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Memorable Moments for the MNT in 2002 World Cup Qualifying

The U.S. Men’s National Team is preparing for 2006 FIFA World Cup Qualifying in hopes of earning a spot in what would be their fifth consecutive World Cup tournament. Every four years the games become more intense as teams throughout the region continue to improve.

In qualifying for World Cup 2002, the United States had it’s share of ups and downs leading to the most successful U.S. World Cup run in history.  Here is a look back at some of the most memorable moments from 2000 and 2001.

Late Ruiz Goals Takes Points from U.S.
On the road for the first two games in the semifinal round of qualifying, the U.S. knew it had to come away with as many points as possible before they returned home. Battling July heat and humidity in Guatemala was no easy task, but the Americans dominated the first half, compiling a 7-2 shot advantage. After good combination play in first half stoppage time, Claudio Reyna was able to find forward Ante Razov, who hit a shot from just inside the box that deflected off of a defender and in for a 1-0 lead. The second half was a different story as the U.S. found themselves under siege from a desperate Guatemalan team who out shot the U.S. 14-3 in the half. Their pressure finally led to a tying goal by forward Carlos Ruiz in the 88th minute. Though the Americans were disappointed with the tie, at the time they were content with getting one point in the road game.

U.S. MNT in Last Place After Last Second Loss
A week later the U.S. would have to play in front of a hostile Costa Rican crowd. The United States would dominate the first half with an 8-1 shot advantage, their only shot on goal would be all Costa Rica would need to take a 1-0 lead into halftime. The “Ticos” would come out and dominate the second half, but a quick counter attack saw an Ante Razov shot rebound to Earnie Stewart for the tying goal that came against the run of play in the 65th minute. The game would remain tied, despite a number of dangerous chances for Costa Rica and a tough tackle in the penalty box by U.S. defender Frankie Hejduk that went unnoticed. Just when the U.S. thought they might escape with another crucial road point, Jamaican referee Peter Pendergast called a controversial penalty kick for a handball on defender Gregg Berhalter in the third minute of stoppage time. Costa Rican Hernan Medford converted the kick, which gave his team a 2-1 victory, and put the U.S. in last place in their four-team group with just one point. The loss put a lot of pressure on the U.S. side, which would definitely need to go undefeated in their remaining games to advance to the next round.

Tight Match in Barbados Breaks Open in Second Half
The United States traveled to Barbados on November 15, 2000 needing a win to secure their spot in the final round of regional qualifying. The Americans dominated the first half with several good scoring opportunities by Joe-Max Moore and Clint Mathis, who hit the post in the 36th minute, and did not allow a shot on ‘keeper Tony Meola. Knowing that a loss, or even a draw could be fatal to their chances of advancing and crush their World Cup dreams, the teams entered the locker room in a scoreless tie. The field became sloppy during the second half as a steady rain began to fall, but the game became more intense as both sides looked for the game’s first goal. In the 50th minute, Barbados forward Llewellyn Riley fired a shot that was redirected by U.S. defender Carlos Llamosa and hit the crossbar. The U.S. finally broke through in the 63rd minute as Joe-Max Moore slotted a ball from the end line back to Clint Mathis who finished into the open net. The game really opened up after that, with Earnie Stewart firing in a shot in the 73rd minute, and four minutes later Cobi Jones added a goal to make it 3-0. Second-half sub Ante Razov sealed the victory with a goal in the final minute of stoppage time to give the United States a 4-0 win, and a secure place in the final qualifying round. Meola was forced to make just one save as he added to his then American record 32 career shutouts (he was recently passed by Kasey Keller). The shutout was also the fourth consecutive for the Americans in qualifying, and established a team record of nine in one year.

