When the schedule for the Final Round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup came around, the U.S. Soccer Federation had a different idea.
Drawn to play rivals Mexico first, and in February no less, the U.S. Soccer Federation decided to try and maximize home-field by taking advantage of the new phenomenon in the American game – the soccer specific stadium.
Columbus Crew Stadium (now MAPFRE Stadium) was the only one at the time, but with its smaller capacity and location in the heart of the Midwest, the venue proved a perfect spot for the U.S. to have its own unique home atmosphere in response to the heat, altitude and intensity that 100,000 fans at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City could provide.
“It was a tremendous atmosphere,” remembered U.S. forward Josh Wolff. “It was brutally cold. We had a fantastic crowd and there was a lot to play for. Obviously it’s a qualifier, but it’s even bigger when you’re playing against Mexico. It couldn’t have been any nicer – a chilly night that the Mexican players probably didn’t enjoy, but for us, it was probably a bit of gamesmanship. I think we were excited about the idea of playing in front of our fans on a nice cold night where we could take advantage of it.”
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Wolff didn’t start the match that night in late February 2001. When Bruce Arena selected him for the game-day 18, if he was to be used at all, the idea was more likely as a late-game sub.
After 15 minutes, things changed.
With Brian McBride’s right eye looking like he received a haymaker from Mike Tyson more than the clash of heads he took going up for a 50/50 ball, Wolff was called upon as his replacement and got his taste of the chippiness in the match when he was shown a yellow card for a foul on Rafael Carmona in the 40th minute.
He’d been joined on the field just before halftime by an old familiar face in Clint Mathis. Wolff’s former college teammate at the University of South Carolina was tapped to enter the game for Claudio Reyna, who pulled up with a groin injury after stepping to make a seemingly routine pass.
Having burned two subs to replace two of the side’s key players, Wolff and Mathis were certainly the unlikeliest of heroes for the second half, but they proved the odds wrong.
Just after the break, the South Carolina boys, who both hailed from neighboring Georgia, connected on what has become one of the more memorable goals in U.S. World Cup Qualifying history.
“The ball fell to Clint and Mexico was playing a pretty high line,” Wolff recalled. “Obviously I’d played with Clint for a number of years and we had a pretty good understanding of one another. It was just me taking a chance to run the line really well there.”
Mexico’s back line was so high that they were all pinching into the U.S. half of the field when Mathis quickly hit the ball into space for Wolff, who was a step inside the USA half of the midfield stripe.
“Clint hits a great ball over the top,” Wolff continued. “It’s a bit of a foot race with Jorge [Campos] and it was just one of those balls where it’s a 50/50 and I was able to come out with the other side of him. At that point, you just kind of roll it in the open goal and get on with the celebration. The goal was a scramble in the end, but it was a good way to start that game for me and helped fuel us the rest of the match.”
Three players called into this week’s U.S. MNT camp have arrived with goals to their name after weekend play with their respective club teams.
Reading FC midfielder Danny Williams had the quickest output, heading home a cross from teammate Hal Robson-Kanu 15 seconds into his side’s 2-0 victory against Middlesbrough. The goal was the third fastest in Reading’s 144 year history and Williams’ second of the English Championship campaign where Reading currently sit third (5-2-3; 18 points).
Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore tallied what would be the Reds winning goal in a 3-1 home victory against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday afternoon at BMO Field.
With Sebastian Giovinco opening the scoring in the 28th minute, Altidore increased the lead in the 63rd when he beat Union defender Ray Gaddis to a cross from Marky Delgado, making for an easy finish past Andre Blake. The strike was Altidore’s 12th of the season for Toronto FC and second in as many matches.
Philadelphia’s Steven Vitoria pulled one back three minutes later, but the Union’s Richard Marquez netted an own goal in second half stoppage time to give Toronto a 3-1 win.
Finally, Chris Wondolowski continued his strong league goal scoring form as the San Jose Earthquakes earned a 1-1 draw away to Vancouver Whitecaps FC Saturday night at BC Place.
Trailing 1-0 after the Whitecaps Cristian Techera tallied in the 39th minute, San Jose found the equalizer in the 62nd minute. Earthquakes midfielder Cordell Cato fired a whipping shot that Whitecaps ‘keeper David Ousted spilled, only to see Wondolowski opportunistically put home the rebound to give San Jose an important road point.
