbows flying and rash challenges left and right. Brad Friedel played a heroic game as Mexico kept coming, and was one of the best players throughout the tournament for the US.
In the second half, Eddie Lewis sprinted down the left-hand side and whipped a cross into the box, and Landon Donovan doubled the American’s lead.
Now down 2-0, Mexico lost their cool and the fouls got worse, eventually resulting in captain Rafa Marquez getting sent off for a nasty challenge in their air on Cobi Jones. It was a great win for the US, and remains to be their only knockout win at a World Cup. It was fitting that it came against Mexico, and the game signified a change in US mentality, no longer fearing the opposition or their rivals in Mexico, who had tried to bully them all day without any success.
1. USA vs Algeria | 2010 World Cup
In the final round of games in Group C of the 2010 World Cup, the USA soccer team faced Algeria in what was a must-win game. The USA had drawn their first two matches against England and Slovenia, and headed into the final game knowing that if they won, they would go through to the knockout stages.
The US had a goal controversially disallowed from Clint Dempsey, who was supposedly standing in an offside position when he tapped home a rebound.
It was tense, and Dempsey later hit the post having beaten the goalkeeper, before the rebound of his own shot fell back to him and he put it wide of the glaring goal.
In the dying moments, Tim Howard caught a headed shot from Algeria before throwing the ball downfield to Landon Donovan and sparking a counter attack that would result in Dempsey taking a shot, saved by the goalkeeper and rolling straight into the path of the incoming Donovan.
The cool and collected US forward slotted it home, and pandemonium ensued. It was the greatest moment in the international career of iconic US star Landon Donovan, and remains the most electric moment in US soccer history as a whole.