The USA’s Rich History in the Gold Cup

As the USA looks to capture a record-tying seventh Gold Cup title this summer, take a look back the MNT’s rich history in the confederation championship


Prior to the establishment of the Gold Cup, the confederation title was determined through the Concacaf Championship, a quadrennial round-robin tournament that also served as the confederation’s World Cup qualifying process from 1974-1990. The USA took part in the last edition in 1989, and with a second-place finish famously qualified for the 1990 FIFA World Cup. 
Seeing an opportunity to grow competition in the region, in 1991 Concacaf got in line with many of the world’s other confederations to create a tournament that would crown a regional champion: the Gold Cup.

It all began in 1991…

The tournament started from meager beginnings, featuring just eight teams playing in two Los Angeles venues – the Rose Bowl and LA Memorial Coliseum – in a competition that was to be completed in just 10 days.
Things nearly got off to a disastrous start for the USA, as new MNT head coach Bora Milutinovic had to stuff his players – starting XI first, followed by substitutes – into a myriad of taxi cabs after the bus that was supposed to transport them to the Rose Bowl never arrived ahead of the MNT’s opening match against Trinidad & Tobago. 
Despite falling behind 1-0, the USA rallied to win the match 2-1 – the first of four straight victories bookended by a 2-0 semifinal triumph against rivals Mexico. With only its third victory all-time against El Trí, the MNT advanced to its first major tournament final to be played two days later against Honduras. 
With both teams playing their fifth match in nine or 10 days, the pace of the game was slow, and after 120 minutes of scoreless soccer the first Gold Cup Final would be decided by penalty kicks. Even the shootout was tirelessly frustrating!
Every time the USA scored, Honduras matched them. Every time a take was missed, Honduras did the same. The teams mirrored each other through six rounds. With the score tied 2-2, U.S. defender Fernando Clavijo gave the hosts a 3-2 edge before Honduras’ Juan Carlos Espinoza blasted his take over the cross bar. Game over.
A new regional champion was crowned. For a U.S. side still evolving after taking part in its first World Cup in 40 years the summer before, that triumph proved a seminal moment in the team’s growth. 
"In 1990, we taught ourselves that we could compete," then MNT captain Peter Vermes said. "In 1991, we realized that we could win. We needed to have that feeling. They were both great stepping stones, but you have to do it in that order."

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1993: Growing Pains

The second Gold Cup tournament wasn’t quite as successful for the U.S., but the team still advanced to the final where they fell to Mexico 4-0 at Estadio Azteca. Following three single-goal victories in the group stage against Jamaica (1-0), Panama (2-1) and Honduras (1-0), the U.S. squared off against Costa Rica in the semifinal at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. In that match, the U.S. extended its unbeaten Gold Cup run to nine games, as defender Cle Kooiman scored a 103rd minute golden goal to see of Los Ticos 1-0 in extra time. 
Meanwhile in Mexico City, where the Mexican team would play all their matches, El Trî were racing towards the final. Led by Luis Robert Alves (better known as Zague), the ruthlessly efficient Mexican attack produced 28 goals in five matches, overwhelming group foes Martinique (9-0) and Canada (8-0), while drawing with Costa Rica (1-1). 
At more than 7,000 feet of elevation and in front of a capacity crowd of 120,000, Zague scored again in the final as Mexico downed the U.S. 4-0. Zague finished the tournament with 12 goals in five matches, another Gold Cup record. Third place honors were split after a 1-1 draw between Costa Rica and Jamaica.

1996: A Guest Team Arrives

The 1996 edition featured a new twist as a guest team was invited to the tournament for the first time. Getting ready for the Olympics later that summer in Atlanta, defending World Cup champions Brazil sent their U-23 side, which utilized a 79th minute own goal from Marcelo Balboa to knock the USA out in the semifinals.
For the U.S., the tournament wasn’t as disappointing as their third-place finish would seem. Only that defeat to Brazil kept the MNT out of the final, after the team easily handled its other opposition, including a 3-0 victory against Guatemala in the third-place match. That game featured Eric Wynalda’s tournament-leading fourth goal, which was also the 22nd of his international career, moving him past Bruce Murray to become the MNT’s all-time leading scorer – a distinction he would hold until Landon Donovan surpassed his final tally of 34 goals in 2004. 
Mexico went on to claim its second-consecutive Gold Cup, defeating Brazil on a muddy, wet pitch in front of 88,155 fans at LA Memorial Coliseum. 