The goal was Wondolowski’s 16th of the season and seventh in his last nine matches for San Jose. It also pushed the two-time MLS Golden Boot winner past former U.S. international and current NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis and into fifth all-time on the MLS goal scoring list with 109 career tallies.
One game. One goal.
After finishing fourth in July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, that’s where the U.S. MNT finds itself heading into October’s CONCACAF Cup clash with Mexico at The Rose Bowl. The one-off qualifier for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup isn’t the norm in international soccer – qualifying for the World Cup or a regional championship can take two or even three years.
October’s CONCACAF Cup is a single-game playoff between the region’s last two Gold Cup champions, with the winner advancing to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. While the match against Mexico isn’t commonplace, it’s also not the first time the U.S. MNT has found itself in a one-game playoff. It’s just the first time it’s happened in nearly 39 years.
The previous occurance came on December 22, 1976, when the MNT fell 3-0 to Canada in a one-match playoff to determine who would join Mexico as North American Zone representatives to the following year’s CONCACAF Championship, equivalent to today’s final round of World Cup qualifying, affectionately known as “The Hex.”
Al Trost [right] enjoyed a long career with the USA, featuring in 14 matches from 1971-78.
The playoff came about as a result of all three North American Zone teams finishing level on points and goal differential in the qualifying round that took place in September and October of 1976.
Playing under the guidance of coach Walt Chyzowych, U.S. midfielder Al Trost recalled the team’s preparation for the qualifying tournament was better than he’d experienced ahead of previous National Team camps.
“Walt did a great job of preparing us for these games,” Trost remembered. “Before this tournament, I don’t think the Federation really put the money or effort in to set a stage for American players to be challenged and develop for international soccer. In the past, we got together 24 hours before a game and that was it. Walt did a good job of convincing the Federation into getting us into Denver, training at high altitude ahead of games and I thought he prepared us well.”
The early results followed suit with the preparation. In the opening match against Canada in Vancouver, Boris Bandov scored in the eighth minute and the U.S. held on for a 1-1 draw, having played a man down following Steve Pecher’s sending off in the 72nd. Ten days later, the MNT played tight at the back and held on for a 0-0 draw against Mexico in front of a partisan crowd of 31,171 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“For us, I thought we were playing really well at the time,” Trost continued. “There were points where we could have won both games and [goalkeeper] Arnie Mausser played incredibly.”
With two points from their first two matches, the U.S. didn’t have much thought about winning the return leg in Puebla two weeks later. After surrendering two first half goals, the U.S. held the score steady at 2-0 before a controversial 84th minute penalty awarded to Mexico midfielder Hugo Davila would go a long way towards sending the team to the December playoff with Canada.
“Steve Pecher put his foot on the ball in the box and the player hit the ball against his foot, fell over and they called a penalty,” Mausser remembered. “You’re looking around asking, ‘How? Why?’ It wasn’t at all reckless, but he called it. We were already losing 2-0 – the penalty wouldn’t have affected the result of the game – where it did have an effect was on goal difference.”
Despite the defeat, the team rebounded well in their final qualifying match, using second half goals from Miro Rys and Julie Vee to earn a 2-0 win against Canada at The Kingdome in Seattle, Washington. The win left the MNT with four points from four matches (two points were awarded for a win back then), while Mexico and Canada were on three points each ahead of the final group game.
Though Canada had upset Mexico 1-0 during their home leg in Vancouver three weeks prior, Mausser said they felt confident that Mexico would have no problem winning at home. Instead, Canada earned a 0-0 draw in Toluca – their first ever result on Mexican soil.
“The best teams in the world go down to Mexico and lose, so when we saw they tied Canada, we couldn’t believe it at the time,” said Mausser.
Although all three teams had the exact same point total, Mexico’s +2 goal differential set them apart from the other two, while the MNT’s -1 differential, brought in part by the controversial penalty conceded to El Tri weeks earlier, left them equal with Canada and doomed the team to the one-game playoff.
