When the schedule for the Final Round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup came around, the U.S. Soccer Federation had a different idea.
Drawn to play rivals Mexico first, and in February no less, the U.S. Soccer Federation decided to try and maximize home-field by taking advantage of the new phenomenon in the American game – the soccer specific stadium.
Columbus Crew Stadium (now MAPFRE Stadium) was the only one at the time, but with its smaller capacity and location in the heart of the Midwest, the venue proved a perfect spot for the U.S. to have its own unique home atmosphere in response to the heat, altitude and intensity that 100,000 fans at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City could provide.
“It was a tremendous atmosphere,” remembered U.S. forward Josh Wolff. “It was brutally cold. We had a fantastic crowd and there was a lot to play for. Obviously it’s a qualifier, but it’s even bigger when you’re playing against Mexico. It couldn’t have been any nicer – a chilly night that the Mexican players probably didn’t enjoy, but for us, it was probably a bit of gamesmanship. I think we were excited about the idea of playing in front of our fans on a nice cold night where we could take advantage of it.”
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Wolff didn’t start the match that night in late February 2001. When Bruce Arena selected him for the game-day 18, if he was to be used at all, the idea was more likely as a late-game sub.
After 15 minutes, things changed.
With Brian McBride’s right eye looking like he received a haymaker from Mike Tyson more than the clash of heads he took going up for a 50/50 ball, Wolff was called upon as his replacement and got his taste of the chippiness in the match when he was shown a yellow card for a foul on Rafael Carmona in the 40th minute.
He’d been joined on the field just before halftime by an old familiar face in Clint Mathis. Wolff’s former college teammate at the University of South Carolina was tapped to enter the game for Claudio Reyna, who pulled up with a groin injury after stepping to make a seemingly routine pass.
Having burned two subs to replace two of the side’s key players, Wolff and Mathis were certainly the unlikeliest of heroes for the second half, but they proved the odds wrong.
Just after the break, the South Carolina boys, who both hailed from neighboring Georgia, connected on what has become one of the more memorable goals in U.S. World Cup Qualifying history.
“The ball fell to Clint and Mexico was playing a pretty high line,” Wolff recalled. “Obviously I’d played with Clint for a number of years and we had a pretty good understanding of one another. It was just me taking a chance to run the line really well there.”
Mexico’s back line was so high that they were all pinching into the U.S. half of the field when Mathis quickly hit the ball into space for Wolff, who was a step inside the USA half of the midfield stripe.
“Clint hits a great ball over the top,” Wolff continued. “It’s a bit of a foot race with Jorge [Campos] and it was just one of those balls where it’s a 50/50 and I was able to come out with the other side of him. At that point, you just kind of roll it in the open goal and get on with the celebration. The goal was a scramble in the end, but it was a good way to start that game for me and helped fuel us the rest of the match.”
Three players called into this week’s U.S. MNT camp have arrived with goals to their name after weekend play with their respective club teams.
Reading FC midfielder Danny Williams had the quickest output, heading home a cross from teammate Hal Robson-Kanu 15 seconds into his side’s 2-0 victory against Middlesbrough. The goal was the third fastest in Reading’s 144 year history and Williams’ second of the English Championship campaign where Reading currently sit third (5-2-3; 18 points).
Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore tallied what would be the Reds winning goal in a 3-1 home victory against the Philadelphia Union on Saturday afternoon at BMO Field.
With Sebastian Giovinco opening the scoring in the 28th minute, Altidore increased the lead in the 63rd when he beat Union defender Ray Gaddis to a cross from Marky Delgado, making for an easy finish past Andre Blake. The strike was Altidore’s 12th of the season for Toronto FC and second in as many matches.
Philadelphia’s Steven Vitoria pulled one back three minutes later, but the Union’s Richard Marquez netted an own goal in second half stoppage time to give Toronto a 3-1 win.
Finally, Chris Wondolowski continued his strong league goal scoring form as the San Jose Earthquakes earned a 1-1 draw away to Vancouver Whitecaps FC Saturday night at BC Place.
