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Ranking USMNT's 30 Greatest World Cup Moments

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2014

Ranking USMNT's 30 Greatest World Cup Moments

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    The United States of America may not have an illustrious history at the FIFA World Cup like the ones put together by European and South American nations, but there are plenty of memorable moments from the nine tournaments it has competed in. 

    Some of those appearances in the World Cup are not so memorable, which is why we added some important events from World Cup qualification tournaments to this list as well.

    Continue reading for a look at the top 30 moments in United States World Cup history. 

30. The Lone Goal in France

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    THOMAS KIENZLE/Associated Press

    The 1998 World Cup was one to forget for the United States, as it produced a single goal in three games. 

    Brian McBride scored the lone goal of the tournament for the Yanks against Iran in the 87th minute of a 2-1 loss. 

    The 1998 squad will go down as one of the worst teams to ever step foot on a pitch during the World Cup, but it did produce the first World Cup goal for the legendary American forward. 

29. Gooch vs. Borgetti

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    In the buildup to the 2006 World Cup, a competition where the Americans performed terribly, one moment is remembered from the qualifying process.

    United States defender Oguchi Onyewu and Mexico's Jared Borgetti got tangled up and the mess ended up in a terrifying stare from Onyewu in what was a very physical match. 

    After Steve Ralston and DaMarcus Beasley scored in the second half, history repeated itself for the third time in five years as the Yanks won, 2-0. 

    The victory also helped the United States clinch its berth in the forgettable 2006 World Cup in Germany. 

28. The 2006 Improbable Draw with Italy

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    Michael Steele/Getty Images

    The 2006 World Cup disaster in Germany was highlighted by a vicious game against Italy in Kaiserslautern. 

    The Americans seemed to have the advantage in the match after Daniele De Rossi was sent off in the 28th minute, but that was far from the case, as the match ended in a draw where nine Americans were left on the pitch. 

    De Rossi was sent off for an elbow that left McBride's face full of blood, but the United States players could not contain their composure after that crucial juncture in the match.

    Pablo Mastroeni and Eddie Pope were both sent off in the match that miraculously ended up a 1-1 draw. 

    The lone American goal was not even scored by someone in the squad. It was Italy's Cristian Zaccardo's own goal in the 27th minute that put the Americans on the board. 

    Despite all of the drama, the United States still had a chance to advance to the knockout round in the next game because of the resilience shown by Kasey Keller in goal. 

27. Graham Zusi Becomes a Saint in Mexico

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    Arnulfo Franco/Associated Press

    On the final day of World Cup qualifying in 2013, the United States turned in a memorable final five minutes in Panama to alter the fortunes of two different nations. 

    Thanks to Graham Zusi's goal in the 92nd minute in Panama City, Panama was eliminated from World Cup contention, while Mexico earned a spot in the play-off against New Zealand, which it eventually won. 

    Zusi's goal tied the match, and Aron Johannsson added on to the Panamanian misery with a goal just a minute later to finish off the hosts. 

26. Brad Evans Rescues Yanks in Jamaica

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    At the beginning of the Hex in 2013, the United States stumbled out of the gate with four points in three games. 

    The momentum changed in the team's favor on June 7 in Kingston after Brad Evans scored a game-winning goal in the 92nd minute. 

    Evans found the back of the net just three minutes after all hope seemed to be lost as the hosts equalized through Jermaine Beckford. 

    Evans was also the unlikeliest of stars that night as he had been recently brought into the squad by Jurgen Klinsmann and was playing at an unfamiliar position at right-back. 

    The first goal of Evans' international career eventually sprung a winning streak by the Yanks that lasted 12 games across two different competitions and two friendlies. 

25. Tim Howard and Michael Bradley Preserve the "Dos a Cero" Legacy

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Tim Howard endeared himself to the American fans on a February night in 2009 that saw him stand on his head and then some against a Mexican side that peppered his net. 

    Inspired by Howard's efforts, the United States rallied to win its third consecutive qualifying game by a 2-0 score in Columbus during the Hex against Mexico.

    A young midfielder named Michael Bradley entered himself into American soccer lore with two goals on a night that mirrored the 2001 qualifier at Crew Stadium. 

24. Loss to Poland Sets Up Rivalry Game with Mexico

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    One of the few disappointments of the 2002 World Cup campaign came in the third match of group play against Poland.

    The Yanks, who had earned four points from two previous matches, could have won the group with a win over Poland, but instead they fell 3-1. 