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While the North American Zone qualifying tournament would finish at the end of October, the playoff between the U.S. and Canada wouldn’t be held until two months later – Dec. 22, 1976. The neutral site chosen by CONCACAF was Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
“I have no idea why they chose Haiti as a neutral site,” said Trost. “The field wasn’t great, but that’s where we ended up.”
With two months to prepare for the playoff match, the Federation took the U.S. team to Port-au-Prince to play a three-game friendly series with the Haiti national team, who were also preparing for a similar Caribbean playoff with Cuba the following month.
The sides played three games over six days that November, which all ended as 0-0 draws. The results were just a sign of the times for a still developing U.S. team.
“That was us at the time,” Trost said. “The training we went through with Walt was a lot of man-on-man stuff. We were disciplined enough in defending, but to try and make the transition, that’s what made it difficult in creating scoring opportunities. We had some very strong, gifted players, but we had issues making the transition from defense to offense. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it didn’t. That was the decision that was made – Walt wanted to stay in games as best we could defensively and see what we could get out matches.”
The U.S. returned to Haiti for the playoff a month later, but days before the game Trost looked in doubt to take part in the game.
“I had Montezuma’s revenge a couple days before,” he recalled. “I was sicker than a dog, throwing up for a couple days while we were down there. I just remember I was zapped. It took everything out of me.”
While he wasn’t 100 percent, Trost admitted how badly he wanted to play and started to come out of his illness the day before the game.
Things didn’t go the MNT’s way however, as Vancouver Whitecaps striker Brian Budd put Canada up 1-0 in the 21st minute. The early marker didn’t bode well considering the U.S. team’s defensive playing style. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that Trost, one of the team’s veterans, was severely fatigued as he recovered from his illness.
“In the end, playing might have been a mistake,” he said. “I’m an end-to-end guy and I just felt zapped. I was so tired at halftime that I had to tell Walt I had to come out of the game. I don’t like to do that, but I felt like I wasn’t helping the team.”
Playing in front of 32,869 at the Estadio Sylvio Cator, the U.S. team pushed forward looking for the equalizer after halftime, but couldn’t create a concrete chance to equalize. Committing more numbers forward, Canada caught the MNT out again in the when defender Bob Lenarduzzi unleashed a long-distance rocket that beat Mausser in the 80th minute.
“It was a save I’d usually have no trouble making,” Mausser remembered. “I went down for it on my side and it just went under me.”
Former U.S. international goalkeeper Arnold "Arnie" Mausser in his first stint with the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers from 1979-80.
“At that point I think we put our heads down, because we didn’t score two goals in a game very often back then,” added Trost.
Down 2-0, the MNT had little hope of coming back before Canada’s Robert Bolitho added a third goal in the 87th minute.
“Nothing clicked for us that day,” Mausser said. “We went into that game confident, but whatever happened, nothing went right for us. Balls banging off of people, falling just right for Canada – it was a nightmare – from my aspect I didn’t have a good game. I’d been playing well the whole series, but that game I just had a nightmare and that didn’t help things.”
For Mausser, the match was far from his end with the National Team. The one-time Chelsea FC target would go backstop the MNT during the next two World Cup qualifying runs, coming close to helping the side to the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
However, the match was the last competitive game Trost would play for the MNT. He appeared in four more friendlies before calling a day on his international career in 1978.
“I saw a lot of good younger players coming up and I knew for me to stay with it, at my age, I wasn’t going to do it,” Trost said. “In my heart I wanted to stay and be a part of something I saw coming around, and maybe I should have, but at the time I knew my prime was over. I was going to watch these young kids come in and do the job.”
Both players admit the National Team program has grown leaps and bounds since that day in 1976 and as they look to the MNT’s match against Mexico on Oct. 10, they feel encouraged by the team’s prospects to go to the Confederations Cup.
“The attacking players are there now,” said Trost. “We see this team beat Mexico all the time in qualifying. This is just another big game that they have to win. They’ve shown they’re capable, they just have to put it together on the day.”
“I have to say, I’m a bit envious of the players today,” Mausser added. “There’s so much more interest, and with that a lot more goes into the games. I think they’re capable of doing it against Mexico. I would tell them to play confidently and remember who they’re representing. Any team that does that is going to be successful.”
