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Top 5 USA Wins in World Cup History

Yes, this list of Top 5 USA Wins in World Cup History was easy to compile because the US has only eight wins in the history of the World Cup. In fact, only 5 since Dwight Eisenhower was President, but that doesn’t mean we can’t relive those incredible moments.

In no particular order, here are our Top 5 USA Wins in World Cup History.

During the World Cup draw in 2014, there was a collection groan when the US was placed into the so-called “Group of Death” featuring world powers Germany, Portugal, and new rival Ghana. Four years earlier, it was the small West African country that ended the US campaign in the Round of 16. As luck would have it, the last team to beat the US in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups would be the first team they faced in 2014. What a thriller it would be.

Before most Americans had settled onto their couches to watch the game, striker Clint Dempsey dribbled around a Ghana defender and found a spot just inside the post to put the US on the board. The goal took 29 seconds to score, which is the fifth fastest in World Cup history. Amazingly, that lead lasted until the 82nd minute until Ghana’s André Ayew found the back of the net to even the score 1-1. Another extra time tilt with Ghana seemed inevitable until late substitute John Brooks, a much debated roster inclusion, converted a Graham Zuzi cross pass just 4 minutes later. The 21 year old looked overwhelmed as he processed the goal, asking his teammates to give him a minute to himself before celebrating. The header in the 86th minute ending up being the game winner, helping the US overcome a major hurdle and earning 3 important points before games against Portugal and Germany.

The opening game would end up being the US’s only win of the tournament, but 2014 squad faced some of the best in the world and rose to the occasion. The following game against world #4 ranked Portugal would have been included on this list of Top 5 USA Wins in World Cup History except for a tying goal scored in the 94th minute evened the score for Portugal, robbing the US of its largest World Cup upset in the modern era. The US would advance to the Round of 16 thanks in part to the three points earned against Ghana. This set up a showdown with Belgium, and after a scoreless regular time contest, both teams managed to find their scoring touch in extra time. In the end, Belgium walked away 2-1 winners.

Anything that has carried “The Miracle on Grass” moniker for over half a century must have been something special. This so called miracle occurred during the USA’s 1950 trip to the World Cup, which amazingly would be the last time the nation qualified until 8 Presidents later. The US came into the tournament as 500-1 favorites to walk away champions, so not much was expected from the team of amateurs.

After being beaten by Spain 3-1 in their opening game (having led 1-0 until the 81st minute), the US was matched up against tournament favorite England. For some reason, England decided to sit their star player Bennie Matthews and in a time before substitutes were allowed during a game, the US dodged having to match up against perhaps the best player in the world at the time.

Early in the game, it looked like the absence of Matthews wouldn’t matter as England tallied six shots on goal in the games for 12 minutes including two off of the post. Those reminiscing on the game estimated that England controlled possession for 90% of the contest. Walter Bahr, a member of the 1950 squad said, “They did have scoring opportunities. I don’t know the exact count, but I know they hit the woodwork a couple times in the first 20 minutes. It looked like a matter of time before they would score a goal and maybe open the floodgates. But from about midway in the first half, I thought we started to play with a bit more confidence.” Then in 38th minute, a rare US attack saw a fortuitous bounce off the head of forward Haitian born Joe Gaetjens to give the Yanks a 1-0 lead.

For the rest of the game, the US played excellent defense and goalie Frank Borghi played the game of his life. Borghi, who drove a hearse for a living, made a series of diving stops to stiffen the so called “Kings of Football” from across the pond. The Brazilian crowd loudly backed the underdogs hoping to urge them to victory and possibly knock England out of contention.

The single goal proved to be the difference in the game, as the US pulled off the upset that sent shockwaves throughout the soccer world. That is, for those who actually took the score seriously. Several major media outlets such as the BBC and New York Times thought the score was either incorrect or misreported.

After being beat decidedly by Chile 5-2 in their final game of match play, the US left the tournament with only one win.  In terms of upsets, this is certainly the biggest upset in US World Cup history, but unfortunately it did not lead to much in terms of momentum, but is certainly in the Top 5 USA Wins in World Cup History. While the US’s lone victory proved to be a flash in the pan, they did certainly made an impression while in Brazil. England, who entered the game ranked #2 in the world, finished in an underwhelming eight place and failed to make it out of group play.