Trailing 1-0 after the Whitecaps Cristian Techera tallied in the 39th minute, San Jose found the equalizer in the 62nd minute. Earthquakes midfielder Cordell Cato fired a whipping shot that Whitecaps ‘keeper David Ousted spilled, only to see Wondolowski opportunistically put home the rebound to give San Jose an important road point.
The goal was Wondolowski’s 16th of the season and seventh in his last nine matches for San Jose. It also pushed the two-time MLS Golden Boot winner past former U.S. international and current NYCFC head coach Jason Kreis and into fifth all-time on the MLS goal scoring list with 109 career tallies.
One game. One goal.
After finishing fourth in July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, that’s where the U.S. MNT finds itself heading into October’s CONCACAF Cup clash with Mexico at The Rose Bowl. The one-off qualifier for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup isn’t the norm in international soccer – qualifying for the World Cup or a regional championship can take two or even three years.
October’s CONCACAF Cup is a single-game playoff between the region’s last two Gold Cup champions, with the winner advancing to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. While the match against Mexico isn’t commonplace, it’s also not the first time the U.S. MNT has found itself in a one-game playoff. It’s just the first time it’s happened in nearly 39 years.
The previous occurance came on December 22, 1976, when the MNT fell 3-0 to Canada in a one-match playoff to determine who would join Mexico as North American Zone representatives to the following year’s CONCACAF Championship, equivalent to today’s final round of World Cup qualifying, affectionately known as “The Hex.”
Al Trost [right] enjoyed a long career with the USA, featuring in 14 matches from 1971-78.
The playoff came about as a result of all three North American Zone teams finishing level on points and goal differential in the qualifying round that took place in September and October of 1976.
Playing under the guidance of coach Walt Chyzowych, U.S. midfielder Al Trost recalled the team’s preparation for the qualifying tournament was better than he’d experienced ahead of previous National Team camps.
“Walt did a great job of preparing us for these games,” Trost remembered. “Before this tournament, I don’t think the Federation really put the money or effort in to set a stage for American players to be challenged and develop for international soccer. In the past, we got together 24 hours before a game and that was it. Walt did a good job of convincing the Federation into getting us into Denver, training at high altitude ahead of games and I thought he prepared us well.”
The early results followed suit with the preparation. In the opening match against Canada in Vancouver, Boris Bandov scored in the eighth minute and the U.S. held on for a 1-1 draw, having played a man down following Steve Pecher’s sending off in the 72nd. Ten days later, the MNT played tight at the back and held on for a 0-0 draw against Mexico in front of a partisan crowd of 31,171 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“For us, I thought we were playing really well at the time,” Trost continued. “There were points where we could have won both games and [goalkeeper] Arnie Mausser played incredibly.”
With two points from their first two matches, the U.S. didn’t have much thought about winning the return leg in Puebla two weeks later. After surrendering two first half goals, the U.S. held the score steady at 2-0 before a controversial 84th minute penalty awarded to Mexico midfielder Hugo Davila would go a long way towards sending the team to the December playoff with Canada.
“Steve Pecher put his foot on the ball in the box and the player hit the ball against his foot, fell over and they called a penalty,” Mausser remembered. “You’re looking around asking, ‘How? Why?’ It wasn’t at all reckless, but he called it. We were already losing 2-0 – the penalty wouldn’t have affected the result of the game – where it did have an effect was on goal difference.”
Despite the defeat, the team rebounded well in their final qualifying match, using second half goals from Miro Rys and Julie Vee to earn a 2-0 win against Canada at The Kingdome in Seattle, Washington. The win left the MNT with four points from four matches (two points were awarded for a win back then), while Mexico and Canada were on three points each ahead of the final group game.
Though Canada had upset Mexico 1-0 during their home leg in Vancouver three weeks prior, Mausser said they felt confident that Mexico would have no problem winning at home. Instead, Canada earned a 0-0 draw in Toluca – their first ever result on Mexican soil.
“The best teams in the world go down to Mexico and lose, so when we saw they tied Canada, we couldn’t believe it at the time,” said Mausser.
