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A Look Back at 'The Streak'

A monthly column about the State of U.S. Soccer that takes a hard look at everything from the performance of the U.S. National Teams to pro soccer in the good ‘ole U-S-of-A . If you’re looking for a viewpoint that you won’t see in a generic, nuts-and-bolts U.S. Soccer press release, you’ve come to the right place.

With the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team failing to qualify for the Olympics, a remarkable but little publicized streak ended for U.S. Soccer, as the U.S. National Teams had amassed a string of 19 consecutive appearances in FIFA-recognized outdoor world championships. The streak, which was the longest active one of its kind in the world, spanned nine years, beginning back in 1995 when the U-17s qualified for Ecuador.

Below, we look back at “the streak,” giving a brief synopsis of how the respective U.S. National Team qualified and, more importantly, how they fared once they were there:

U-17 World Championship:
After qualifying in November 1994 behind five goals from forward Caleb Norkus in six games in El Salvador, current U.S. MNT assistant coach Glenn Myernick’s U-17s had a rough go of things at Ecuador ’95, giving up a pair of goals in each of three opening round losses to the host nation, Japan and eventual champion Ghana.

Women’s World Cup:
Having won the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991, the U.S. qualified automatically for the tournament in Sweden. The U.S. had a tough first test with a 3-3 tie with China in their opener before posting three easy wins to get to the semi’s, where they fell to Norway 1-0. While they fell short of defending their title, the U.S. Women quickly regrouped and beat China 2-0 with goals from Mia Hamm and Tisha Venturini to grab third place.

Men’s Olympics:
The U.S. Under-23s automatically qualified as the host nation, but came up short in their attempt to advance to the second round for the first time. Under the guidance of Bruce Arena, the U-23s fell to Argentina 3-1 in their opener, but rebounded with a 2-0 win over Tunisia and a 1-1 tie with Portugal.

Women’s Olympics:
After automatically qualifying, the U.S. Women reasserted their world dominance after a third place finish at the 1995 Women’s World Cup in Sweden by grabbing gold in the first ever women’s Olympic soccer competition. Forward Tiffeny Milbrett provided the game winner in a 2-1 win over China in front of 76,489 fans in Athens, Ga., which was at the time the all-time largest crowd to ever watch a women’s soccer match.

U-17 World Championship:
Forward Taylor Twellman led the U-17s through CONCACAF Qualifying in 1996 to the championship in Egypt, where they got dumped 3-0 by Oman and 4-0 by Brazil before crushing Austria 4-0 in their third and final match.

World Youth (U-20) Championship:
After head coach Jay Hoffman guided the U-20s through CONCACAF qualifying in Mexico, the U-20s opened well in Malaysia with a 1-0 win over China, but then suffered three consecutive losses at the hands of Ireland, Ghana and Uruguay.

World Cup:
The U.S. Men had perhaps their most consistent final round of qualifying, earning at least a point in nine of its 10 games, including a rare 0-0 tie with Mexico at Estadio Azteca. But the streak of favorable results ended in France, with the U.S. dropping all three of its matches and scoring just a single goal for last place in the tournament.

U-17 World Championship:
The U-17s had no problem qualifying for New Zealand ’99, with current MNT forward Landon Donovan leading the U.S. and the tournament with four goals. Donovan continued his dominance in New Zealand, leading U.S. Soccer’s “golden generation” team – which included Donovan, Beasley and Convey, as well as standouts Beckerman and Countess – to within a penalty kick of the tournament final before finishing fourth. Donovan’s three goals helped him earn Gold Ball MVP honors, while Beasley took home the Silver Ball.

Women’s World Cup:
The U.S. Women automatically qualified as hosts of the third WWC, which would go on to be the most successful women’s sporting event of all time. With a nation of fans behind them, the U.S. rolled through group play with wins over Denmark, Nigeria and North Korea. After stumbling in a 3-2 win over Germany, Briana Scurry led the U.S. past Brazil in the semi’s and then saved a crucial penalty kick against China in the shootout. Opportunity knocked, Brandi Chastain answered. The rest you know: Goal. Sports bra. Group hug. Two-time world champs.

World Youth (U-20) Championship:
Like he did with the U-17s two years before, Twellman guided the U-20s to the world championship in Nigeria, where he went on to grab the Bronze Boot with four goals. The team posted a 1-0 win over England and a 3-2 win over Cameroon on the way to finishing 11th, with their two losses coming against eventual finalist Japan and champion Spain.