    The win was powered by two goals in the first five minutes and was the only triumph that Poland had in South Korea that year.

    Luckily for Bruce Arena and company, South Korea defeated Portugal in the corresponding fixture and advancement to the round of 16 was solidified.

    That loss ultimately set up one of the biggest moments in American soccer history. 

23. Scoring 4 Goals Against All Odds in 1950

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    The 1950 team that entered the World Cup really had no business being there, but the squad did the country proud by scoring four goals and earning two points in group play.

    While those totals are far from acceptable by today's standards, they were wildly celebrated by those surrounding the squad full of semi-professionals and average Joes. 

    The most memorable moment from that World Cup is the victory over England, but the Americans also played two other games against Spain and Chile.

    The United States held its own against Spain in a 3-1 loss that saw the victors score three times in the final 10 minutes. 

    After the win over England, the Yanks were thrashed, 5-2, by Chile in Recife. 

22. Qualification in 1998

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Since the United States was handed a spot in the 1994 World Cup because of its hosting duties, it did not qualify for the competition through CONCACAF.

    During the next World Cup cycle, the Americans had to earn their spot in the World Cup to keep the momentum behind the emerging sport at home going. 

    Against Mexico in that qualifying year, the United States drew 2-2 at home in Foxborough before earning a goalless draw down at Azteca, a result that was shocking at the time. 

21. Qualification for 1990 World Cup

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    Simon Bruty/Getty Images

    Under some heavy criticism after being awarded the 1994 World Cup, the United States qualified for its first tournament in 40 years in 1990. 

    During those days, the CONCACAF Championship determined the two entrants to the 24-nation field. 

    At the 1989 CONCACAF Championship, Paul Caligiuri scored the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago that clinched a berth alongside Costa Rica at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. 

    The United States got smoked in Italy, but qualifying for the tournament was the goal for 1990 and the team succeeded in doing so. 

20. The Original "Dos a Cero"

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    Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images

    The legend of "Dos A Cero" began back in 2001 in Columbus in a match where Josh Wolff became an American soccer hero.

    Wolff unexpectedly played the starring role in the victory due to an injury to McBride. 

    He scored and assisted on Earnie Stewart's late goal against a Mexican side that didn't even warm up before the match in the freezing temperatures in Columbus.

    No one knew it then, but the 2-0 victory over Mexico started a tradition of winning that extended into the next year's World Cup. 

19. The Clinching in Columbus

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    One of the most satisfying victories in American soccer history came this past September in Columbus against Mexico.

    Once again, the Yanks defeated El Tri by a 2-0 score, but this win was sweeter because it clinched a spot in the World Cup for Jurgen Klinsmann's team. 

    Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey scored a goal apiece in the second half to ensure that the tradition of "Dos A Cero" would live on for another World Cup cycle.

    Dempsey had a chance to make it 3-0 in the waning moments of the game, but his penalty shot went wide of goal. 

    Whether that was on purpose or not, we will never know. 

18. Victory in the Hex

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    As the 2006 World Cup approached, the United States was not in danger of failing to qualify for the event in Germany, but its spot atop the Hex standings was under threat.

    Thanks to a 2-0 win over Panama on the final day of the Hex, the United States snagged the title in the Hex over Mexico. 

    Kyle Martino and Taylor Twellman scored the goals at Gillette Stadium on the same night where Mexico fell to a Trinidad and Tobago side that qualified for the intercontinental playoff. 

17. Landon Donovan's World Cup Debut

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    VINCENT YU/Associated Press

    Back in 2002, a 20-year-old named Landon Donovan made his mark on the American soccer scene for the first time.

    Donovan was handed a start alongside another legendary forward, McBride, in the first match of group play against Portugal. 

    Starting Donovan in his first World Cup game was clearly the right decision, as he played a big part in the upset win over the Portuguese on that day in Suwon.

    Twelve years later, Donovan is on the verge of appearing in his fourth consecutive World Cup for the Yanks. 

16. The Start of an Illustrious Career

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    No one knew back in 1994 that Cobi Jones would end up becoming the most capped player in United States history when he made his World Cup debut on home soil against Switzerland. 

    Jones entered the match as a substitute and played the same role in the next two group games. 

    Jones ended up earning a start in the round of 16 loss to Brazil, and because of his showing at the tournament, he earned a move to Coventry City in the English Premier League. 

    The midfielder ended his international career in 2004 with 164 appearances, which is a record that could be broken by Landon Donovan within the next year. 