A book and eventually a movie was made about the game, the latter being named “The Miracle Match.”

Top 5 USA Wins in World Cup History

There are a lot of directions the commentary on this game could go, but we will stick to the fact that the final score was 2-1.

Despite playing host to the premier soccer tournament in the world, it was a foregone conclusion that the US was not much of a contender to do much on the pitch in 1994. However, they were not considered to be a total pushover either. Behind a surprise 1990 World Cup appearance and new head coach Bora Milutinovic, the US had an experienced roster with some large matches under their belt.

The Colombians came in with different expectations, riding a 28 game unbeaten streak into the tournament and igniting chatter about title contention despite not much long term success. During the late 80s and early 90s, the national team saw a dramatic improvement across the board, partially thanks to millions upon millions of dollars invested in facilities and development through local drug cartels. The team had dangerous talent at all positions and confidence that was through the roof, and the team from South America was the choice of Pele himself to take home the title.

That confidence did not make it through customs, as Colombia was thoroughly dismantled by Romania 3-1 in their opening game. After a 1-1 draw against Switzerland, the US found themselves in a near desperate situation for their second game in the opening round as well. So on June 22nd in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl, two nations squared off in a must win situation.

Despite some outstanding Colombian scoring opportunities early in the game, it was the US who struck first… kinda. Forward John Harkes sent a cross pass that was broken up by standout Colombian defender Andres Escobar . However, his deflection snuck past goalie Oscar Cordoba, who was playing in place of imprisoned star goalie Rene Higuita. It’s a powerful image, as Cordoba reaction is one of complete disbelief, looking like a character from the Matrix. 1-0 USA.

Top 5 USA Wins in World Cup History

Early in the second half, striker Earnie Stewart buried a pass from Tab Ramos at the 52nd minute to make the score 2-0. After the game, many of the US players said they could sense the panic in their opponents. Despite a late flurry that yielded a goal by Adolfo Valencia in the 90th minute, the Colombians could not convert again to even the score. USA 2, Colombia 1.

“You know all the games in the World Cup are important, but this one was more important as a team,” US defender Marcelo Balboa said after the game. “We knew that if we happen to beat Columbia that we would be in the second round. In soccer, you need a little bit of luck and on that day the ball bounced our way.”

Despite a decisive 2-0 victory against Switzerland, Colombia failed to advance out of the first round. The Americans would reach the Round of 16 and lose eventual champion Brazil 1-0.

As the years have passed, a lot of disturbing details have emerged about the turmoil the Colombian squad battled off the field leading up to and during the World Cup, including a death threat against midfielder Gabriel Gomez the night before the USA game. Even before the tournament, the players experienced death threats, family members kidnapped, and riots in their hometown. The violence in Colombia eventually led to the murder of defender Andres Escobar two weeks after the game. If you are reading this article, you need to carve out 1 hour and 44 minutes to watch the incredible ESPN documentary The Two Escobars by brothers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist. While the USA game is just a piece of the entire story, they beautifully weave the story of Colombia’s rise on and off the field.

Top 5 USA Wins in World Cup History

It’s a little sad that this game has to be included because it wasn’t against a rival or world power, but having taken place during the first World Cup with worldwide social media and smartphones, it’s easily the USMNT’s most famous goal.

Coming off of a disappointing 2006 World Cup in Germany, fans of the national team were eager to see a crop of new talent led by Clint Dempsey, Jozi Altidore, Michael Bradley and goalie Tim Howard. The 2010 tournament started off with a 1-1 tie after England’s goalie Green misplayed a soft dribbler in the box. Game 2 against Slovenia also ended in a 2-2 tie (albeit a controversial one), meaning the U.S. headed to Pretoria for its final game against Algeria needing a win to ensure its progression to the knockout rounds. The result of Slovenia vs. England, kicking off simultaneously, would have a huge bearing on how the group would shake out, but the Americans controlled their destiny: win and they’re in. Landon Donovan said of the situation, “All you can ask for, for a team like ours, is going into the third game with a chance to advance, right?” 