On May 24, 1934, the U.S. and Mexico met for the first time, igniting what has gone on to become one of the most heated rivalries in international soccer. The match wasn’t played at The Rose Bowl, the site of Saturday’s CONCACAF Cup, nor did it take place at Mexico’s vaunted Estadio Azteca (which didn’t open until 1966).
Much like Saturday’s clash in Pasadena, the game was a one-off playoff. It took place at Stadio PNF (named for the ruling National Fascist Party) in Rome with the right to face the World Cup host Italy three days later. While it was the first match between the neighboring nations, it was also the first World Cup qualifier either had played – a far cry from the 16-match, two year marathon the U.S. MNT will begin against St. Vincent and the Grenadines next month in St. Louis.
Trying to return to the World Cup after a semifinal finish at the inaugural tournament four years earlier in Uruguay, the USA had four holdover players from the 1930 team: defenders James Gallagher and George Moorhouse, midfielder Billy Gonsalves and forward Thomas Florie.
From left: Thomas Florie, Aldo "Buff" Donelli and Joe Martinelli in training for the USA in 1934.
However, it was newcomer Aldo “Buff” Donelli – an American football player turned coach at Duquesne University – that would write the earliest history of the MNT’s rivalry with Mexico. Having been invited to join the team just a month earlier following a trial of three club matches, Donelli scored all four goals in the Americans’ 4-2 defeat of Mexico in front of a crowd of 10,000 that included Italian leader Benito Mussolini.
The kicker? Donelli wasn’t originally supposed to play in the game.
According to Tony Cirrino’s book U.S. Soccer vs the World, an alliance between the New England and St. Louis factions of the team made Donelli, who was from Pittsburgh, an outsider in the squad.
“Only later I was told that Bill Gonsalves went to [coach Elmer] Schroeder and told him, ‘If you don’t play Donelli, I’m not playing,’” Donelli said in the book.
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Donelli’s four-goal output wasn’t just a product of a good half. He sustained his scoring over the course of the match, opening the scoring in the 15th minute, putting the U.S. back ahead 2-1 in the 30th, earning his hat trick in the 73rd and icing El Tri with an 87th minute strike.
With the win, the U.S. earned the right to face Italy in the opening round of the 1934 World Cup. In a change from 1930, the tournament was set up as a single-elimination knockout and the Azzuri overwhelmed the Americans in a 7-1 defeat. Donelli tallied his fifth and final goal in the match to bring the score to 3-1 in the 57th minute. Despite impressing enough to earn offers to play in Italy after the tournament, the loss to the Italians was his final international game.
Instead, Donelli returned to coaching American football at Duquesne University before going on to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Rams, Boston University and Columbia University.
Aldo "Buff" Donelli
Donelli’s four-goal performance was the second in MNT history after the legendary Archie Stark previously accomplished the feat in 6-1 win against Canada in 1925. Only Joe-Max Moore (1993 vs. El Salvador) and Landon Donovan (2003 vs. Cuba) have equaled the feat for the U.S. Men’s National Team.
As for the MNT’s series with Mexico, the first win would be the last for 46 years as El Tri proceeded to earn a 24-match unbeaten run that was finally broken when the U.S. earned a 2-1 victory in a World Cup Qualifying match on Nov. 23, 1980 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
While Mexico still leads the all-time series (32-18-14), things have evened up a great deal in the last 15 years with the U.S. holding the advantage since the turn of the 21st century with a 13-5-5 mark.
CHICAGO (Oct. 3, 2015) – U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has named the 23-player roster for the winner-take-all CONCACAF Cup against Mexico, which grants the victor a spot in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.
The match will kick off Saturday, Oct. 10, at 6:30 p.m. PT at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, and will be broadcast live on FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports GO, Univision and the Univision Deportes Network.
“This roster is obviously full of experience,” said Klinsmann. “This is about having a group of players who understand exactly now what this is all about. This is about momentum. This is about high energy. This is about representing my country. This is about belief and a high-level of aggressiveness in a one-off game to beat Mexico and to get to the Confederations Cup. It’s a unique opportunity, and you have to embrace it and give everything you have.”
