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Keller Saves!

In this section we take you back to an significant national team game you may not have seen, or just need a refresher. We provide you with a short video recap, the game report and some interesting tidbits on the match.

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Inevitably, there will be games that bubble to the surface when an athlete looks back on his career. Those games are the ones where everything seemed to go right, every action taken seemed to be the smart decision, allowing success for the individual, and in most cases, the team.

For Kasey Keller, the match he played on Feb. 10, 1998, will be one of those moments.

In this edition of MNT Rewind, we’re taking you back to the U.S. Men’s National Team’s match against Brazil in the semifinals of the 1998 Gold Cup.

The Match Breakdown:
Going into the match, no one gave the U.S. much of a chance. Why would they?

Brazil was the best team in the world. They were the current World Cup title-holders after hosting the trophy in 1994, and were still ranked No. 1 in the FIFA World Rankings almost four years later. The U.S. had never beaten Brazil in seven meetings, losing to the South Americans six times in the past six years, including the 1-0 loss in the Round of 16 in the ’94 World Cup. Heck, the U.S. hadn’t even scored a single goal against Brazil since their first meeting way back in 1930 (that’s 68 years, people!)

Yet, timing is everything and if the U.S. had to play the best team in the world, this was as good of a moment as they could of hoped for. The U.S. was riding its longest winning streak in team history at the time with five straight victories, and hadn’t lost in the past eight games, putting it just one victory away from tying its longest unbeaten streak in team history. To put it simply, the U.S. was hot.

The Match Result:
While it was Preki Radosavljevic’s game-winning drive in the 65th minute that provided the U.S. the 1-0 victory, it was Keller’s performance in front of the U.S. net that the real reason the Americans were able to pull off the upset.

Keller registered a total of 10 saves on the night to blank Brazil and more specifically, shut out one forward in general – Romario. In soccer you don’t always get to see a one-on-one match-up for an entire game, but that’s basically what was going on between Keller and Romario. Romario would shoot, and Kasey would save.

Romario had three opportunities in the first half, all of which were within seven yards. The first onslaught came in the 12th minute when Romario received the ball at his feet just outside the six-yard box and fired a quick shot that was initially blocked by defender Alexi Lalas. Romario pounced on the loose ball and fired another towards the left post, but Keller was there with a diving save to parry it wide.

In the 32nd minute, Romario was released into the box and hit a point-blank shot on goal that Keller did well to save and then pounce on so there was no rebound for the ’94 World Cup MVP to tap home.

The most impressive save came with just three minutes before halftime. Brazil sent in a cross from the flank and Romario won the header inside the six-yard box, but Keller was able to pluck it out of the air. (Shaking his head in disbelief, Romario actually shook Keller’s hand in congratulations after the ‘keeper rose from the ground.)

After being outshot 13-3 in the first half, the U.S. came back with nine shots, including the goal by Preki, which he curled inside the left post. Keller then stopped a couple more scoring chances by Brazil to secure the historic win for the U.S.

Romario was so impressed with Keller’s performance he said this after the match: “That was the greatest performance I have ever seen in a goalkeeper. It was an honor to be on the field with him. I take the blame. But that goalkeeper was incredible.”

The Match Significance:
Anytime you beat the best team in the world it’s significant, but what made it more special was that it really was a historic moment – the first time the U.S. had ever beaten Brazil. The win was immediately compared to their World Cup victories against England in 1950 and Columbia in 1994, and in non-World Cup matches the victory over Argentina in 1995. The U.S. actually could beat Brazil.

But not only was it historic, at the time it was relevant to the USA’s confidence as they prepared for the ’98 World Cup. While in retrospect we can look back and say, “Well, we went 0-3 in ’98 so this game couldn’t have helped us,” but that at the time, at that moment, the U.S. knew it could play with the best in the world. Despite the results in France, the U.S. team was more confident heading into the World Cup with a victory over Brazil as a notch on their belt.

Match Quick Hits:

  • The other Gold Cup semifinal was Jamaica vs. Mexico and was played two days later. Mexico defeated Jamaica
  • The U.S. went on to fall to Mexico in the Gold Cup final, 1-0, in Los Angeles. Luis Hernandez scored the game-winning
  • Kasey Keller was named the CONCACAF Tournament Most Valuable Player
  • In the third-place game, Romario scored a 77th minute goal off a cross to give Brazil a 1-0 victory over Jamaica.
  • Cobi Jones tallied his 100th career cap when he started against Brazil, becoming the third U.S. Men’s National Team player to reach the triple-digit plateau. Jones, who joined Marcelo Balboa and Paul Caligiuri, earned the 100 appearances in just five-and-a-half years, making him the fastest to achieve the mark. 
  • The U.S. was currently ranked 26th in the FIFA World Rankings at the time, while, as mentioned above, Brazil was ranked first.
  • The Brazilians had lost only two games since winning the 1994 World Cup, compiling a 46-2-10 record. Their only losses were to Denmark (4-2) and Mexico (2-0).
  • Before this match, the last time the U.S. played Brazil was in the semifinals of the 1996 Gold Cup at the Los Angeles Coliseum, which Brazil won 1-0 on an own goal.
  • With the victory, the U.S. tied its longest unbeaten streak in team history (nine), and increased its record winning streak to six games.
  • This was the fourth trip to the semifinals of the Gold Cup for the U.S., and the third time they made the finals.
  • Keller was on a hot streak at the time as he hadn’t surrendered a goal in English Premier League play with Leicester City in his last 272 minutes, shutting out Leeds (1-0), Manchester United (1-0) and Liverpool (1-0).
  • Midfielder Claudio Reyna suffered a mild groin strain while playing a game with his club, Wolfsburg, and was unable to play against Brazil.
U.S. Men’s National Team Game Report

Participants: USA vs. Brazil
Competition: CONCACAF Gold Cup - Semifinals
Location: Los Angeles Coliseum; Los Angeles
Date: February 10, 1998
Weather: 53 degrees, partly cloudy
Attendance: 12,298

Scoring Summary:
                     1      2         F
USA             0      1         1
BRA             0      0         0

USA – Preki Radosavljevic (Eric Wynalda)    65th minute

USA: 18-Kasey Keller; 4-Mike Burns, 22-Alexi Lalas, 3-Eddie Pope, 12-Jeff Agoos, 2-Frankie Hejduk, 6-John Harkes; 9-Joe-Max Moore, 13-Cobi Jones, 11-Eric Wynalda (20-Brian McBride, 81), 7-Roy Wegerle (14-Preki Radosavljevic, 60).
Subs not used: 15-Roy Lassiter, 17-Marcelo Balboa, 19-Chris Henderson, 21-Claudio Reyna, 23-Gregg Berhalter, 24-Juergen Sommer
Head Coach: Steve Sampson

BRA: Taffarel; Ze Maria, Junior Baiano, Goncalves, Mauro da Silva (Doriva, 7); Junior, Edmundo, Flavio Conceicao (Marcos dos Santos Assuncao, 71), Zinho; Sergio Manoel (Elber, 76), Romario.

Statistical Summary:
                                     USA     BRA
Shots                            12         21             
Saves                            10          4              
Corner Kicks                  6          4  
Fouls                               8          8
Offside                             4          1  

Misconduct Summary:
USA – John Harkes (caution)        30th minute

Referee: Ali Mohammed Bujsaim (UAE)
1st Assistant: John Nielsen (CAN)
2nd Assistant: E. Amulfo Gozalez Gudiel (GUA)
Fourth Official: Mohamed Nazri Abdullah (MAS)