Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Five U.S. World Cup Appearances

OhmyGodwasthatawesomeorWHAT? Watching alone in my apartment, I let out a shriek that scared Dizzy. (For the record, if anything seriously bad ever does happen to me in Dizzy's presence, it appears that he will run and hide rather than run to me, Lassie-style, to see if he can help.) The U.S. national soccer team is going to the second round of the World Cup, for only the fourth time in the team's history.

In fact, the U.S. team didn't even qualify for the World Cup from 1954 through 1986. This year is the team's ninth World Cup appearance. Here are five earlier highlights.

1. 1930, Uruguay. The very first World Cup is still the high-water mark for the U.S. soccer team. We came in third, defeating Belgium and Paraguay before losing to Argentina in the knockout round. Only 13 countries played that year, and Uruguay won.

2. 1950, Brazil. We lost in the first round, but not before pulling off one of the most stunning upsets in soccer history, defeating England 1-0. That was not enough to make up for the losses against Spain and Chile, but England fans feel the pain to this day.

3. 1990, Italy. The U.S. qualified for its first World Cup in 40 years by beating Trinidad & Tobago in the regional CONCACAF Championship, but washed out in the first round with successive losses to Czechoslovakia, Italy and Austria.

4. 1994, United States. The U.S. hosted the World Cup for the first time. Major League Soccer was created as a condition for winning the bid. Fears that Americans wouldn't show up to soccer games were unfounded, as attendance broke records at nine different venues: Pasadena, CA; Pontiac, MI; Stanford (Palo Alto), CA; East Rutherford, NJ; Orlando, FL; Chicago, IL; Dallas, TX; Foxborough, MA; and Washington, DC. The U.S. team got an automatic spot as the host country, but made it to the second round after a win over Colombia that may have led to the murder of Colombian defender Andres Escobar. (His own-goal lost Colombia the game and led to their first-round elimination.) Brazil knocked us out, 1-0, and went on to win the whole tournament in a penalty shoot-out against Italy.

5. 2002, Japan and South Korea. The U.S. team's best performance in modern Cup history started with a shocking win over Portugal, a draw with South Korea, and a loss to Poland. That was enough to advance to the second round, where we beat Mexico 2-0. We lost to Germany in the quarterfinals, and Germany went on to lose to Brazil in the final.

We'll play the second-place team from Group D — Ghana, Serbia or Germany — on Saturday afternoon. I'm clearing my calendar right now.

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