15. Opening Draw at the Silverdome

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    Mike Powell/Getty Images

    The United States opened its 1994 World Cup campaign at the former home of the NFL's Detroit Lions, the Pontiac Silverdome. 

    Unfortunately for the Yanks, they could not rely on the services of Barry Sanders against Switzerland in their 1-1 draw. 

    Unlike the recent World Cups, the United States did not kick off play in the World Cup, as the honor was given to Germany and Bolivia at Solider Field the day before. 

    On that day at the Silverdome, Eric Wynalda, now of Fox Soccer broadcasting fame, delivered a 45th-minute equalizer to earn a 1-1 result with the Swiss. 

    In the starting 11 that day for the United States were legends like Marcelo Balboa, Alexi Lalas, John Harkes and Tony Meola. 

14. Robert Green's Present to the United States

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    Martin Rose/Getty Images

    Down by a goal with a few minutes left before the half against England, the United States was looking for a chance to equalize its Group C foe in 2010. 

    That chance came in the 40th minute when Three Lions keeper Robert Green bobbled a Clint Dempsey shot. 

    Green's howler resulted in the first American goal of the tournament and ended up causing a draw between the two sides, a result that eventually had an effect on the final group table.

13. Defeat of Colombia at the Rose Bowl

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    Mike Powell/Getty Images

    Perhaps the biggest spectacle that the Yanks participated in at the 1994 World Cup was the second group game against a Colombia side that came into the tournament with a ton of hype. 

    In front of over 93,000 fans at the Rose Bowl, the United States pulled off a miraculous victory thanks in part to an own goal from Andres Escobar, who unfortunately lost his life soon after his return to Colombia. 

    The fateful own goal by Escobar occurred in the 35th minute, but the game-clinching goal came from Stewart in the 52nd minute as he extended the lead to two goals. 

    The Colombian side, captained by Carlos Valderamma, did not respond until a 90th-minute goal was scored by Adolfo Valencia. 

12. The Torsten Frings Incident

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    VINCENT YU/Associated Press

    The Yanks represented the nation well at the 2002 World Cup and they didn't go down without a fight against a Germany side that featured Oliver Kahn, Michael Ballack and Dietmar Hamann.

    The 1-0 defeat will be remembered for a blown call by referee Hugh Dallas of Scotland in the 50th minute. 

    Germany's Torsten Frings clearly used his hand to clear a Gregg Berhalter shot off the line, but to the dismay of all Americans, the call was not made. 

    Had the correct call been made in that game, the history of United States soccer could have shifted since all that stood in the way of a trip to the final was a South Korea side that drew with the Yanks in the group stage. 

    Regardless of the decision made by the referee, the Americans played their hearts out and left Japan and South Korea with plenty of respect from other traditional powers of the game. 

11. The Extra-Time Defeat to Ghana

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    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    After the United States escaped a drama-filled Group C in South Africa, it had to face an old foe in Ghana.

    The round of 16 match showed just how exhausted the American squad was from the win over Algeria three days prior. 

    Somehow, the Americans gutted it out and forced the match into extra time, where Ghana took over and scored the game-winning goal in the 93rd minute by way of Asamoah Gyan. 

    The loss marked the second consecutive World Cup in which the United States was eliminated by Ghana. 

    Just as luck would have it, the two sides will open the 2014 World Cup against each other in Brazil.

10. The Comeback vs. Slovenia

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    Luca Bruno/Associated Press

    Six days after earning a draw in what was supposed to be its toughest game of the group stage, the United States found itself in a street fight with Slovenia. 

    The Americans were outplayed for most of the first half and went into the locker room down by two goals. 

    In the second half, Bob Bradley's team found a spark in the form of a 48th-minute goal by Landon Donovan.

    Michael Bradley equalized in the 82nd minute before all hell broke loose because of one terrible refereeing decision. 

    Maurice Edu thought he had scored the game-winning goal off of a set piece, but he was incorrectly ruled offsides by referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali, a name that still sparks up anger in the American camp to this day. 

9. Advancing to the Knockout Stage in 1994

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Thanks to the victory over Colombia and draw with Switzerland, the United States finished third in its group in 1994. 

    The team managed by Bora Milutinovic ended up as the third-best third place team and advanced to the knockout stage because of that. 

    The team's stay in the knockout round didn't last long, as they dropped out to eventual champion Brazil in the round of 16 by a 1-0 score. 

