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Tony Meola

Men's National Team

#TBT – The Game Before The Game

As the U.S. prepares to kickoff qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the team’s first hurdles in St. Louis against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and away to Trinidad and Tobago should conjure up some memories for Men’s National Team historians. The sites of the two matches mimic the final circuit of games the MNT played in qualifying for 1990 FIFA World Cup, though admittedly the stage is slightly different from 26 years ago.

On this day in 1989, in a match devoid of many scoring opportunities, the U.S. played to a 0-0 draw with El Salvador at St. Louis Soccer Park in Fenton, Missouri.  The result was disappointing as the U.S. dropped an important point at home to an El Salvador side that had long since been eliminated from qualifying. They did so in a venue that had formerly been the closest thing to a true home field the MNT had enjoyed, with the team going a perfect 4-0-0 in previous qualifying matches.

“We thought the game in St. Louis was our opportunity,” said defender Brian Bliss, whose looping first half cross from the left was the team’s best chance. “We thought we win in St. Louis and come out needing just a draw in Trinidad. That was manageable.”

Instead, the draw meant the U.S. would have to go to Trinidad & Tobago and earn a win on the final day of qualifying. The challenge of winning on the road was one thing, but by the end of the match in St. Louis, the MNT had played 208 qualifying minutes without scoring a goal. Easy logic says that winning a game brings the need to score a goal, something an unnamed U.S. Soccer official at the time told the Chicago Tribune was “a frightening thought.”

“We knew we weren’t the greatest scoring team, but we had a good cohesive unit,” Bliss said. “When playing against our region, we felt pretty good defensively – it was definitely our strength. We weren’t a prolific scoring team, and as it was we were going through a rough patch up front at the time, so we knew going to Trinidad needing a goal was going to be problematic.”

Starting goalkeeper Tony Meola added at the time, “Our defense knows if the forwards get one goal against Trinidad, we`ll be in Italy.”

Two weeks later in Port of Spain, Meola proved to be right about the goal, but he was wrong about the goal scorer.  Instead of a forward finding the back of the net, midfielder Paul Caligiuri sent a looping strike past Trinidad & Tobago ‘keeper Michael Maurice in the 30th minute. The long range effort held up, with Caligiuri’s goal being tagged “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” for its significance of qualifying the United States for its first World Cup since 1950.

According to Bliss, the roundabout way the MNT got through those final two qualification matches made for a much better story.

“If we had done things the easy way, it would have been anticlimactic,” he joked. “I don’t think that team would be remembered quite as well as we are if we’d just beaten El Salvador 1-0 at home and gone down and got a draw in Trinidad. It definitely wasn’t on purpose, but we did it in dramatic, Hollywood fashion and I think American soccer is probably better for it somehow.”

#OTD 1995: U.S. Stuns Argentina to win the Copa America Group

#OTD 1995: U.S. Stuns Argentina to win the Copa America Group

As we take a short break between the group and knockout stages of the 2015 Gold Cup, we go back 20 years to an historic U.S. win that occurred not in the Gold Cup but in CONMEBOL’s Copa America held in Uruguay.

Making their second appearance in the tournament, the U.S. MNT opened up with a 2-1 win against Chile before falling 1-0 to Bolivia. Still in a decent spot to advance, the team faced the daunting task of a final group match with Argentina, knowing they would likely need a draw and some help to make it through as one of the tournament’s best third place teams.

In what was Paul Caligiuri’s 100th international appearance, the U.S. didn’t leave things to chance, opening the scoring in the 20th minute when Cobi Jones took down a cross and traversed the top of the area before leaving for Frank Klopas, who fired through traffic for the 1-0 lead.

The lead doubled in the 31st minute when Jones beat his man to the end line and sent a low cross for Alexi Lalas who deflected it home at the near post, sending the U.S. into halftime with a 2-0 lead.

Looking good to advance as the second place team in Group C, Eric Wynalda remembered, “Somebody said it in the locker room – I think it might have been Tab [Ramos], ‘You guys do realize that if we win 3-0, we win the group and it was the perfect thing to say in that moment, because we went out on the field determined to make sure we kept the clean sheet and got one more goal.”

That third goal would come just before the hour mark as Wynalda played Joe-Max Moore into the box on the right. Moore drove to the end line and took advantage of some lax defending from Roberto Ayala as he centered a ball for Wynalda. Argentina ‘keeper Carlos Bossio was wrong-footed by the play, leaving Wynalda an open net to poke home the third goal in the 58th minute. The score stood up over the next half hour, giving the U.S. one of its most historic victories to date.