Golden Boot - Eric Wynalda (4 goals)

1998: A (Semifinal) Win for the Ages

The 1998 Gold Cup was the most successful yet for Concacaf, despite bad weather, postponed games and an historic USA-Brazil clash which was played with less than 24 hours notice for both teams.
Preki Radosavljevic was the story for the U.S. on the offensive end, scoring a brilliant late goal against Costa Rica to help the USA finish atop its group and into the semifinals. That goal would have been enough to lift Preki into U.S. prominence, but he did one better in the USA’s next match, sending a 22-yard rocket into the back of the net to help the USA to a 1-0 victory against Brazil 
Of course, Preki’s goal was only half the story, as goalkeeper Kasey Keller stymied Brazil with a 10-save performance, widely considered one of the best in U.S. Soccer history. Speaking of Keller’s display that day, after the game legendary Brazilian striker Romario remarked, “That is the best performance by a goalkeeper I have ever seen.” 
Taking on Mexico in front of a sold-out crowd of 91,255 fans at LA Memorial Coliseum, the USA fought hard, but fell victim to Luis Hernandez’s near-post header just before halftime as El Trí ran out with a 1-0 win and their third Gold Cup title.  

USA Honors:

Most Valuable Player - Kasey Keller; Best XI - Kasey Keller, Eddie Pope, Preki 

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2000: Undone by Penalties

The first Gold Cup of the new millennium featured nine teams from the Concacaf and three invited squads (Colombia, Peru and Korea Republic). The 2000 edition also had several surprises, with a new champion being crowned (Canada) and both Mexico and the United States not reaching the semifinal round -- a first for the regional rivals.
The USA cruised through the first round by capturing the Group B title with back-to-back shutouts against Haiti (3-0) and Peru (1-0). Cobi Jones led the offense for the USA by notching a goal in the win against Haiti and the game-winner against Peru. In the quarterfinals, though, the U.S. faltered. After goals from Brian McBride and Chris Armas saw the MNT battle Colombia to a 2-2 draw through regulation and two extra time periods, the U.S. were defeated in penalty kicks 2-1 and were eliminated from the competition.
Colombia would go on to meet Canada in the 2000 final. The Canadians had surprisingly advanced out of their first-round group by winning a coin-flip tiebreaker against Korea Republic after the two teams had finished dead even on results and goals. After eliminating three-time defending champion Mexico 2-1 in extra time in the quarterfinal and then topping Trinidad & Tobago 1-0 in the semifinal, Canada would pull off yet another shocker, being crowned 2000 Gold Cup champions after blanking Colombia 2-0 in the championship match. 
To this day, Canada is the only team outside the USA and Mexico to lift the Concacaf Gold Cup. 

USA Honors:

Best XI – Cobi Jones

2002: The Gold Cup Returns Home

The 2002 Gold Cup once again featured two invited teams (Ecuador and Korea Republic) along with 10 Concacaf teams. In spectacular fashion, the U.S. won their first title since 1991 by posting a 4-0-1 record with four shutouts on their way to their 2002 Gold Cup crown.
Playing in their first Gold Cup, 19-year-olds Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley each scored spectacular goals to lead the USA to a 2-1 victory against Korea Republic in the opening match, before Brian McBride’s penalty led the MNT to a 1-0 win against Cuba to top the group.
McBride then became the first U.S. player to register a hat trick in the tournament, leading the USA to a 4-0 shellacking of El Salvador in the quarterfinal. The MNT dominated Canada in the semifinal, but a strong performance from Les Rouges’ goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld forced the match to penalties where the MNT prevailed 4-2. 
Back in the final for a fourth time, the USA made no mistake when taking on Costa Rica. Current MNT assistant coach Josh Wolff outran his mark to put the MNT ahead before halftime, then Jeff Agoos sent home a scintillating free kick after the break to give the USA the 2-0 win and its second Gold Cup title. 

USA Honors:

Most Valuable Player - Brian McBride; Golden Boot - Brian McBride (4 goals); Best XI - Jeff Agoos, Landon Donovan and Brian McBride

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2003: Thwarted by Brazil (again)

The U.S. continued its win streak in group play of the Gold Cup, making easy work of El Salvador and Martinique by identical 2-0 margins. Brian McBride continued his Midas-touch scoring in the tournament with three of the first four U.S. goals, while the victories extended the USA’s 16-match winning streak in Gold Cup group stage play. 
The USA matched up with Cuba in the quarterfinals, and Landon Donovan had himself quite a day. Fresh off his start-turn at the 2002 FIFA World Cup the summer before, Donovan became one of just four MNT players to record four goals in a match, leading the USA to a resounding 5-0 victory in Foxborough, Mass. 
Moving to Miami’s Orange Bowl for the semifinal against Brazil, Carlos Bocanegra headed the USA in front just after the hour mark. It was a lead that stood until the 89th minute, when Brazil’s mounting pressure finally resulted in a goal from Kaka and pushed the game into extra time. With all the momentum, Brazil would find the winner via the spot kick when Cory Gibbs handled a sure goal on the line. Diego buried the penalty in the 100th minute to send Brazil the final where they would fall 1-0 to Mexico in extra time. 
The USA returned to the third-place match, where they trailed Costa Rica 2-1 at halftime before goals from Earnie Stewart and Bobby Convey helped MNT to a spirited 3-2 victory. 