The U.S. roster is loaded with experience, including seven players with 50 or more caps and four - DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard – that have surpassed 100 appearances for the United States. A total of 16 players in this group were a part of the USA’s 2014 World Cup roster.
The match is a faceoff between the region’s fiercest rivals. In a series dating back to 1934, the U.S. has taken the momentum in recent years. The MNT has dominated at home, amassing a 10-2-4 record on U.S. soil against El Tri since 2000. Additionally, the United States is unbeaten in the last four years with a 3-0-3 record, including the team’s first victory against Mexico on Mexican soil.
The teams most recently met in April in San Antonio, where the U.S. triumphed 2-0, a score line that has highlighted nine MNT victories against Mexico since 2000. MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will look to extend his lifetime unbeaten streak as a player and coach against Mexico to 11 games (5-0-5 all-time).
The USA’s place in the playoff was secured when it won the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Mexico won the 2015 edition of the tournament and in so doing qualified for the playoff.
U.S. Roster By Position:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (9): Ventura Alvarado (Club America), DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), Danny Williams (Reading), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
U.S. Roster Notes
- Jozy Altidore has appeared in nine games for the MNT this year. The forward scored a pair in the team’s 2-1 win against Peru in September, which was the fourth multi-goal game of his international career. With four goals in 2015, he is now just one goal behind Brain McBride (30) for fourth on the MNT’s all-time goal-scoring list.
- Clint Dempsey led the way for the U.S. at this summer’s Gold Cup where he won the Golden Boot; his seven goals are the most scored by an American player in a single Gold Cup in the 13 editions of the tournament. The Seattle Sounders FC forward has nine goals in nine games this year, and holds second place on the USA’s all-time scoring list with 48 total.
- DaMarcus Beasley is the leading capwinner on the roster with 122 international appearances. He has scored 17 goals, including the clincher in the USA’s 2-0 win in the World Cup qualifier against Mexico in 2005 that secured the team’s place in the 2006 World Cup.
- Michael[MK1] Bradley moved over the 100-cap mark this year. The midfielder has punched in three goals while recording five assists in 2015. Bradley has the most goals against Mexico (3) of any U.S. player on the roster, including both in the USA’s 2-0 win against El Tri in February of 2009 that opened the final round of 2010 World Cup Qualifying.
- Brad Guzan earned Golden Glove honors as the top goalkeeper at this summer’s Gold Cup and has posted a 9-3-3 record since September of last year. Guzan shut down Mexico and helped the U.S. earn a 0-0 draw in its away World Cup Qualifier with El Tri in 2013 at Estadio Azteca.
- Alejandro Bedoya has seven matches under his belt for the United States this year. The French Ligue 1 midfielder tallied an assist in the USA’s 1-1 draw against Panama in the Group Stage of the Gold Cup.
- Fabian Johnson is only the player on the U.S. roster currently competing in the UEFA Champions League. He has started four straight matches for Borussia Monchengladbach after being out five weeks due to injury, and scored a goal in his first match back.
- Jermaine Jones has also been on the road to recovery, making his return from injury for the USA in September in starts against Peru and Brazil.
- Gyasi Zardes was called in for his first MNT camp last January and has appeared in 15 games, starting in 13. The LA Galaxy forward has scored twice and assisted on four goals.
- Kyle Beckerman has appeared in eight matches with the MNT this season and has recorded six starts. Beckerman started and contributed to the USA’s 2-0 win against Mexico in April.
- Danny Williams closed the Brazil game off on a high note, scoring a stunning long-range goal to put the USA on the scoreboard. Williams also scored a clutch goal that helped the U.S. knock off then sixth-ranked Netherlands in Amsterdam earlier in the year.
- Matt Besler returned to the MNT fold last month, making his first appearance since February in the match against Peru. In just his second appearance for the United States, Besler earned a start in the MNT’s 2013 road World Cup qualifier against Mexico at Estadio Azteca, where the U.S. earned a point for only the second time in team history.
- Michael Orozco started against Peru and Brazil in September, taking up both the right back spot and then centerback. Orozco – who moved to Club Tijuana this summer - owns a piece of history as the scorer of the game-winning goal in 2012 that led to the USA’s first victory at the Azteca.
