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Five Greatest Wins in US World Cup History

It has been just a bit ago since the United States finally defeated Ghana in the FIFA World Cup.  Monday was the eighth win by the United States in the World Cup and while they haven’t had as many wins as other, more successful countries, almost all of their wins have been down to exciting and/or historic moments.   How did the win against Ghana compare to previous victories by the US Men’s National Team.

Honorable Mentions (In Chronological Order):

1930 Uruguay: United States 3-Belgium 0

This game was played simultaneously with France vs. Mexico and were both the first games played at the FIFA World Cup so there was a time where the United States (along with France) was the winningest team in World Cup history.  It was tough to keep this game off the list because it was the first World Cup game but it’s never really been talked about so this game has sadly been lost in US Soccer history.

1930 Uruguay: United States 3-Paraguay 0

This game is notable because it resulted in US forward, Bert Patenaud, to become the first player to score a hat-trick in the FIFA World Cup.  Except for that, you can’t find much about this game so it gets placed outside the top five.

2002 South Korea/Japan: United States 3-Portugal 2

In a result which I’m sure USA supporters would love to see again on Sunday, the US defeated Portugal in their 2002 World Cup opening game and began the journey that resulted in their best World Cup result in US Soccer’s modern era (post 1990).

The Top Five:

#5) 1994 United States: United States 2-Colombia 1

When the United States hosted the 1994 World Cup, no host had ever been knocked out in the group stage.  Before the tournament, many had their doubts that the United States would even get a point, much less get out of the group.  They lost all three games in 1990 and hadn’t won a World Cup game in 44 years.  That all changed on a hot day in June at the Rose Bowl 20 years ago.

The win helped the United States get out of the group stage but they lost to eventual champions Brazil 1-0 in the Round of 16.  The game will be forever remembered for the own goal of Andrés Escobar which helped the United States get the win.  Tragically, Escobar would be shot and killed a couple weeks after the game by drug lords due to the own goal.  I’m a huge fan of ESPN’s 30 for 30 film series and I highly recommend watching The Two Escobars about the lives of Andrés Escobar and drug lord Pablo Escobar and how their lives and murders connected to each other (even though they never met).  It’s one of the best 30 for 30 films out there and that’s saying something.

#4) 2014 Brazil: United States 2-Ghana 1

It’s tough to say what the historical value of this game will provide given that it’s so recently in our minds.  No doubt, this was a great moment in US Soccer history but what happens if the United States doesn’t make it out of the group stage this year?  If the US fails to finish in the top two, this game becomes a mere footnote in history rather than an entire section.

You can also make the argument that while Ghana is a tough team and they beat the US twice, Ghana was the weakest team in the group and the US should’ve beaten them if they wanted to have any hope of advancing through the tournament.  In addition, the US didn’t have that good of a game and some would argue that they maybe deserved a draw and not the win.  Does that take away some of the greatness of the moment?  At the same time, for a lot of people, this was the first time they ever saw the United States play a game so regardless of how they did and how they’ll fare later on in the World Cup, this was a great introduction of the sport to those people.  That’s what makes a moment like this so special to all of us.

I don’t know whether or not how much this game will be remembered but I’ll never forget where I was, just like how I’ll never forget where I was for the next game on this list.

#3) 2010 South Africa: United States 1-Algeria 0

Everyone remembers what happened after the 90th minute but we all could probably forget or have forgotten the first 90 minutes.  Long story short, Algeria parked the bus and the USA tried to score to no success.  Cue Tim Howard, Landon Donovan and the magic voice of Ian Darke in the 91st minute.

It was a great moment, a memorable moment, but the game before that moment was rather forgetting.  I watched the game in full about a month ago and it was a real chore to get through until the 91st minute.  I’ll always remember the goal but I don’t think anyone would blame me if I were to forget about the rest of the game.

#2) 1950 Brazil: United States 1-England 0

If there was Twitter, the internet, TV or even radio that could’ve broadcasted the World Cup around the world in 1950, this would’ve been far and away the greatest upset in all of sports.  Similar to the “Miracle on Ice,” the “Miracle on Grass” would be talked about all the time on American TV during the World Cup and there would’ve been so many replays of the game, it would be like TBS showing A Christmas Story on Christmas Day.

To imagine how big of an upset this is, imagine if a team like American Samoa was in the World Cup and they beat Spain.  That’s what happened in 1950 between the United States and England.  England had some of the best players in the world and the US had a bunch of amateurs and semi-professional players.  There was no organized professional league in America at that time and most club games were local and if those teams did pay, it wasn’t nearly enough to make a living.  You had players who had to turn down invites to play because they couldn’t get off of work and a team who didn’t even play with each other until a couple days before the World Cup started.  The goalscorer and American hero, Joe Gaetjens, was a Haitian immigrant who worked as a dishwasher for a New York City hotel.  He never had American citizenship and yet scored one of the most famous and iconic goals in the history of US Soccer.

I know this game isn’t talked about as much as it should because it happened so long ago and there’s hardly any footage of the game but if I was to teach someone about soccer and the history of US Soccer, this would be the first thing I would tell them about.  This game encapsulated the beauty of soccer and sports in general.  Everyone can tell you that you can’t win but until you actually play the game, it’s all just talk.  You and you alone control your own destiny and anything is possible.  In the end, it’s just 11v11 and it’s all about how you play on the field on that given day.  On June 25, 1950, the United States was on top of the soccer world and that should never be forgotten.

#1) 2002 South Korea/Japan: United States 2-Mexico 0

The original “Dos a Cero” and quite frankly, the only game between the United States and Mexico that actually meant anything.  I know they have played each other in friendlies and World Cup Qualifiers but this was the only game between the two during the World Cup and it took place in the Round of 16.

This win by the United States meant it would be the first time the US would see the Quarterfinals in the modern US Soccer era and they defeated their biggest rival to get there.

I placed this first on the list because it was historically significant in that the US went to the Quarterfinals and they beat Mexico in the only game they’ve ever played in the World Cup and also because it was a pretty good game.  Both teams had their fair share of attacking chances and was a highly entertaining contest.  It’s just a shame the game was played in the middle of the night in the USA or else a lot more people would’ve watched the game.

So there you have it.  This list is tentative because we may have to make updates to it in the next week or so.  All in all, the United States is a team that loves to do the dramatic.  They may not be playing in the most beautiful of games but each of these wins have left a memory that will stand with us US Soccer fans for the rest of our lives.  Here’s to adding to the list.

Phillip Bupp

About Phillip Bupp

Managing editor for 32 Flags as well as a writer for Total-MLS covering Sporting Kansas City. Look for Phillip on the Total-MLS Roundtable and feel free to follow @phillipbupp and @MLSTitleBelt, a project where the title holder must defend the title in every MLS game.

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