U.S. Lineup:
Kasey Keller; Alexi Lalas, Marcelo Balboa (Mike Burns, 15’), Paul Caligiuri; Cobi Jones, Earnie Stewart, Thomas Dooley, John Harkes, Frank Klopas (Tab Ramos, 45); Joe-Max Moore, Eric Wynalda

#OTD 1993: U.S. Comes Back to Defeat Panama 2-1 in Gold Cup Group Stage

Following a 1-0 victory over Jamaica to open the 1993 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the U.S. fell behind 1-0 to Panama when Percival Piggott beat Tony Meola in the 33rd minute.

The U.S. response would come in the space of five minutes, when goals from Wynalda (69’) and Thomas Dooley (74’) stood up to give the team a 2-1 win and clinch a place in the tournament semifinals.

U.S. Lineup:
Tony Meola; Desmond Armstrong, Cle Kooiman, Alexi Lalas, Fernando Clavijo; Cobi Jones, Tab Ramos, Thomas Dooley, Chris Henderson; Peter Vermes (Roy Wegerle, 46’, Dominic Kinnear 77’), Eric Wynalda

#OTD 2003: McBride Brace Pushes U.S. Past Martinique

Having already beaten El Salvador 2-0 in the first group match, the U.S. faced Martinique two days later, receiving two goals from Brian McBride in four minutes.

The first came on an excellent one-two combination down the right between Richard Mulrooney and Steve Ralson which saw the latter player cross for McBride whose glancing header outside the six-yard box gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the 39th minute.

McBride would grab his third goal in two matches when Ralston chased down a cross from the right and centered again for the U.S. striker, who first-timed his effort home in the 43rdminute.

U.S. Lineup:
Kasey Keller; Frankie Hejdu, Carlos Bocanegra, Danny Califf, Greg Vanney; Earnie Stewart (Steve Ralston, 71’), Pablo Mastroeni, Claudio Reyna (Clint Mathis, 60’), Eddie Lewis (Bobby Convey, 83’); Landon Donvoan, Brian McBride

On This Date: MNT Scored Important Pair of Gold Cup Wins

The U.S. MNT has collected its share of memorable Gold Cup moments over the years. Throughout this summer’s tournament, check back to for historical #OTD (On This Date) stories about the MNT’s past success in CONCACAF’s regional championship.

Bridging the Gap

Well before John Harkes and Tony Meola were born, goalkeeper Frank Borghi made history with the U.S. Men’s National Team at the 1950 FIFA World Cup. Yet those three players certainly shared a unique and common bond. 

Borghi, who died Monday at the age of 89, backstopped the USA to that stunning 1-0 upset of heavily favored England in Brazil. 

frank borghi
Former USA goalkeeper Frank Borghi circa 1989. Photo by Michael Lewis

Some 40 years later, Meola and Harkes played vital roles in helping the Americans to their first World Cup since Borghi and his teammates shocked the world. 

During their journey to Italia ’90, both players took advantage of opportunities to meet and talk with Borghi. Harkes got closer when he portrayed the role of USA midfielder Ed McIlvenny in the 2005 movie “The Game of Their Lives,” which recounted the USA’s astounding accomplishment. 

Meola met the fellow goalkeeper during a World Cup qualifying match in Borghi’s hometown of St. Louis in 1989, and was impressed with how the National Soccer Hall of Famer comported himself. 

“I used to see him quite a bit actually and really enjoyed each time I was able to talk to him,” Meola said. “He was just an upbeat, positive guy. He was excited about where the goalkeepers were going in America and how they were doing. He was certainly the first of the guys who should be on the top of the list when you talk about goalkeepers.” 

Meola and Harkes are hosts of Counter Attack on SiriusXM radio. 

Harkes said that he is a student of soccer history, so the USA’s past always has intrigued him. 

“That group was a special group of players,” Harkes said. “Frank was a special guy. He had a humble, down-to-earth personality. To stay as humble as he was, he was incredible. Walter Bahr, Frank Borghi, these guys I always heard a lot about and their history. He was a massive part of it.” 

The 1950 U.S. Men's National Team arrives in Brazil for the World Cup. 

For the St. Louis movie scenes, Borghi was around the set a lot, said Harkes, who had an opportunity to talk to him several times (actor Gerard Butler portrayed Borghi in the film). 

When someone noted that it was two legends of the game talking together – Harkes and Meola also are members of the National Soccer Hall of Fame – the former midfielder downplayed his role. 

“I’m a student [of soccer history],” Harkes said. “I’m a small part of the game. These guys that came before, researching their story was a privilege. When the 1950 team beat England, newspapers thought, when they came back, it was 11-nil. He had a good chuckle about that.” 

Meola said that he did not remember talking to Borghi about the 1950 upset much. 

“We talked about qualifying for the World Cup and where the game has gone since he played, how excited he was that another U.S. team was in the World Cup back then,” Meola said. “We met over the years at different places. ... Just a good guy to be around and a lot of positive energy.” 