- Ventura Alvarado has appeared in 12 matches this year. The Club America defender made his debut in a U.S. uniform on March 25 against Denmark, and he became cap-tied to the U.S. after starting in the first match of the Gold Cup against Honduras on July 7.
- Geoff Cameron has started and played 90 minutes in all of Stoke City’s 2015 Premier League matches. Cameron returned to action for the U.S. after last appearing in 2014 in its last camp and made appearances against both Peru and Brazil.
- Brad Evans has played in six games this year, coming on as a late sub in the MNT’s 2-0 win against Mexico in April.
- Tim Ream, who recently completed a transfer to Fulham, earned honors as the Player of the Year for his former club Bolton in each of the last two seasons. Ream has started in the last three MNT matches.
- Nick Rimando is back in the mix after missing the September matches. The MLS All-Star has started five games in goal for the MNT this year.
- Jonathan Spector returns to the squad after being a late add to the roster for the Peru and Brazil friendlies.
- Chris Wondolowski is one of the top five scorers in MLS this year with 15 goals. He has scored double-digit goals in six straight MLS seasons.
- DeAndre Yedlin has appeared in 15 of the 16 MNT matches in 2015 and tallied three assists, which puts him third on the team behind Michael Bradley (five) and Gyasi Zardes (four).
ussoccer.com: This game is unique in that the U.S. has never played in a one-off final before, and you face your biggest rival to boot. How much did experience factor into your choices for the roster?
JK: “Well eventually what happened in the Gold Cup this summer turned now into this CONCACAF Cup final. It’s a one-off, and a one-off always has its own dynamics and that’s why you need a roster of 23 guys where you really feel as a coach that in this one specific opportunity that they are the right ones to get the job done. That’s why this roster is obviously full of experience. There are a lot of players that experienced different challenges over their careers and managed them and bring now their experience into this one-off clash against Mexico. That’s why you look for players - like a DaMarcus Beasley, a Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Kyle Beckerman and Chris Wondoloski - these types of players that have done so much for the National Team program that they understand exactly now what this is all about. This is about momentum. This is about high energy. This is about belief and a high-level of aggressiveness in a one-off game to beat Mexico and to get to the Confederations Cup.”
ussoccer.com: What is the approach you want this group of players to take?
JK: “When you look at a one-off game, it’s a final. It’s a trophy. It’s an opportunity that will not come back to you anymore in your career. You need players that really now embrace that moment and say ‘shoot, whatever happened has happened in the Gold Cup.’ Whether or not it was controversial, it’s in the past. Now it’s about winning a trophy. It’s about in 90 or possibly 120 minutes in front of a sold-out Rose Bowl crowd of 90,000. It’s about performing. It’s about representing my country. It will stay with you for the rest of your life. They can be excited about it and always look back and say I was there that special day. You want them to understand that from the first second they come on in camp. This is the CONCACAF Cup. This is the ticket to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. It’s a unique opportunity.”
ussoccer.com: Team spirit is always an important element to success, but you’ve stressed that for this game it’s even more critical. Why?
JK: “I think team unity, chemistry, the atmosphere between the players, the bonding, is huge in this game. It’s probably one of the key factors in order to win. It’s that they are there for each other. They understand that this is not about me, this is about the United States, this is about representing my country and this is about winning a trophy with my teammates. I think the word chemistry is huge approaching that Mexico game.”
ussoccer.com: There are some familiar names not on the list that weren’t able to beat the race to return to fitness …
JK: “Obviously it’s a specific moment now, and in that moment John Brooks is not 100 percent. Aron Johannsson is not 100 percent. Greg Garza actually had surgery a few weeks ago. There are always players that you’d love to have be a part of games like this that are just not there. It’s unfortunate for them, but it is reality.”
ussoccer.com: What is the message to the players who didn’t make the final roster?
JK: “Every time you have to cut down a roster like now from 35 to 23, there are some players that do not make it and it looks like they are not good enough, which is not the case. The competition is very, very tight. Not having Omar Gonzalez or Mix Diskerud on this roster, for example, is not because they are not good enough, it’s just because you see another player that is better in their position right now in this specific moment. Those are always tough decisions that a coach has to make, and we believe everyone in that roster will get the job done and the other ones are there to support. They also need to be ready still because they are on standby in case someone goes down in training and they get the call.”
ussoccer.com: Did the team that you expect Mexico to bring have any impact on your roster selections?
