With at least one more date left in the 2014 World Cup, where does the performance of the United States currently slot when ranked with the nation’s previous output at the world’s biggest tournament?
This is the United States’ 10th tournament and, while there’s room for improvement, let’s see where we should consider the accomplishment of escaping Group G.
10. France 1998 — Tasked with a group including Germany, Yugoslavia and Iran, the Yanks went out and promptly lost all three matches. That featured a 2-1 loss to Iran which found the States only goal of the tournament coming in the 87th minute from Brian McBride. Bad things, man. Bad things.
9. Italy 1934 — You might think a “one-and-done” where the States got smashed 7-1 by Italy is worse than France 1998, but reading up on the tournament makes you feel like if there was ever a fixed champion, it was these hosts under Benito Mussolini.
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8. Germany 2006 — In another tough group, with Ghana, Italy and the Czech Republic, the Yanks did manage a draw against 10-man Italy. But remember, the US was coming off a quarterfinal run in 2002 and opened the tourney with a 3-0 beatdown by the Czechs.
7. Italy 1990 — With due respect to tournaments where the States did earn a point or more, this was the US first tourney in four decades and — after a 5-1 thumping from Czechoslovakia — the group settled in for a respectable 1-0 loss to the hosts and a 2-1 loss to Austria. Could’ve been way worse.
6. South Africa 2010 — The group was branded “England Algeria Slovenia Yanks” by the English press, and the US still barely made its way out. Given a gift by English goalkeeper Rob Green, the Yanks needed Michael Bradley heroics to draw Slovenia — sorry Maurice Edu — before needing Landon Donovan’s stoppage time goal to get them by Algeria and into the group’s top spot… which they failed to use to their advantage in a match-up against Ghana instead of Germany (who beat England 4-1). Fun tournament, but not even top-half material because…
5. Brazil 1950 — the Yanks punked England!! After years of not participating, the Three Lions arrived and were expected to dominate the field. In the States’ last World Cup for 40 years, the Americans opened with a 3-1 loss to Spain. But then came “The Game of Their Lives“, where a hearse driver and bunch of non-professional players beat England 1-0. A final 5-2 loss to Chile stings the overall ranking but the US beat their forefathers’ fathers. Not too shabby.
4. USA 1994 — Yes, hosting helps most teams and they needed an ultimately-tragic own goal to get their only win of the tournament, but the Yanks made it out of the group with a draw against Switzerland. The third-place group performance kept them above fellow No. 3 finishers Russia and South Korea, and the States held Brazil into the 72nd minute before a Bebeto goal eliminated them. Brazil won the tournament, and it was just the States’ second back on the stage after a 40-year absence.
3. Brazil 2014 — Bear with me here: the States were given a 36 percent chance to get out of the group, and did it. They exorcised some World Cup demons by beating Ghana in thrilling fashion. They drew Portugal, outplaying the No. 4 ranked team in the world — fair ranking or not — before conceding a late equalizer from a Cristiano Ronaldo cross. They were thoroughly outplayed in losing to Germany 1-0 but have emerged to the Round of 16. Is that better than barely escaping Group E.A.S.Y. and failing to beat Ghana in 2010? We think, “Yes.”
2. Uruguay 1930 — A splendid later tournament and the fact that this was the first World Cup conspire to keep the Yanks’ third-place finish out of our top spot. The US used four goals from Bert Patenaude to spring 3-0 wins over Belgium and Paraguay before being knocked out, 6-1, by Argentina en route to being awarded third thanks to either:
A) Yugoslavia refusing a third-place game.
B) FIFA ranking the US performance as superior.
1. South Korea/Japan 2002 — This quarterfinal run was magical, starting with the 3-2 upset of Portugal to set the States up for a knockout round run. The real glory, however, came in the match that relegates a third-place finish to the second-best tournament: beating Mexico “dos-a-cero” to send El Tri out of the tournament. If only 20-year-old Landon Donovan could finish and HOW WAS TORSTEN FRINGS ALLOWED TO HANDLE A BALL ON THE GOAL LINE?!?!?!?!?
Agree? Disagree? Think beating England should be No. 1? And what would it take to propel the 2014 into the Top Two?