Although all three teams had the exact same point total, Mexico’s +2 goal differential set them apart from the other two, while the MNT’s -1 differential, brought in part by the controversial penalty conceded to El Tri weeks earlier, left them equal with Canada and doomed the team to the one-game playoff.
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While the North American Zone qualifying tournament would finish at the end of October, the playoff between the U.S. and Canada wouldn’t be held until two months later – Dec. 22, 1976. The neutral site chosen by CONCACAF was Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
“I have no idea why they chose Haiti as a neutral site,” said Trost. “The field wasn’t great, but that’s where we ended up.”
With two months to prepare for the playoff match, the Federation took the U.S. team to Port-au-Prince to play a three-game friendly series with the Haiti national team, who were also preparing for a similar Caribbean playoff with Cuba the following month.
The sides played three games over six days that November, which all ended as 0-0 draws. The results were just a sign of the times for a still developing U.S. team.
“That was us at the time,” Trost said. “The training we went through with Walt was a lot of man-on-man stuff. We were disciplined enough in defending, but to try and make the transition, that’s what made it difficult in creating scoring opportunities. We had some very strong, gifted players, but we had issues making the transition from defense to offense. Sometimes it would work, sometimes it didn’t. That was the decision that was made – Walt wanted to stay in games as best we could defensively and see what we could get out matches.”
The U.S. returned to Haiti for the playoff a month later, but days before the game Trost looked in doubt to take part in the game.
“I had Montezuma’s revenge a couple days before,” he recalled. “I was sicker than a dog, throwing up for a couple days while we were down there. I just remember I was zapped. It took everything out of me.”
While he wasn’t 100 percent, Trost admitted how badly he wanted to play and started to come out of his illness the day before the game.
Things didn’t go the MNT’s way however, as Vancouver Whitecaps striker Brian Budd put Canada up 1-0 in the 21st minute. The early marker didn’t bode well considering the U.S. team’s defensive playing style. Matters weren’t helped by the fact that Trost, one of the team’s veterans, was severely fatigued as he recovered from his illness.
“In the end, playing might have been a mistake,” he said. “I’m an end-to-end guy and I just felt zapped. I was so tired at halftime that I had to tell Walt I had to come out of the game. I don’t like to do that, but I felt like I wasn’t helping the team.”
Playing in front of 32,869 at the Estadio Sylvio Cator, the U.S. team pushed forward looking for the equalizer after halftime, but couldn’t create a concrete chance to equalize. Committing more numbers forward, Canada caught the MNT out again in the when defender Bob Lenarduzzi unleashed a long-distance rocket that beat Mausser in the 80th minute.
“It was a save I’d usually have no trouble making,” Mausser remembered. “I went down for it on my side and it just went under me.”
Former U.S. international goalkeeper Arnold "Arnie" Mausser in his first stint with the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers from 1979-80.
“At that point I think we put our heads down, because we didn’t score two goals in a game very often back then,” added Trost.
Down 2-0, the MNT had little hope of coming back before Canada’s Robert Bolitho added a third goal in the 87th minute.
“Nothing clicked for us that day,” Mausser said. “We went into that game confident, but whatever happened, nothing went right for us. Balls banging off of people, falling just right for Canada – it was a nightmare – from my aspect I didn’t have a good game. I’d been playing well the whole series, but that game I just had a nightmare and that didn’t help things.”
For Mausser, the match was far from his end with the National Team. The one-time Chelsea FC target would go backstop the MNT during the next two World Cup qualifying runs, coming close to helping the side to the 1986 FIFA World Cup.
However, the match was the last competitive game Trost would play for the MNT. He appeared in four more friendlies before calling a day on his international career in 1978.
“I saw a lot of good younger players coming up and I knew for me to stay with it, at my age, I wasn’t going to do it,” Trost said. “In my heart I wanted to stay and be a part of something I saw coming around, and maybe I should have, but at the time I knew my prime was over. I was going to watch these young kids come in and do the job.”