JK: “We’re looking at their roster and their qualities and we think we know a way of getting the job done, but it doesn’t really have too much impact on our selection of players. I think our selection of players is based on our strengths, based on how we want to play the game, based on how much in the flow in a rhythm they are right now. Everyone’s in a different situation. The players in Europe are in a different situation. The players in MLS are in a different situation and the players that play down in Mexico. For us coaches, it’s always kind of a new picture opening up and deciding what is best now for the National Team in order to win a game.”
JK: “I think this new rule now from CONCACAF to have the winner from the Gold Cup against another winner of the next Gold Cup, which if not the same team ends in a one-off final, gives it a very special spice. It’s huge, especially if it ends with the U.S. playing Mexico. It can’t get any bigger in our region. I would love to play that game in Azteca Stadium. That would be even more exciting, but the decision is made. The game is at Pasadena. We know that many Mexican fans will be at the stadium as well. It will be rock. It will be a special atmosphere. It will be high intensity from the first second of that game. This is what you’re hoping to experience as a coach, as a player, as a fan. You want to go into these very unique games and experience it and really enjoy that moment. This will be a game that for the next two or three years to come is probably the biggest game because it decides who goes to Russia in 2017 and it gives you a CONCACAF title, so it’s difficult to beat the importance of that one.”
ussoccer.com: For both players and coaches, the chance to play for a trophy is always special. What makes this game different?
JK: “It’s a unique opportunity for every player to really write a piece of history. How often do you play in a CONCACAF final against your biggest rival that people will talk about for a long time? Obviously Mexico won in 2011 at the Rose Bowl and it was a big bummer for the whole team and the whole program, but these moments are remembered and I think when you have that opportunity now in front of you, you can set the tone and you can write this little piece of history that a lot of people will talk about for a long time. You’ve got to grab that moment. You’ve got to come into camp and say ‘let’s do it’. I think the team is more than ready. There’s a lot of frustration after what happened in the Gold Cup. There’s no doubt about it. The only controversial stuff that was said and done is behind us. It is now a final and you have to go in there and just embrace it and give everything you have. If they give everything they have, then I’m pretty confident that we’ll come out as the winning team.”
ussoccer.com: There are quite a few veterans in the group that have seen a lot at the international level. Do you see this as a different opportunity for them?
JK: “I think it’s really an interesting moment now because you have a core group of players that are kind of running out of time and I just want them to just embrace that moment. We’re going to play for a trophy. We’re going to play for a trip to Russia in 2017, and maybe you’re not there anymore for that because you are now 32 or 33. We have players on our roster that have done so much for the National Team program, but that are also not getting any younger. All these guys in their thirties, they need to realize ‘you know what, I’m may not be getting these opportunities any more. This is it. We better take that trophy.’ However it looks like, we’ve got to go and get this thing. This is really about chemistry and getting the group together and making it a really special atmosphere the whole week leading into the Rose Bowl moment.”
ussoccer.com: The rivalry with Mexico in some ways is a legacy passed down to each generation of players, particularly from those who were able to help turn the table and establish the USA’s dominance at home. Is there a “responsibility” to beat Mexico?
JK: “USA-Mexico is a unique situation, and it’s comparable for me as a German to when you play Holland. The whole country rocks. For me, it was interesting over time to learn how much this rivalry really means to the people that really love soccer, whether it’s the coaches, the fans, the kids, or the players. When we beat them the first time at the Azteca stadium three years ago, for me it was not as big a deal. Yes, it was big that we won there and we’d also won in Italy and now in Germany, and those are always something special. But the response that I received from a lot of people in the U.S. after that win in Azteca was so different. It showed me then - and it was a learning curve for me as a coach - how much it really means to the people to beat Mexico, to have this rivalry going in a healthy way, in a respectful way. There’s a lot of admiration there for the Mexican soccer team and the players because the people love that sport. It’s their number one sport. I think in a certain way, do we have that responsibility to our fans? Yes. Are we accountable for what happens at the Rose Bowl? Absolutely we are, and obviously the players that were on the field for that CONCACAF Gold Cup final that we lost 4-2 - the Michael Bradley’s, the Tim Howard’s, Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey - there is something in them that is still burning. There is so much energy now being generated towards that game, it is just awesome. I want the players to enjoy that and to just grab that moment and get the trophy.”
ussoccer.com: At the same time the Senior Team has the clash with Mexico, the U-23s are attempting to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. How big a week is this for U.S. Soccer?
