The U.S. Men’s National Team has kept the party going since its 4-3 victory against Germany on June 2 – U.S. Soccer’s Centennial Celebration Match, which was held at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
That game marked the start of a record-breaking run that has now led the USA to the final of the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup against Panama on Sunday, July 28, against Panama at Soldier Field in Chicago.
As the USA shoots for its fifth straight Gold Cup crown, here are some interesting numbers and trends by the team over this stretch:
- Altidore fuels start: Jozy Altidore scored one goal in each of the first four games of this winning streak.
- Donovan’s stellar return: Landon Donovan has scored seven goals and assisted seven others during this winning streak to lead the team in both categories in 2013. The seven assists tie for second-best in Donovan’s career, and the seven goals rank second only to his record-setting 10-goal performance in 2009. Donovan also has a chance with his next goal or assist to tie a career high for goals/assist production – he was involved in 15 goals (10 goals, 5 assists) in 2009, and he sits at 14 (7 goals, 7 assists) for 2013. Donovan now has 56 career goals and 56 career assists, comfortably holding the all-time record in each category.
- Wondolowski heats up: Entering the year with eight caps and zero goals to his name, Chris Wondolowski proved that his heavy MLS scoring arsenal is no fluke. During the streak he has scored six goals, including a first-half hat trick during the USA’s 6-1 win against Belize on July 9.
- 3.4 per game: That is the USA’s scoring average during the winning streak as the team has outscored its opponents by an impressive 34-8 margin. Thirteen different players have scored a goal during this stretch.
- Four clean sheets: The U.S. blanked Panama 2-0 on June 11, shut out Honduras 1-0 on June 18, garnered its most lopsided victory of the year with a 6-0 win against Guatemala on July 5, and topped Costa Rica 1-0 on July 16.
- Staying ahead: During this winning streak, the U.S. MNT has trailed for less than 10 minutes of regulation time. Its only deficit came when Cuba scored a 36th-minute goal to take a 1-0 lead on July 13. Donovan found the equalizer with a first-half stoppage time penalty kick and the USA would score three second-half goals en route to a 4-1 victory.
- First career goals: Four U.S. MNT players will fondly look back on this run when they notched their first career tallies. This group includes Alejandro Bedoya (1), Joe Corona (2), Brek Shea (1) and Wondolowski (6).
The U.S. Men’s National Team rode a shock opening win against fourth-ranked Portugal, a draw against the host Korea Republic and a little help from the goalposts to advance to the Round of 16 at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Finishing second in the group meant that the MNT would have less than three full days rest to turn around and face regional rivals Mexico in the highest stakes match the two nations had ever played. With little time to prepare, in some respects the U.S. was lucky to have drawn the team with which it was most familiar.
Despite the U.S. having won four of the previous five meetings, according to U.S. captain Claudio Reyna, when the team arrived at Jeonju World Cup Stadium that June afternoon, there wasn’t much respect shown from the opposition side.
“Before the game we walked out and we were walking around the field. We had this focus and concentration as a team as you do preparing for any game,” the former team captain told ussoccer.com. “I was with Eddie Lewis, Frankie Hejduk, Gregg Berhalter and Earnie Stewart and we were ready to go – we were foaming at the mouth for this game. We looked over and the Mexicans were laughing, joking and looking at us…That was it.”
Reyna called the team over to quickly finish their pre-game pitch inspection and head back into the locker room.
“We sort of wanted the game to start, we were so ready to go,” he continued. “Back in the locker room, I remember saying, ‘These guys are laughing at us. They think they’re going to beat us easily.’”
Mexico had done efficient work to get to that point. Having finished with seven points atop a group that featured Italy, Croatia and Ecuador, El Tri’s run to the Round of 16 had the side brimming with self-assurance ahead of the match.
“They were feeling confident, but the lack of respect they showed was clear – you never do that,” said Reyna. “I would never do that in my career, even if I felt really comfortable about beating an opponent. That you’d be giggling, laughing and joking at the opponent. It was pretty clear that it was directed at us and at some of our players, and obviously we play them all the time so there’s that rivalry.”
“I remember saying, ‘We’re not losing this game guys.’ Everyone went around and you could feel it all the way through that we couldn’t wait to get out there.”
Reyna gets past Ramon Morales in the most famous "Dos a Cero" in Men's National Team history.
Injuries and suspensions limited the U.S. options, and Bruce Arena used the uncertainty to confound the Mexicans by deploying a 3-5-2 formation for the match. The switch saw Reyna move from his regular central midfield position to the right flank, with the move paying off almost immediately. Following an eighth minute foul in the Mexico half, Brian McBride quickly restarted as he saw Reyna pushing up the flank. The U.S. captain beat two defenders to the end line before centering for Josh Wolff, whose deft touch teed up McBride for a clinical finish and an equally gratifying goal celebration.
The goal set an early tone and played perfectly into Arena’s game plan, allowing the U.S. to sit in and pick its moments to counter against an increasingly frustrated Mexican side. Landon Donovan’s second- half header off an Eddie Lewis cross helped ice the game, giving the MNT its first ever World Cup knockout round win and a quarterfinal date with Germany.
“It was just a great team performance. To beat them 2-0, eliminate them and afterwards realize this was a big deal back in the States,” Reyna said.
The win raised the profile of the Men’s National Team more than any other since the 1994 FIFA World Cup, but in an age before social media, Reyna admitted the players didn’t realize how big an impact the victory had made.
“We didn’t know how huge it was at home,” he said. “We were in Korea and we knew it was sort of growing in momentum. I remember seeing some of the news clips from Mexico City where there were people in plazas and squares crying over the result – that felt good.”
U.S. supporters celebrate during the MNT's 2-0 win against Mexico at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Though the momentum was already building towards U.S. domination of the rivalry, the World Cup win tipped the scales. Since 2000, the MNT has held a 13-6-5 advantage against El Tri.
“From that moment on, it continued to be a real domination of Mexico,” Reyna said. “We went on and beat them all the time. That was the point where we felt we were no longer playing behind them, that we were better than them.”
“It was one big coming out party on the biggest stage.”Read more