    Despite winning just one game on home soil, the United States certainly overachieved by defeating Colombia and holding Brazil to a single goal at Stanford Stadium. 

8. First Group Title in 80 Years

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    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Due to the outstanding effort put in against Algeria in the final group game in 2010, the United States won its first group title at the World Cup in 80 years. 

    That distance between group victories may seem like a big gap, but if you take it into perspective, the Americans were only competitive in two of the previous World Cups it had entered. 

    Before 2010, winning the group was not an expectation of U.S. Soccer, as the first priority was to just survive and advance. 

    Now that the team was finally good enough to compete with the best, the Yanks showed that they had the quality to win the group.

    Not to mention they received some help from a disappointing England side throughout the group campaign as well. 

7. Finishing 3rd at 1930 World Cup

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    The 1930 team was one step away from playing for the Jules Rimet Trophy.
    The 1930 team was one step away from playing for the Jules Rimet Trophy.Associated Press

    Believe it or not, the highest-placing United States team at a World Cup was a team that ended up in third place. 

    The 1930 version of the national team won their group that also contained Belgium and Paraguay in a 13-team tournament that saw four European teams travel by ship to Uruguay to play in the event. 

    To the delight of many present-day American soccer fans, archrival Mexico failed to record a single point in group play against Argentina, Chile and France.

    Argentina would be the team that eventually knocked out the United States in the semifinals by a 6-1 margin.

    Since the third-place game didn't exist back then, the United States shared the honor with Yugoslavia. 

6. First-Ever Win at World Cup

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    The first-ever victory in the World Cup for the Yanks came back in 1930 in Montevideo, Uruguay.

    The 3-0 win over Belgium propelled the United States to a third-place finish in that tournament as they carried the momentum into a second win over Paraguay before a loss in the semifinals. 

    In the second win of the tournament over Paraguay, Bert Patenaude scored a hat-trick, which helped him become the third-best goalscorer at the tournament with four. 

5. The Shock Win over Portugal

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    For those who woke up in the middle of the night, like myself, to watch the first game of the United States' 2002 World Cup campaign, the result is one that will not be forgotten.

    The United States took down Portugal, 3-2, in a thriller in Suwon, South Korea that saw four goals fly in during the first half. 

    John O'Brien kicked off the goalfest in the eighth minute, and after an own goal by Jorge Costa, McBride put the Americans ahead by three goals in the 36th minute. 

    For the rest of the match, the United States was able to hold strong despite conceding twice to pull off the first of two shock wins at the 2002 edition of the tournament. 

4. Being Awarded the 1994 World Cup

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    Todd Rosenberg/Getty Images

    Let's be dead honest here: If the United States was not awarded the 1994 World Cup, the history of the game in the country would be totally different. 

    As a result of the decision made in 1989 to hand the hosting duties to the States, a domestic soccer league that came to be known as Major League Soccer formed after the competition.

    Because of the creation of MLS, the United States national team was able to further develop players in a professional atmosphere. 

    That development has come full circle 20 years later as most of Jurgen Klinsmann's squad that will head to Brazil will have some type of connection to MLS. 

3. "Dos a Cero" in South Korea

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    VINCENT YU/Associated Press

    One of the games most living United States soccer fans remember the most is the 2-0 victory over Mexico in the round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup. 

    The game in Jeonju, South Korea saw two of the most recognizable players of the last two decades, McBride and Donovan, score a goal apiece in each half. 

    The victory sent shock waves throughout North America, as it marked the second time in two years that the United States had defeated El Tri by the now famous "Dos A Cero" score. 

2. The Upset Heard Round the World

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    The year was 1950 and the United States was far from a footballing superpower when it entered the World Cup in Brazil. 

    While the team may not have advanced out of the group stage, that fact is erased from everyone's memory thanks to the 1-0 win over England.

    The biggest win in American soccer history saw Joe Gaetjens score in the 38th minute in the game played in Belo Horizonte. 

    When the final whistle blew, Gaetjens and his teammates became legends in the American soccer culture forever as they took down a heavily-favored English side. 

1. Landon Donovan's Goal vs. Algeria

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The one lasting memory from the 2010 World Cup is the goal scored by Landon Donovan in the 91st minute against Algeria on the final day of group play in South Africa.

    Donovan tapped in a rebound off a Clint Dempsey shot to send the team and everyone back home into a ridiculous celebration. 

    The victory, combined with a 1-0 win by England over Slovenia, handed the United States the top spot in Group C as well. 

     

    Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

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