Men’s Olympics:
The U.S. Under-23s had a fairly easy ride to Sydney, defeating Honduras, Canada and Guatemala in front of a supportive home crowd in Hershey, Pa., before a loss in the final to finish second out of six teams. In Sydney, the U.S. was one of the biggest surprises of the Games, as Josh Wolff, John O’Brien and Pete Vagenas led the U.S. to a spot in the medal round and a record fourth place finish.

Women’s Olympics:
The U.S. Women automatically qualified for Sydney as the defending world champions and the defending Olympic champion. Once in Australia, the U.S. survived a “Group of Death” of Norway, China and Nigeria before falling 3-2 to Norway in a dramatic sudden death loss in the final to walk away with silver.

U-17 World Championship:
After a fairly easy CONCACAF Qualifying tournament in St. Louis, Mo., in which U-17 studs Ed Johnson (5 Goals) and Santino Quaranta (2 G, 2 A) paced the potent U.S. attack, the promising team failed to match the previous class’s success on the big stage, failing to escape a “Group of Death” in Tobago that included Japan and eventual finalist Nigeria and champion France.

World Youth (U-20) Championship:
U.S. MNT midfielder DaMarcus Beasley put the U-20s on his back to help them advance to Argentina 2001, pouring in three goals and four assists in the three qualifiers in Trinidad. In the tournament, Beasley had two goals and an assist in a 4-1 win over Chile, but a 2-0 loss to Egypt in the second round meant a disappointing 13th place finish.

World Cup:
After starting the final round of qualifying with a stellar 4-0-1 record, the U.S. Men dropped their next three games before ending the suspense with a 2-1 clinching win over Jamaica in Foxboro with one game to spare, finishing third in the CONCACAF Hexagonal paced by Earnie Stewart’s five goals in 10 games. Of course, at Korea/Japan, the USA was the talk of the tournament, upsetting Portugal 3-2 in its opener and coming within inches of defeating Germany for a spot in the semifinals.

Women’s World Youth (U-19) Championship:
After breezing through qualifying (by a combined score of 34-1) in Tobago for the first championship at this age level, the new “triple-edged sword” of Lindsay Tarpley, Heather O’Reilly and Kelly Wilson led the U-19s to five lopsided wins before Tarpley capped the tournament with a dramatic overtime goal for a 2-1 win over host nation Canada in front of almost 50,000 fans in the final.

U-17 World Championship:
Thirteen-year-old sensation Freddy Adu and John DiRaimondo (two goals each) led the U-17s to a 2-0-1 record in Guatemala to qualify for their world record 10th consecutive world championship. Amid the growing Freddy phenomenon, the U-17s advanced to the second round behind Adu’s four goals in their first two wins before losses to finalist Spain and champion Brazil, but the team still managed a fifth place finish.

Women’s World Cup:
Before stepping up to host the second consecutive WWC after it was moved from China due to the SARS outbreak, the U.S. had already qualified by winning the 2002 CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup played up and down the West coast. In a changing of the guard, previous finalists USA, Norway and China failed to advance to the championship match, where Germany stole a 2-1 win from Sweden.

World Youth (U-20) Championship:
Ed Johnson again led his team through qualifying, scoring two goals to help the U-20s advance in Charleston, S.C. in November 2002. Once at the world championship, played more than a year later in the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. was seconds away from a spot in the semifinals before a crushing 2-1 overtime loss to youth power Argentina. But on the strength of their three wins, in which Johnson had four goals, the U-20s equaled the U-17s fifth place finish just four months prior and the U.S. striker became the first U.S. men’s player to win a Golden Boot trophy at a world championship.

But alas, all good things must come to an end, and that end was in Mexico earlier this month. Despite winning all three of their opening round matches in an extremely difficult qualifying cauldron, a 4-0 loss in the semifinals meant that the USA failed to advance to the Olympics for the first time since 1976.

While it was a blow to the significant progress of the U.S. Men’s National Team program over the last several years, especially after two of the Youth National Team program’s better finishes at youth world championships, U.S. Soccer is already working on starting a new streak. The U.S. Women’s National Team is the CONCACAF favorite to qualify for their third consecutive Olympics later this month in Costa Rica, while the U-19s look to qualify in Canada in May and go for their second world title in November in Thailand.

Table of Contents

1.  Armchair Midfielder: A Look Back at “The Streak”
2.  In 3’s: WNT midfielder Lindsay Tarpley
3.  Gear Galore: New Nike MNT kit
4.  Queries & Anecdotes: MNT forward Josh Wolff 
5.  Mark That Calendar: WNT Olympic Qualifying
6.  Aly at the Oscars: WNT midfielder Aly Wagner
7.  Fan Point/Counterpoint: Top American in England?
8.  You Don’t Know Jack (Marshall): “Americans Overseas” Trivia

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