I just love asking the good, sweet, clean U.S. Soccer fans this question: Where were you in the wee smalls of June 5, 2002?
Did you even have your first cup of Get up and Go Juice before John O’Brien roofed that re-directed corner kick spectacularly against Portugal? (If you’re on the West Coast, I suppose it wasn’t so much the wee small hours … just more of an early, early rise.)
That was in the opening minutes of the stunning U.S. win over Portugal, a match that kicked off in Asia during the pre-dawn hours in our country. And it was O’Brien’s historic strike that set the wheels in motion for so, so much more.
I have noted before how ironic it was that such a momentous occasion in U.S. Soccer history would happen when so many drowsy American fans (and probably more than a few who couldn’t quite answer the alarm bell) didn’t quite have their senses about them.
The world was certainly alert as a 1-goal lead became a 2-goal lead. And then a 3-goal margin before the break, an absolute stunning turn against the vaunted Portuguese Golden Generation. Portugal was among the favorites at World Cup 2002; the United States was in a remarkable different place, coming off that crummy showing at France ’98, where Steve Sampson’s team had placed 32nd out of 32 teams.
In this piece, I called O’Brien’s goal the single most significant moment of the last decade for U.S. Soccer.
There would be other huge moments in Asia that June: every goal against Portugal would eventually be needed; So would Clint Mathis’ precision strike against South Korea, and both of the epochal strikes in one of the original “Dos a Cero” matches, the sweet Round-of-16 triumph over a wonderfully flustered Mexico that helped arrange a decade of U.S. dominance in the border series.
But that win on June 5, 2002, over Portugal put it all in motion, setting the table for the United States to arrive so tantalizingly close to a semifinal appearance.
And in the bigger, bigger picture, we could argue that June of 2002 did more to push soccer in the United States into greater cultural prominence than any other window. Ever.
Here is O’Brien’s landmark goal: