Before we move on from Friday’s amazing scenes outside Denver, turning everyone’s attention to what’s ahead in Tuesday’s friendly against Mexico as the U.S. march to Brazil 2014 continues, let’s spend just a few more minutes considering the unforgettable, snowy scenes at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Specifically, where does the United States’ 1-0 win over Costa Rica that played out so remarkably in a blizzard outside Denver rank among the most memorable U.S. World Cup qualifiers?
For the drama of the moment, but mostly for the novelty and for the aesthetic of the awesome pictures coming out of DSG Park, this was undoubtedly among the most unforgettable U.S. World Cup qualifiers ever.
The Top Five in my mind:
5. U.S. – Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain, 1989: The soccer historians will tell you this one mattered more than any others in the big picture. Paul Caligiuri scored the afternoon’s only goal in a 1-0 win (perhaps the most famous goal in U.S. national team history) that secured passage to World Cup 1990 in Italy. Without the goal, the United States’ role as hosts five years later may have been subject to even more worldwide mock and scorn than it was. That appearance (made possible that win in Port of Spain, helped validate the growing U.S. place in global soccer.
4. U.S. – Costa Rica in Portland, 1997: U.S. midfielder Tab Ramos scored the only goal in a monumental U.S. achievement over Costa Rica, a 1-0 victory that Steve Sampson’s team needed desperately to keep the drive alive for France ’98. But it wasn’t just the result that mattered, it was the absolutely brilliant, stirring atmosphere in downtown Portland. American soccer grew up a little bit that day, and wonderfully so.
3. U.S. – El Salvador in New England, 2001: An odd one, because so few people actually saw it. The United States had lost three qualifiers in a row, and chances of passage into World Cup 2002 in Asia were nearly on the skids. Bruce Arena’s team clawed out the needed result (2-1 over Jamaica), but that’s not what makes this one so memorable, again, in an odd way. All networks preempted programming as the Afghan War began that day when U.S. aircraft began attacks.
2. U.S. – Costa Rica in Denver, 2013: The yellow ball was out (better seen against the fluffy white background that framed the pictures and made this match such a unique spectacle. And a lovely one – for anyone watching this surreal scene unfold from the comfy warmth of their living room, at least. The cascading drama around the U.S. side made Friday’s contest meaningful, never mind the meteorological mayhem.
1. U.S. – Mexico in Columbus, 2001: Truly, in a place where “meaningful” meets “memorable” in terms of U.S. qualifier moments, this will continue to be the gold standard for years and years to come. The original La Guerra Fria was as significant in that it began a period of U.S. dominance in the border series with Mexico – and because it was so darned infuriating to the opponents, a match set in bitterly cold Columbus expressly to create maximum discomfort for the Mexicans.