A couple of months ago, I watched “The Two Escobars,” ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary on the lives of Colombian soccer player Andres Escobar and drug cartel leader Pablo Escobar. It was recommend to me by a non-soccer fan as one of the best documentaries he has ever seen. It is excellent.
The film follows the rise and fall of both Colombian soccer (national and domestic teams), the Medellin Cartel, and the subsequent deaths of the two Escobars.
One tends to forget how good the national Colombian team was. They dominated their 1994 CONMEBOL qualification group winning four games and drawing two, including a 5-0 thrashing in Buenos Aires of favorites Argentina. It was an incredible collection of very exciting players including Carlos Valderrama, Faustino Asprilla, Freddy Rincon, Adolfo Valencia and of course, Andres Escobar.
Obviously with such an emphatic win over Argentina and brimming with confidence, Colombia were certainly 1994 pre-Cup favorites. Sadly they went three and out, beating Switzerland in a meaningless third game, to finish last in the group.
The game that knocked them out was their second against the hosts, USA. After losing their opening game to Romania, Colombia had planned on righting their ship by destroying a well supported, but inferior U.S. side. The U.S. played brilliantly and with Colombia’s attacks rendered moot, some defensive luck, and the fatal own goal, were eventual 2-1 winners.
All this, as well as the subsequent murder of Andres Escobar (a few days later in Medellin), was talked about and discussed as part of pre-match commentary for Tuesday’s USA versus Colombia game. Both Harkes and Lalas were interviewed and asked to give their accounts of the emotions they went through back then. Sidenote: I honestly thought it was the best commentary either one of them has ever done.
So the question that came to my mind: Was this the USMNT’s greatest ever win?
Obviously in 1950 they beat England 1-0, but aside from being a phenomenal upset, U.S. Soccer did nothing of note for almost 40 years following.
Another notable game could possibly include their recent thrilling win over Algeria, to propel the USMNT to winning the group in the past World Cup. Really? Group C was certainly one of the weakest groups in South Africa and whereas they did win, that game should have been a cakewalk, and the USMNT were 90 seconds from going home early. They also failed to beat Ghana, and have not been that impressive in the three subsequent matches since the summer.
One could also point to the U.S.’s excellent win over Spain at the 2009 Confederations Cup. That win would certainly have been their second greatest had they held on to beat Brazil in the final, but in the end it was a very good win that told the rest of the world, “Watch out: the USMNT cannot be underestimated.” Sadly, since that win in Bloemfontein, the USMNT haven’t taken their game to the next level.
My close second would be U.S.’s win over Mexico in the second round of the 2002 World Cup that took them into the quarterfinals (which they controversially lost to Germany). Their run in this cup, and victory over traditional rivals, gripped the nation and got the USA excited about their prospects for the 2006 World Cup.
The won their 2006 qualification group and headed to Germany in high spirits brimming with confidence. Maybe too much, as they underestimated the Czech Republic and Ghana and went home early.
No – I believe the 1994 USMNT’s win against pre-Cup favorites Colombia on home soil at the Rose Bowl was the biggest win in U.S. Soccer’s history.
It came about after an opening game draw against Switzerland, and though they lost in their final group match to Romania, they progressed for the first time to the knockout stages. They lost to Brazil in a close 1-0 game, but a previously skeptical nation embraced their soccer team, and with the MLS playing its first game two years later, the stage was now set for the U.S. to be a dominant force in CONCACAF.
It was also the starting point for foreign clubs to wake up and notice that cheap, but good talent could be found in the northern lands across the pond. Claudio Reyna, Alexi Lalas, Joe Max-Moore and Brad Friedel all moved to European clubs after the 1994 World Cup. Some current overseas players moved to bigger clubs and some got bigger contracts to come back and play in the inaugural MLS season in 1996.
I remember that it was at this point that the media also began to notice that soccer was indeed a popular sport outside the U.S. borders, and that the U.S. could compete against the world’s best (after all, they did lose to the eventual winners). Sadly, some of it had to do with Escobar’s death, but the word “soccer” was often on non-fans’ lips. Newspapers started printing European league tables, sports magazines started doing soccer related features, and people started to pay attention to the qualification process as the U.S. qualified for France ’98. Sadly they crashed and burned and finished last, but four years later they were a different team.
This was a special victory. The USMNT realized that they were for real as they had beaten one of the world’s best (whilst wearing the ugliest uniforms ever created to boot). Everyone began to take notice, and though it would be many years until they created another such upset, it was this win that made it all possible.
DISCLAIMER: I came up with this list before I did any research. In perusing old games, the 1989 final qualification game against Trinidad and Tobago, in which the USMNT won 1-0 to book their place at the 1990 World Cup certainly could be the USMNT’s finest victory. Not only was it their first away victory in 2 years, and it qualified them for their first World Cup in 40 years, but it justified to the world that they deserved to host the 1994 World Cup.
FIFA had previously come up against a lot of scrutiny for awarding the prestigious event to a nation with no professional league, and at the time were slim hopes to legitimately qualify for the world tournament. This win changed that and was the birth of the 1994 team that beat Colombia.
I think this list that is entirely open to interpretation. This is just my opinion and I would love to hear your opinions. One thing I’m sure we can all agree on…that the USMNT’s biggest win is sure to come…hopefully soon!