Attached is the second in a series of weekly World Cup updates coming to you every Wednesday from the U.S. Soccer Communications Center. As a build-up to the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the forthcoming articles are being presented to educate and entertain the U.S. Soccer Family about the great worldwide history of the tournament and U.S. Soccer as the U.S. Men's National Team prepares for the 2002 event in Korea/Japan this June.
1986 Marked the Last Time the U.S. Failed to Qualify for a World Cup
The U.S. Men’s National Team’s current World Cup run of qualifying for four consecutive tournaments has been well documented. In fact, the U.S. is one just nine countries in the world to make it to the last four FIFA World Cups. No small feat that.
In 1989, there was Paul Caligiuri’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” goal in Trinidad which booked the team’s passage to Italy. Of course, in 1994 the U.S. hosted the best-attended World Cup in FIFA history. The 1998 qualification, which saw the U.S. lose just twice in 16 matches, was probably best remembered for the team’s last-place finish at the tournament. And the book on 2002 has yet to see its final chapter written.
Lost in that glorious 12-year run is the story of the 1986 World Cup team, which came tantalizing close to qualification, but missed out on Mexico 1986 after suffering a heart-breaking defeat at home to Costa Rica that eliminated the team from advancing to the final round of qualifying.
The mid-1980s. It was an era of mullets, big-hair bands and tight shorts. Not too mention a U.S. Men’s National Team with a golden opportunity to end the team’s 36-year World Cup drought and qualify for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. But one defeat at home dashed the hopes of an era of players, including goalkeeper Arnie Mausser and midfielders Ricky Davis and Perry Van der Beck, and ended the USA’s World Cup quest.
After failing to reach the 1982 World Cup tournament in Spain, the Americans looked to finally snap their long streak when the road to Mexico ’86 began in 1984. Previously competing against Mexico in the CONCACAF qualifying rounds from 1934-82, the U.S. had only advanced to the World Cup competition on two occasions (Italy 1934 and Brazil 1950). But with Mexico earning the World Cup bid as the host nation, the door was open for te USA to earn CONCACAF’s lone qualifying position in the 1986 tournament.
Under then head coach Alkis Panagoulias, the Americans began 1984 stunning the world by playing the ‘82 World Champions Italy to a scoreless draw in an international friendly on May 30, in East Rutherford, N.J. With that result under the belt, the U.S. seemed poised for a strong run at the World Cup.
First up for the U.S. was a first round home-and-home CONCACAF qualifying series against the Netherland Antilles, which the U.S. won easily. After playing to a scoreless draw in the first game on Sept. 29, 1984 in Curacao, the USA returned to the States and took the second game 4-0 on Oct. 6, 1984 in St. Louis, Missouri. San Diego Sockers forward Ade Coker notched two goals, while midfielder Angelo DiBernardo and defender Erhardt Kapp each added a tally in the win.
The series win placed the USA in Group Three for the second round that included Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago, with the winner advancing to the final round of qualifying. The first two matches against Trinidad were played in the United States thanks to an agreement between the USSF and the Trinidadian Federation.
Goals by forwards Hernan “Chico” Borja and Mark Peterson led the Americans to a 2-1 victory over Trinidad & Tobago on May 15, 1985 (also in St. Louis). Four days later, the U.S. made it two in a row over T&T as Caligiuri provided the only tally of the game in a 1-0 win in Torrance, California.
In perhaps their best-ever road game at the time, the Americans played to a 1-1 draw against Costa Rica on May 26, 1985 in front of a hostile crowd in Alajeula. The lone U.S. goal came from forward John Kerr Jr. To this day, that single point in Costa Rica still stands as the only point the USA has ever earned in Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying, where the team has gone 0-5-1 in six games.
With the draw on the road, the U.S. seemed well on their way to the final round of qualifying. The team was 2-0-1 through three games and need just a draw at home to move on. All seemed position for U.S. success.
Unfortunately, Costa Rica was about to rear their head as the USA bogey team across the next 15 years. Going into their match in Torrance, the U.S. had only played Costa Rica twice (a loss back in 1975 and their recent draw). However, across the next 15-plus years, the U.S. would face the team a total of 12 times in World Cup qualifying, compiling just a 4-6-2 record (which includes the aforementioned one point in six games in Costa Rica).
Needing the draw in Torrance the U.S. could not muster a goal, eventually losing 1-0 to the Ticos on May 31, 1985 … exactly one year to the day before the start of the World Cup itself. The match would eventually serve as a blue-print for U.S. Soccer venue selection, as a predominantly Costa Rican crowd was on hand to help their team to the victory.
Costa Rica would eventually go on to the final round along with group winners Canada (Group 2) and Honduras (Group 1), but surprisingly, it was Canada that earned CONCACAF berth for the 1986 World Cup.
For the U.S. it was back to the drawing board; a drawing board that would eventually entertain four consecutive successful World Cup campaigns and help raise soccer to heights never before achieved in the United States.