The game was extremely defensive minded with just a handful of scoring opportunities for either side. Dempsey failed to convert two outstanding chances, including a goal that was waived off due to a close offsides call. He later hit the right post on a shot and missed an easy put back, and when it was announced that 4 minutes of extra time would be put on the clock as the vuvuzelas echoed through the South Africa arena, the US went into desperation mode.

“We’ve all played in a number of games where you dominate and you get chance after chance and for whatever reason, it doesn’t go in,” Donovan says. “Not that we were going to give up. We obviously didn’t give up. But there was that feeling where you say, ‘This might be the day when we’re not going to score.’”

After a save by Tim Howard, the US quickly moved up the field on a counter attack. The goalkeeper immediately pushed forward and threw the ball into the path of a sprinting Donovan, who was already at midfield. Donovan continued his run, playing the ball to Altidore wide right, who squared a cross for Dempsey. The point blank shot was initially saved by Algerian goalie Rais M’Bolhi, but an uncovered Landon Donovan swooped in for the easy put back as Clint Dempsey sat inside the goal.

Donovan raced toward the corner flag, slid on his belly and was met almost immediately by the entire U.S. bench. The goal in the 91st minute was the only one scored that day, but it was enough to advance the Yanks to the Round of 16 as World Cup Group winners for the first time in 80 years. Videos from across the US were uploaded to YouTube showing the sheer exuberance from soccer fans across the nation, something that had not been available before the 2010 World Cup.

This type of excitement helped contribute to a massive increase in team viewership as the national team’s three group-stage games in South Africa averaged more than 11 million viewers back home. That was up 68% from the 2006 World Cup, according to Nielsen, and it led to an audience of more than 19 million for their next game three days later. That number was higher than the viewership for every game of the 2010 World Series and the first six of the 2010 NBA Finals.

“To see all of their reactions, I think that re-energized us. Look at all the people behind us. Look at all the people now that are going to support us for the next one” player Jay DeMerit said. “It made us feel like we were doing it for more than ourselves. We’re on the cusp of having a country that doesn’t really care about soccer, really care about soccer. What a rare opportunity.”

The 2010 World Cup run would run out of magic three days later after a 2-1 loss to Ghana, but the memories and images from the Algeria game will never be forgotten.


Top 5 USA Wins in World Cup History

The Summer of 2002, without a doubt, served as the berth of a generation of World Cup fans in the United States. Part of the love came from a once in a generation perfect storm where two border rivals met with the opportunity to crush the others’ dreams.

Per usual, there wasn’t much expected for the US squad, which had finished dead last in the prior World Cup and barely qualified for the 2002 tournament. Despite being rather even in friendlies and qualifiers leading up to the 2002 World Cup, Mexico was the favorite to knock out the United States. The US players even noted the fact that they thought the players from Mexico were laughing a bit too much in pregame warm ups, but that level of looseness and comfort was evaporated within 10 minutes of the start of the game.

US coach Bruce Arena was very familiar with the Mexico style of play and line up configuration. Before the game, he moved team captain Claudio Reyna to a new position hoping to spark a series of mismatches. The strategy paid off immediately after Reyna led a run that eventually found its way onto the foot of Brian McBride and into the back on the next in just the 8th minute. “The goal really unsettled Mexico,” Reyna recalls. “We punched them early and it really stung them and it frustrated them.”

The next 30 minutes turned into the Brad Freidel show, as the US goal keeper made incredible save after save to frustrate El Tri. By the time Landon Donovan’s head buried the second US goal at the 65th minute, Mexico had come completely unglued. Mexico’s Hernandez, Blanco, Alberto Garcia Aspe and Salvador Carmona all went into the book in the next 20 minutes. US veteran Cobi Jones, who was brought off the bench to help the U.S. defend the lead, then became a target for Rafael Marquez, who drew a red card. At the final whistle, the US had won 2-0 and clinched a spot in the quarterfinals, while unexpectedly creating the now infamous moniker “dos y cero.”

“It was more than a World Cup match,” Jones says. “This was personal. This is the one time we’ve played our biggest rival when everything was on the line. And we won.”

The US would go on to face Germany in one of the best games of the tournament, losing 1-0 to the eventual tournament runner-ups. While the US failed to keep the momentum going in 2006, the accomplishments of the 2002 will not forgotten any time soon.

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