Freezing Mexico Out in Columbus
In 18 qualifying match-ups since 1984, the United States had compiled a not-so-good 2-11-5 record against Mexico. For this meeting, though, the Federation picked a cold February night in a place where Mexican fans would not outnumber American fans - Columbus Crew Stadium in Ohio. In a mediocre first half on the 29-degree evening, the U.S. was forced to use two early substitutions because of injuries, losing forward Brian McBride and captain Claudio Reyna. Neither team was able to create quality scoring chances. Just two minutes into the second half however, substitutes Clint Mathis and Josh Wolff set up the first goal of the match. And in front of a sold-out crowd, substitute Josh Wolff set up Earnie Stewart to score the clincher with just three minutes remaining. The win was the third consecutive over the Mexicans, but marked the first time the U.S. had beat them in qualifying since 1980.

87th Minute Goal in Honduras Earns Three Points
After the win against Mexico, the U.S. looked to stay in first place as they played a difficult game in Honduras. Earnie Stewart put the Americans on the board in the 33rd minute on a shot from 35 yards out that deflected past the Honduran goalkeeper. A goal by Julio Caesar de Leon tied the game in the 59th minute, and also ended the Americans qualifying shutout streak at 509 minutes. The U.S. hadn’t given up a goal in their five previous qualifying matches. Both teams battled to get the three points that come along with a win, but another goal wouldn’t come until Clint Mathis struck a 22-yard free kick in the 87th minute. The victory was the first qualifying win in South America for the United States in more than 11 years, and would keep them in first place through two games in the final round.

Razov and Stewart Enter the Books
In just his third game and second start in 2001, forward Ante Razov set a United States World Cup qualifying record for the fastest goal from the start of a match when he finished a perfectly placed ball from Jeff Agoos a mere 74 seconds into the game at Foxboro on June 20, 2001. In the 20th minute, veteran Earnie Stewart reached his own milestone, becoming the USA’s all-time leading goal scorer in qualifying history, passing Willy Roy, a standout forward from the 1960s and 1970s. That was all the Americans would need as the defense held the two-goal lead, and goalkeeper Kasey Keller earned his sixth straight shutout.

Three Consecutive Losses Jeopardize Qualifying Chances
After beginning 2001 with a 4-0-1 record in qualifying, the United States played key games against Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica as the summer began. Some of the results in the final round CONCACAF regional play had been surprising, and the three trips to the World Cup were still up for grabs. After dominating Mexico in a 2-0 win on a frigid night in Columbus earlier in the year, the U.S. would lose a 1-0 game in the dreaded Estadio Azteca in Mexico City on July 1, 2001. The loss, in front of more than 100,000 Mexican fans, ended the U.S. unbeaten streak at nine qualifying games, and may have carried over into their next game on September 1 against Honduras. The U.S. had played 19 consecutive qualifying matches at home without a setback, until they found themselves coming up short in the 3-2 loss at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Earnie Stewart scored both goals in the loss, with his eighth and ninth qualifying goals adding to his record. On the road in Costa Rica for a match just four days later, the U.S. hoped to be able to turn things around. By scoring on a penalty kick late in the first half, Costa Rica would fend off a U.S. attack that managed only four shots on goal. An insurance goal was added by the Ticos in the 68th minute to give them a 2-0 win and secure a spot in their second World Cup.

October 7, 2001 v. Jamaica

National pride is always at stake in World Cup Qualifying, but this time it was even more intensified. The MNT was the first American national team in any sport to play a game after the attacks of September 11 and the team faced a must-win game in Foxboro Stadium against Jamaica. Just before the game, head coach Bruce Arena told his players that their country had just attacked Afghanistan. Four minutes after an emotional national anthem and moment of silence, forward Joe-Max Moore put in a header off of a Claudio Reyna free kick. Ten minutes later, the United States would give up the lead, but an 81st minute penalty kick by Moore would be enough to clinch 2-1 victory. An upset win by Trinidad & Tobago in Honduras would round out a great day for the U.S., which surprisingly clinched the Americans a place in the 2002 FIFA World Cup in front of 40,000 patriotic fans. The game was also the last international soccer game played in Foxboro Stadium, where the U.S. Men were unbeaten in ten all-time games with a 7-0-3 record.