A monthly column about the State of Soccer, from the world game to Team America to pro soccer in the good ‘ole U-S-of-A , all cooked up with a healthy dose of cynicism.
This month, the Armchair Midfielder will take a look back at the roller coaster ride that was the Final Round of World Cup qualifying, game-by-game, result-by-result.
Matchday #1 [Feb. 28] — The frozen tundra of......Columbus Crew Stadium? Game time temperature: a paltry 34 degrees. That's just two little lines above freezing, for all of the scientifically-challenged folks out there. But what did it mean to the outcome of the match? Actually, it may have had quite an impact. The Mexican team found themselves in the rarely-used long sleeve jerseys, while U.S. bench players and staff kept nice and toasty in their huge "Eskimo jackets." Advantage: USA. When it came time to play, the U.S. defense was as tough to deal with for the Tricolores as the harsh wind. Then off went McBride with a nasty knot above the eye and Claudio followed with a groin pull. But no matter--it was Josh Wolff to the rescue, as the crafty Olympic star beat Jorge Campos for the first goal, then back-heeled out of trouble in the offensive corner to set up Earnie Stewart for an easy strike. First game, first win, first three points--everybody's happy. USA 2, Mexico 0 [1-0-0, 2 GF, 0 GA, 3 Pts., First place.]
Matchday #2 [March 28] — In a sneak preview of what would haunt an improved Honduras team throughout the final round, the U.S. walked into a hostile Olympic Stadium in San Pedro Sula and stole an improbable three points. As he did with the game-winning assist in the Mexico win, new midfield general Clint Mathis again played well in Reyna's absence, setting up a goal by Earnie Stewart in the first half and then later sealing the deal with an 87th minute free kick strike that devastated the blue-and- white faithful. USA 2, Honduras 1 [2-0-0, 4 GF, 1 GA, 6 Pts., First place.] Not a pretty game (especially, considering the lone goal was assisted by a U.S. player's hand), but a solid result and a great crowd -- actually, a record soccer crowd of over 37k for K.C. -- for the boys as they continued their jaunt through the Midwest. It was the Wolff and Mathis show for a second straight home game, with Wolff again providing the game winner, this time in the 70th minute. Who knew Arrowhead Stadium could get that loud? Sam's Army and the rest of the Midwest faithful made it sound like Marcus Allen had just dove into the end zone from one yard out to help the Chiefs win the Super Bowl. Another great home venue, another big three points. USA 1, Costa Rica 0 [3-0-0, 5 GF, 1 GA, 9 Pts., First place]
Matchday # 3 [April 25] —
Matchday #4 [June 16] — Like the first three games of the final round, this one was all about "the D." Keller = "the man" on this sweltering day, shutting down repeated Jamaican breakaways and more than a few point-blank shots. But Jamaican ‘keeper Donovan Ricketts was just as solid on the other side of the ball, holding the U.S. off the board despite wave after wave of offensives in the last 10 minutes. A disappointed Kingston crowd? Surely, but that didn't stop them from partying with Bob and their herb of choice into the wee hours. USA 0, Jamaica 0 [3-0-1, 5 GF, 1 GA, 10 Pts., First place.]
Matchday #5 [June 20] — Playing just four days after a decent draw versus the Reggae Boyz down in the Caribbean, it was back to one of our most welcome homes in the States: Foxboro Stadium. The U.S. wasted no time in pouring it on the tiny islands of Trinidad & Tobago, with Ante Razov knocking one home in just the second minute and Earnie Stewart making history (as the all-time leading scorer in U.S. qualifying history) with a strike in the 20th. All of a sudden, we were halfway thru the qualifying battle, and we had an impressive 13 out of a possible 15 points. Could you believe it? I couldn't. It wasn't supposed to look this easy. USA 2, T&T 0. [4-0-1, 7 GF, 1 GA, 13 Pts., First place.]
