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Landon Donovan

Gold Cup in History: Return to the Title, 2002

Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley are household names in U.S. Soccer today, however both players made impressive breakout performances at 19 years of age when playing in the 2002 Gold Cup. The U.S. Men’s National Team looked to end their 11-year Gold Cup title drought in the sixth edition of the tournament.

Dates: January 18-February 2, 2002
Locations: Miami, Fla. and Pasadena, Calif.

The 2002 Gold Cup proved useful to many teams as tune-up for the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea and Japan held only four months later. The United States did not enter the tournament with their top veterans who were still playing for their club teams internationally, which gave head coach Bruce Arena the opportunity to evaluate and train his less experienced players who were battling for the remaining openings. This 2002 team rose to the challenge, winning the U.S. their second Gold Cup title and earning 12 spots on the World Cup roster.

The 2002 Gold Cup featured ten teams from CONCACAF and two additional teams, Ecuador and Korea Republic, who were invited to compete. These 12 teams were split into four groups of three, with the top two teams in each group advancing to the quarterfinals. The U.S. was slated into Group B along with Korea Republic and Cuba.

Team  Pld  W  D  L  GF  GA  GD  Pts 
USA  +2 
Korea Republic    -1 
Cuba  -1 

Date: Jan. 18, 2002
Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Attendance: 42,117

This was a highly anticipated match, as the U.S. was drawn in the same group as Korea Republic for the upcoming World Cup less than six months away. Korea Republic had the advantage in the past, boasting a 3-0-1 all-time record against the United States, most recently winning 1-0 in a friendly just the month before.

Result: In the 35th minute, the 19-year-old Landon Donovan netted his second international goal. Just three minutes later, Korea Republic scored the equalizer. The other 19-year-old, DaMarcus Beasley, managed to make his first goal for the full team count, scoring three minutes into second half stoppage time and just 30 seconds before the final whistle, delivering the 2-1 win against Korea Republic.

Date: Jan. 20, 2002
Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Attendance: 31,244
Result: W 1-0 (McBride 22’)

Date: Jan. 27, 2002
Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Attendance: 31, 628

The U.S. went undefeated in their group, continuing their impressive streak in Gold Cup play without a loss. The U.S. entered the quarterfinals against El Salvador who finished second in Group A, losing the top place to Mexico. The match did not look promising for El Salvador as they had only recorded one previous win against the U.S., with a 1-7-4 overall record.

Result: The U.S. won the match handily with a comfortable 4-0 scoreline, posting their fifth shutout against El Salvador. Brian McBride was the clear standout with a hat trick, scoring all three goals in just 21 minutes and setting the record for the fastest three goals in U.S. Soccer history. McBride earned his first international hat trick and more importantly proved his strength after taking five months off due to blood clots. Ante Razov netted the fourth and final goal in the 72nd minute.

“Quite simply we must admit the opposing team was better than us,” said El Salvador technical director Carlos Humberto Recinos. “When they scored the two early goals, psychologically, collectively, it destroyed us. We simply didn’t have any occasion to influence the game. The U.S. team is going to the World Cup because quite simply they are better than us and they showed it.”

Date: Jan. 30, 2002
Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Attendance: 7,241

The U.S. advanced to the semifinals where they appeared more times than any other nation in Gold Cup history. The U.S. faced Canada, entering the match unbeaten in their last eight matches meetings and posting six shutouts against the defending Gold Cup champions.

Result: Although the U.S. outshot Canada 36-10, the two teams were tied at 0-0 after extra time. The U.S. managed to down Canada 4-2 in penalty kicks without missing a single shot to advance to the Gold Cup final.

Date: Feb. 2, 2002
Location: Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Attendance: 14,432

Costa Rica beat Korea Republic 3-1 to join the U.S. in the Gold Cup final. Costa Rica was the favorite entering this match as they qualified for the 2002 World Cup as the top team in CONCACAF. Costa Rica also held an all-time 9-8-4 record against the U.S., although they never managed to defeat the Yanks in the three games they have played in Gold Cup history.

Result: The U.S. team came together for their strongest performance in the tournament and defeated Costa Rica 2-0. Josh Wolff and Jeff Agoos scored on either side of halftime to give the U.S. their second Gold Cup title and first since the inaugural tournament in 1991.

“This team has the same heart that we had in ’91,” said goalkeeper Tony Meola, the only player to have also been in the first tournament. “We deserved to win. We got progressively better every single game.”

“Costa Rica got beaten in every aspect of the game,” said head coach Bruce Arena. “Winning this cup means a lot. We faced criticism last year, some warranted, a lot unwarranted, and we even got criticized at the start of this tournament. Winning is very special to the players and the coaching staff.”

“Going into the tournament, we didn’t know what to expect, but we really jelled, especially the last three games,” said Brian McBride. “We were moving the ball extremely well. Defensively, we were very, very solid.”

The U.S. led an impressive run to their second title and gained important experience before their World Cup appearance. Brian McBride came back from his health scare and earned both the Golden Boot, with four goals, and the Golden Ball as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. The U.S. posted four shutouts in five games in one of the more competitive Gold Cups, with 12 of 20 matches decided by just one goal. The last time the U.S. won the Gold Cup in 1991, they went on to an impressive World Cup tournament in 1994 where they advanced to the round of 16 before losing 1-0 to eventual champion Brazil. This second Gold Cup title in 2002 also propelled the U.S. through the 2002 World Cup where they progressed to the quarterfinals and were defeated by the eventual runners-up Germany.

The Gold Cup serves as an important international competition for the U.S. team, and this year’s roster looks to win their fifth title and a spot at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil.  Hopefully that would lead to another trip to South America a year later …