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Tuesday marks the 10-year anniversary of Landon Donovan’s iconic World Cup goal for the United States against Algeria. Where does Donovan’s strike rank on this list of all-time U.S. men’s national team moments? We rank the Top 10 below.
10. 1-0 Gold Cup win against Brazil, 1998
The U.S. had become an international soccer curiosity by reaching the knockout stage at the 1994 World Cup, where they narrowly lost to eventual champions Brazil in the round of 16. So when Kasey Keller stood on his head to keep Romario and Co. at bay, and Preki came off the bench to score a winning goal against the title holders a few months before France 98 — still the Americans’ only non-loss against the mighty Brazilians in 19 tries — it reinforced the belief that the program was improving. Alas, a squad marked by dysfunction and poor coaching lost all three of its games at the main event.
9. 3-0 Copa America win over Argentina, 1995
As much as the Americans’ competent performance on home soil the year before raised eyebrows, routing the two-time World Cup winners at the 1995 Copa America on goals by Frank Klopas, Alexi Lalas and Eric Wynalda in Uruguay was seen as proof that the U.S. was improving rapidly.
8. Original ‘Dos a Cero’, 2001
Second-half goals by Josh Wolff and Earnie Stewart gave the U.S. its first World Cup qualifying win over Mexico since 1980. Played in below-freezing temperatures in Columbus, Ohio, it was also the first home qualifier against El Tri to be played in front of a pro-U.S. crowd. The Americans would go on to beat Mexico in Columbus by the same 2-0 scoreline in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cup cycles — not to mention in another match still ahead on this list.
7. Stunning Spain at the Confederations Cup, 2009
A tactical masterclass by Bob Bradley nullified Spain’s all-world midfield and resulted in perhaps the most impressive USMNT win of all time. Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey scored in the upset, which snapped a 35-match unbeaten run for then-defending European champs. Spain went on to establish itself as the greatest international soccer dynasty ever by winning the 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euros.
6. Beating England, 1950
The U.S. had reached the semis of the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay 20 years earlier, but most European teams declined to participate in the fledgling event because of the lengthy cross-Atlantic ship travel involved. By 1950, the tournament truly lived up to its name. And the U.S. stunned planet futbol in Brazil, beating England 1-0 on Joe Gaetjens’ goal. The upset was so unexpected that the New York Times famously refused to print the score, convinced that it was a typo. The triumph was short-lived, though: The U.S. would not participate in another World Cup for 40 years.
5. World Cup win over Colombia, 1994
After being held to a point by Switzerland in its USA 94 opener, the Bora Milutinovic-led Americans needed to win one of their final two group stage games to avoid becoming the first host nation in World Cup history not to advance out of the first round. They got it in their next match, a 2-1 win over against Los Cafeteros, one of the favorites to win the entire tourney that year.
4. World Cup win over Ghana, 2014
With 15 million people watching back in the U.S., 20-year-old substitute defender John Brooks soared into the Brazilian night and headed home the winner against the same country that had knocked the Americans out of the previous two World Cups. The 2-1 victory, combined with a draw against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in the next match, helped the U.S. survive a group of death that also included eventual champ Germany and allowed them to advance at consecutive World Cups for the first time.
3. Eliminating Mexico in the 2002 World Cup
Despite stunning Portugal in the opener and stealing a point from host South Korea in their first two games, Bruce Arena’s team was fortunate to advance to the knockout round after losing its group stage finale to Poland. They got even luckier by drawing blood enemy Mexico in the round of 16. The U.S. knew Mexico inside out. And after starting the 2000s going 4-1 in five meetings with El Tri, they knew they could beat them.
A shrewd tactical switch by Arena unsettled the Mexicans, with goals by Brian McBride and a 20-year-old Landon Donovan sealing the 2-0 win in highest-stakes match ever played between the rivals. The U.S. would go on to narrowly lose to Germany in the quarterfinals.
2. Paul Caligiuri’s ‘Shot heard ’Round the World’, 1989
Needing a win on the road to Trinidad and Tobago (sound familiar?) to qualify for Italia 90 and snap the country’s 40-year World Cup drought, Caligiuri scored on a looping, long-range shot, the only goal of the match in front of an overflow crowd in Port of Spain. The national team’s return to the global stage the following summer marked the beginning of the modern era in American soccer, which in turn set the sport on its path to the mainstream.
More eyeballs might have been on Brooks’ winner but in terms of sheer momentum-building, the binary nature of Donovan’s last-gasp goal takes the cake. For those who don’t remember, the U.S. would’ve been eliminated from South Africa had the match against Algeria ended scoreless. Instead, not only did the 1-0 win punch the Americans’ ticket to the second round, it gave Bradley’s side the top spot in Group C, forcing England to settle for second place.
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