JK: “I think it can’t get any bigger than the next 10 days for soccer in our country on the men’s side. The Olympic team starting the qualification for Rio de Janeiro is huge. This is big for everyone. We’re going to give them all of the support we can, and hopefully the fans come out in numbers to all the venues they play in and give them big, big support because that is what they need to help them to qualify for the Olympics. At the same time, we play the clash with Mexico which decides who goes to the 2017 Confederations Cup. So, within the next 10 days it doesn’t get any bigger. The senior team is going to watch the Olympic Qualifying games and cheer for them. We know they’re going to play the decisive semifinal on Oct. 10 before we play Mexico that evening, and they’re going to sit in front of the TV that night and they’re going to scream for us. We are there for each other.”
One of three 2015 inductees to the National Soccer Hall of Fame, Kasey Keller has long been referred to as a pioneer for American players in Europe. At just 22-years-old and without a professional domestic league in the United States, Keller went across the Atlantic to sign for English First Division club Millwall in 1992.
He had no idea about the career longevity he’d have playing abroad.
“I remember going over to Europe and thinking, ‘Oh man, if I could play five seasons, if I could play 10 seasons,’ and then ending up playing 17 years,” Keller told ussoccer.com earlier this year.
A product of the University of Portland, Keller’s European club adventure took him from east London to Leicester City, Spain’s Rayo Vallecano, Tottenham Hotspur, Germany’s Borussia Monchengladbach, Fulham and even a short stint with Southampton. Seven clubs in three of the world’s top leagues and from the beginning, he did it while on an American passport.
Over time, Keller became a guide to fellow Americans interested in his advice for a potential move abroad.
“By the time I’d met him, he’d already been in England for so long,” said former U.S. international Eddie Lewis. “As a player that was older than me, both from an age and experience standpoint, having been abroad for so long, I often asked him many questions about Europe and particularly about England. As a young player coming into the National Team, I wanted to go overseas and I used him as a sounding board on many occasions.”
And while he spent 17 of his 20 professional seasons an ocean away, his devotion to playing for his country never wavered.
“At the National Team level, I very rarely had a player like Kasey that never refused a call up,” said former Men’s National Team head coach Bruce Arena. “Kasey would travel and play for the U.S. whenever – he was very dedicated to the National Team program.”
Keller’s international career really began before his club career at the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championships in Saudi Arabia. Playing at the University of Portland at the time, Keller won the Silver Ball at the tournament after helping the U.S. U-20 side to a fourth place finish.
Keller as an up-and-coming goalkeeper with the U.S. U-20 MNT.
Just a year later, the 20-year-old earned his first of 102 caps for the Men’s National Team. That summer he was named to the first U.S. World Cup team since 1950, pushing but eventually backing up Tony Meola as a young U.S. squad went three-and-out in Italy.
With a wealth of talented goalkeepers, Keller’s early competition with Meola was only the beginning of a battle for the number one spot on the U.S. team.
“I know when I first came on the international scene, Tony Meola was the number one goalkeeper and that’s who Kasey and I were trying to knock off the perch,” said fellow goalkeeper Brad Friedel. “Even from my college time, it was myself and Kasey – we were in the Olympic team together battling out to see who would play in ’92 in Barcelona.”
Though Friedel won that battle and Keller was left off the U.S. team altogether in 1994, his competition with Friedel would really heat up the following year as the two often split goalkeeping duties in important matches the next eight years. Both put in key performances in big matches along the way -- Keller’s wins against Chile and Argentina at Copa America ‘95, his form in World Cup qualifying and ultimately, his 10-save effort in the U.S. team’s 1-0 win against Brazil in the 1998 Gold Cup semifinal gave him the starting nod at that summer’s World Cup in France.