Both players admit the National Team program has grown leaps and bounds since that day in 1976 and as they look to the MNT’s match against Mexico on Oct. 10, they feel encouraged by the team’s prospects to go to the Confederations Cup.
“The attacking players are there now,” said Trost. “We see this team beat Mexico all the time in qualifying. This is just another big game that they have to win. They’ve shown they’re capable, they just have to put it together on the day.”
“I have to say, I’m a bit envious of the players today,” Mausser added. “There’s so much more interest, and with that a lot more goes into the games. I think they’re capable of doing it against Mexico. I would tell them to play confidently and remember who they’re representing. Any team that does that is going to be successful.”
On May 24, 1934, the U.S. and Mexico met for the first time, igniting what has gone on to become one of the most heated rivalries in international soccer. The match wasn’t played at The Rose Bowl, the site of Saturday’s CONCACAF Cup, nor did it take place at Mexico’s vaunted Estadio Azteca (which didn’t open until 1966).
Much like Saturday’s clash in Pasadena, the game was a one-off playoff. It took place at Stadio PNF (named for the ruling National Fascist Party) in Rome with the right to face the World Cup host Italy three days later. While it was the first match between the neighboring nations, it was also the first World Cup qualifier either had played – a far cry from the 16-match, two year marathon the U.S. MNT will begin against St. Vincent and the Grenadines next month in St. Louis.
Trying to return to the World Cup after a semifinal finish at the inaugural tournament four years earlier in Uruguay, the USA had four holdover players from the 1930 team: defenders James Gallagher and George Moorhouse, midfielder Billy Gonsalves and forward Thomas Florie.
From left: Thomas Florie, Aldo "Buff" Donelli and Joe Martinelli in training for the USA in 1934.
However, it was newcomer Aldo “Buff” Donelli – an American football player turned coach at Duquesne University – that would write the earliest history of the MNT’s rivalry with Mexico. Having been invited to join the team just a month earlier following a trial of three club matches, Donelli scored all four goals in the Americans’ 4-2 defeat of Mexico in front of a crowd of 10,000 that included Italian leader Benito Mussolini.
The kicker? Donelli wasn’t originally supposed to play in the game.
According to Tony Cirrino’s book U.S. Soccer vs the World, an alliance between the New England and St. Louis factions of the team made Donelli, who was from Pittsburgh, an outsider in the squad.
“Only later I was told that Bill Gonsalves went to [coach Elmer] Schroeder and told him, ‘If you don’t play Donelli, I’m not playing,’” Donelli said in the book.
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Donelli’s four-goal output wasn’t just a product of a good half. He sustained his scoring over the course of the match, opening the scoring in the 15th minute, putting the U.S. back ahead 2-1 in the 30th, earning his hat trick in the 73rd and icing El Tri with an 87th minute strike.
With the win, the U.S. earned the right to face Italy in the opening round of the 1934 World Cup. In a change from 1930, the tournament was set up as a single-elimination knockout and the Azzuri overwhelmed the Americans in a 7-1 defeat. Donelli tallied his fifth and final goal in the match to bring the score to 3-1 in the 57th minute. Despite impressing enough to earn offers to play in Italy after the tournament, the loss to the Italians was his final international game.
Instead, Donelli returned to coaching American football at Duquesne University before going on to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Rams, Boston University and Columbia University.
Aldo "Buff" Donelli
Donelli’s four-goal performance was the second in MNT history after the legendary Archie Stark previously accomplished the feat in 6-1 win against Canada in 1925. Only Joe-Max Moore (1993 vs. El Salvador) and Landon Donovan (2003 vs. Cuba) have equaled the feat for the U.S. Men’s National Team.
As for the MNT’s series with Mexico, the first win would be the last for 46 years as El Tri proceeded to earn a 24-match unbeaten run that was finally broken when the U.S. earned a 2-1 victory in a World Cup Qualifying match on Nov. 23, 1980 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
While Mexico still leads the all-time series (32-18-14), things have evened up a great deal in the last 15 years with the U.S. holding the advantage since the turn of the 21st century with a 13-5-5 mark.