The United States men’s national team is not going to lose on Friday, but at some point in World Cup qualifying this post will bear revisiting. Remember this: the U.S. almost always gives its supporters a scare of some size during CONCACAF play.
Given the Yanks’ religious World Cup qualification record since its 40-year absence ended in 1990, it’s easy to look past the hiccups of the path. From bogus officiating to poorly-lit pitches and a variety of other obstacles, there will be struggles. It’s almost guaranteed.
2014 — The Yanks looked bad after three matches of the third round, having drawn at Guatemala and lost at Jamaica. And really, the boys didn’t find their stride until after the third round despite winning Group A. The U.S. won on the final day to pass Guatemala. Woof. They then lost the first match of the Hex, at Honduras, but would only lose once more en route to winning the group by four points.
2010 — The third round was basically a breeze, relatively speaking, but the Hex found the wind blowing in the face of the USMNT. After a 2W-1D start to the fourth round, the U.S. lost at Costa Rica and Mexico in two of the next three to tempt finishing outside the Top Three at 3W-1D-2L. But the wake-up call still came late in games, as the Yanks came back against El Salvador, Honduras, and the ultimate comeback. After Bryan Ruiz gave Costa Rica a 2-0 lead at half in the Hex finale at RFK, Michael Bradley and Jonathan Bornstein struck twice to save the day and the group (Side note: it was perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had as a fan at a sporting event). Costa Rica finished fourth, and lost to Uruguay in the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL playoff. Slim margins.
2006 — The only team not to lose in the third round’s Group A, the Yanks went 6-1 to start the Hex. Their only loss was at Azteca. This was an easier year for qualifying, and an awful World Cup for the USMNT.
2002 — Oddly enough, the States’ incredible World Cup finish included two CONCACAF rounds of barely making it through. The third round saw the States bottom after two match days of Group 3, but the U.S. rebounded to go 3W-1D in the final four and win the group. The Hex started really well. Four wins and a draw through five matches, but a 1-0 loss at Azteca was followed by a rare loss on home soil (3-2 to Honduras). Then Costa Rica made it three losses on the bounce, and life was dicey for the U.S. Fortunately, its final two matches were against the bottom two sides. The U.S. finished third.
1998 — The semifinals were easy enough, and the Hex started well; A scoreless draw in Jamaica was followed by a 3-0 beating of Canada. But the U.S. lost to Costa Rica before drawing another pair to sink down the table a bit. They didn’t lose the rest of the way in finishing a point shy of Mexico for the table lead.
1994 — Instant qualification as hosts.
1990 — After splitting with Costa Rica, the Yanks wouldn’t lose again. It wasn’t without drama, as the U.S. entered the final match a point behind Trinidad & Tobago, its opponents at Port of Spain. As you might know, Paul Caligiuri did the trick. It was a really nice goal to boot. How’s that for glossing over history?