Added Harkes: “It was great to have that support.” 

Borghi made only nine international appearances during an era when National Team matches were sparse. What might not be known was that Borghi registered a 2-5-2 record, earning two shutouts while surrendering 27 goals. One of those clean sheets was a scoreless draw with Mexico during World Cup qualifying on Sept. 4, 1949, and the other was that historic game in Brazil on June 29, 1950. 

Frank Borghi prepares to make a save against England at the 1950 World Cup as teammate Walter Bahr looks on.

Borghi, 25 at the time, and his teammates played the game of their lives that day against what was considered one of the best teams in the world. Joe Gaetjens, who was believed to be executed as a political prisoner in his native Haiti in the 1960s, scored the lone goal in the 37th minute. 

“I thought the roof would cave in,” Borghi said years later. “But we had a good chemistry among our club. Five of the guys were from the St. Louis area – [Charles] Colombo, [Gino] Pariani, [Frank] Wallace, Harry Keough and myself. Walter Bahr and [Ed] McIlvenny played together in Philadelphia. Ed and John Souza played together in Fall River, Massachusetts. So the only guy who didn’t play with us was Joe Maca.” 

The team’s strategy was simple. 

“We played a man-to-man system,” Borghi said. “Bill Jeffrey was our coach. He let the guys coach themselves because he didn’t think we had a chance. … It worked out pretty good.” 

Note: The preceding quotes from Frank Borghi came from a 2004 interview.

World Cup by the Numbers: Tim Howard’s World Cup Performance in Modern Era

As long as he maintains a clean bill of health and is available as a starting selection for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, goalkeeper Tim Howard could set some new U.S. Men’s National Team standards at next year’s tournament.

Howard is looking forward to a third World Cup opportunity following his four-game performance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He served as Kasey Keller’s backup in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany and did not see game action.

In the previous six World Cups starting with the 1990 tournament, four USA goalkeepers have played in 22 World Cup matches during the modern era: Tony Meola (1990 and 1994), Keller (1998 and 2006), Brad Friedel (1998 and 2002) and Howard (2010).

Among this group, Howard currently holds the best winning percentage (.500) after going 1-1-2 in South Africa. He held a 1.15 goals against average, which is also tops among the modern era goalkeepers.

Here is where Howard stands among the other three goalkeepers in the following World Cup categories:

Games played/started:

  • 1. Tony Meola 7/7
  • 2. Brad Friedel 6/6
  • 3. Kasey Keller 5/5
  • 4. Tim Howard 4/4


  • 1. Brad Friedel 2
  • 2. (tie) Tim Howard and Tony Meola 1
  • 4. Kasey Keller 0


  • 1. (tie) Brad Friedel and Tim Howard 1
  • 3. (tie) Kasey Keller and Tony Meola 0

Goals against average:

  • 1. Tim Howard (1.15, 5 GA in 390 min.)
  • 2. Brad Friedel (1.33, 8 GA in 540 min.)
  • 3. Tony Meola (1.71, 12 GA in 630 min.)
  • 4. Kasey Keller (2.00, 10 GA in 450 min.)

Winning percentage:

  • 1. Tim Howard (.500, 1-1-2)
  • 2. Brad Friedel (.417, 2-3-1)
  • 3. Tony Meola (.214, 1-5-1)
  • 4. Kasey Keller (.100, 0-4-1)

One of the most successful and recognizable figures to don red, white and blue, U.S. goalkeeper Tony Meola had a storied career that spanned three decades, three FIFA World Cups and immense achievement for both the U.S. National Team and Major League Soccer.

Meola’s 32 shutouts and 100 international caps both rank second all-time among U.S. goalkeepers through his 12 years representing the USA from 1988-2006. The Kearny, N.J., native broke onto the scene in 1989 and had immediate success on the U.S. National Team, posting a 4-0-2 record in his first six starts.

The USA’s starting goalkeeper in the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cups, Meola served as the captain of the team in 1994. A member of the 2002 World Cup roster, he’s one of only a handful of U.S. players to be part of three World Cups.

One of the top MLS goalkeepers, Meola’s league career was highlighted by a 2000 campaign with the Kansas City Wizards where he posted a league-record 16 shutouts, was named MLS MVP, MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and MLS Cup MVP as Kansas City defeated the Chicago Fire for the championship.

Meola was a two-time, first-team All-American at the University of Virginia, winning the Hermann Trophy following his freshman season and the MAC Award after his sophomore season.

Outside of the soccer realm, Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees drafted Meola out of high school and he lettered in baseball at Virginia. He also briefly played in the NFL, spending 11 weeks on the New York Jets roster as a placekicker.