Matchday #6 [July 1] — With Team USA riding high atop CONCACAF and with Mexico in a tailspin coming off a first ever qualifying home loss at Azteca, it seemed like the time was right for the Americans to get their first qualifying win at the gargantuan stadium. But of course, Mexico had seen this game coming and knew it couldn't lose to its most hated rivals, so in came a new coach who brought in a horde of new players. Cries for our neighbor to the south to "win at all costs" echoed throughout the toxic, hazy Mexico City air prior to the match. The outcome? A desperate win for the Tricolores. Another disappointing result at Azteca for the Yanks. Mexico 1, USA 0. [4-1-1, 7 GF, 2 GA, 13 Pts., Second place.]
Matchday #7 [Sept. 1] — This one was painful, and signaled a definite slide in the performance of the U.S. side, especially the back line. Earnie Stewart, arguably the team's best player in 2001, was both hero and goat on a day in which over 54,000 U.S. and Honduran fans mixed and mingled at RFK. After an early strike, the U.S. gave up an equalizer in the 28th. But it was Stewart's missed penalty kick minutes before halftime that swung the momentum of the match to the revenge-minded Hondurans. The visitors ruled the second half and peppered Brad Friedel with a total of 15 shots and pulled out the win, despite a late Stewart goal and some close chances in the game's closing minutes. Honduras 3, USA 2 [4-2-1, 9 GF, 5 GA, 13 Pts., Second place.]
Matchday #8 [Sept. 5] — The slide continued as the U.S. met new first place occupant Costa Rica in what has to be one of the tougher environments to play in the world in Saprissa Stadium. It was yet another game for the U.S. without the services of stars Reyna, McBride, Wolff and Mathis. Subsequently, it was another lackluster offensive performance for the States. How depleted was the U.S. attack? Well, consider 38-year-old veteran Preki made his second appearance in as many games off the bench, yet produced the best scoring chances of the game. Costa Rica's Rolando Fonseca did the rest, scoring both for the World Cup-bound Ticos. In a span of three games (and three losses), the USA had improbably dropped from first place to fourth place. Costa Rica 2, USA 0. [4-3-1, 9 GF, 7 GA, 13 Pts., Fourth place.]
Matchday #9 [Oct. 7] — Ahhhhh, lady luck. She's a tricky one. The U.S. was saddled with three straight losses, sitting on the outside looking in for one of three spots in the World Cup for the first time in the final round, and we needed two wins to guarantee a trip to the promised land. Lucky for us, it only took one. Taking care of business once again and helping close the doors on Foxboro Stadium the right way (read: a win), former Revs star Joe-Max Moore was the hero on the day, recovering his scoring touch in order to strike in the 6th minute and then calmly put home a tense PK in the 81st minute to the roar of the red-clad crowd. That roar would get even louder when the players and fans found out minutes after the game had ended that T&T stole a win in Honduras and Costa Rica held Mexico to a draw. Just like that, we're in to the World Cup for a record fourth straight time. Who woulda thunk it? USA 2, Jamaica 1 [5- 3-1, 11 GF, 8 GA, 16 Pts., Second place.]
Matchday #10 [Nov. 11] — Sure, this game hasn't been played yet, but with a berth to Korea/Japan in hand, and with the possible services of Josh Wolff, you have to think this will be an exciting triumph for the U.S. team over the cellar-dwelling Soca Warriors. Of course, it would have been sweeter to win CONCACAF, but the World Cup is the World Cup. Second place won't matter in six months. Prediction: USA 2, T&T 0 [6-3-1, 13 GF, 8 GA, 19 Pts., Second place.]
And Bruce and the team lived happily ever after ... Or did they? [Season Cliffhanger]
Tune in next summer for the exciting conclusion to "As the World Cup Turns"...
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (USA's World Cup Qualifying)
2) Word Association (w/ WNT midfielder Shannon MacMillan)
3) Cobi's Book Club (w/ MNT midfielder Cobi Jones)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ U-23 MNT goalkeeper D.J. Countess)
5) DJ for a Day (w/ WNT midfielder Lorrie Fair)
6) Superstar!!! (w/ MNT midfielder John O'Brien)
7) Mark That Calendar (2002 World Cup final draw -- Dec. 1)
8) Point-Counterpoint (w/ commentators Andres Cantor and Jack Edwards)
9) From the Bleachers (w/ U.S. Soccer fans Keiran Downie & Jeniffer Huie)
10) "You Don't Know Jack (Marshall)" (U.S. WCQ history)
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