USA Honors:

Golden Boot - Landon Donovan (4 goals); Best XI – Landon Donovan 

2005: USA Lifts the Cup in New Jersey

Deadlocked 1-1 with Cuba, the USA look destined for a draw in its opening match until Landon Donovan’s brace and DaMarcus Beasley’s single strike in the final three minutes vaulted the MNT to a 4-1 victory in Seattle. A 2-0 win against Canada and 0-0 draw against Costa Rica followed as the USA finished atop its group. 
The USA breezed to an easy 3-1 victory against Jamaica in the quarterfinal, but the rest of the road wouldn’t be easy. The MNT run looked like it would end in the semifinal, with Amado Guevara’s 30th minute strike holding up late for Honduras. Conjuring up the same comeback magic from the opening game, the USA drew back an equalizer through John O’Brien in the 86th minute before Oguchi Onyewu rose in the box to head home the game-winner in the second minute of second-half stoppage time.
Playing first-time finalists Panama, Jimmy Conrad and Josh Wolff had prime opportunities to give the USA the lead during the first half, but Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo had other ideas. Playing under the sweltering New Jersey sun, the match went without a goal for 120 minutes. In the shootout, Kasey Keller saved Panama’s opening attempt from Luis Tejada, before MNT newbie Brad Davis slotted home the game-winning penalty kick to give the USA its third Gold Cup title. 

USA Honors:

Golden Boot - DaMarcus Beasley (3 goals); Best XI - DaMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan, Oguchi Onyewu 

2007: A Repeat of the Sweetest Variety

The 2007 edition of the Gold Cup was played with the added incentive of admission to the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup for the winner. The United States successfully defended its title, its fourth all-time and third in the last four tournaments.
The U.S. coasted through the group stage, taking maximum points in wins against Guatemala (1-0), Trinidad & Tobago (2-0) and El Salvador (4-0), though they ran into some tough opposition in the knockout stage. After defeating Panama 2-1 in the quarterfinal, the U.S. came up against a stingy Canadian side in the semifinal and ended up holding on for a 2-1 victory to set up a U.S.-Mexico marquee matchup in the final.
Played at Chicago’s Soldier Field for the first time, the championship match pitted the two Concacaf powers against one another in the final for the first time since 1998. In what would prove to be a gritty affair, the U.S. used a Landon Donovan penalty kick and a memorable volley from Benny Feilhaber to earn a 2-1 comeback victory and sealing back-t0-back Gold Cup titles for the first time.
The win also gave the USA the added incentive of admission to the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, where the MNT finished as runners-up after defeating then No-1 ranked Spain in the semifinal, ending the eventual World Cup champion’s 35-match unbeaten streak.  

USA Honors:

Frankie Hejduk, Pablo Mastroeni (Best XI)

2009: A Valiant Effort

Held in a record 12 venues across the U.S., the 2009 Concacaf Gold Cup made a national footprint during the 2009 “Summer of Soccer” in the United States. Deploying a largely unproven roster, the upstart U.S. group returned the MNT to a third-straight final.
The Concacaf Gold Cup kicked off just six days after the U.S. played the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup Final, and head coach Bob Bradley selected an inexperienced squad from which seven players – including 2010 FIFA World Cup team member Stuart Holden -- earn their first cap during the event.
The U.S. continued its unbeaten record in group play, seeing off Grenada (4-0), defeating Honduras (2-0) and drawing with Haiti (2-2). In the knockout stage, the MNT crept by Panama 2-1 in extra time before earning another 2-0 win against Honduras in the semifinal. 
By the time the U.S. met Mexico in the final, a record 10 different players had scored the USA’s 12 goals in the tournament. In the second-straight Gold Cup title game against Mexico, the U.S. returned only Brian Ching to the starting lineup from the 2007 squad. The teams were evenly matched for a half, but eventually Mexico prevailed by opening the flood gates with five second-half goals for a 5-0 win.

USA Honors:

Kenny Cooper, Clarence Goodson, Stuart Holden, Chad Marshall (Best XI) 

2011: Heartbreak at the Rose Bowl 

Keen on winning another championship and earning a spot in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, the U.S. started strong with a 2-0 win against Canada at Ford Field in Detroit. They took a surprise setback with a 2-1 loss to Panama – the first ever in the group stage – but rebounded with a narrow 
1-0 victory against Guadeloupe to claim the top spot in the group. 
After an emphatic 3-1 win against Jamaica in the quarterfinals and a vengeful 1-0 victory against Panama in the semifinals, the stage was set for another marquee meeting between the USA and Mexico.
Facing a stacked Mexican team that included one of club football’s most prolific scorers in Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, the U.S. bounded out to a 2-0 lead with goals from Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan. Undaunted, the Mexicans recovered to score four unanswered goals in one of the most exciting and well-played finals in Gold Cup history.

2013: USA Lifts Another Trophy at Soldier Field

Hungry for another shot at the title, the U.S. started strong with a 6-1 win against Belize. Consecutive victories against Cuba (4-1) and Costa Rica (1-0) allowed the Americans claim the top spot in the group. 
After an emphatic 5-1 win against El Salvador in the quarterfinals and dispatching a quality Honduras side 3-1 in the semifinals, the stage was set for a meeting between the USA and high flying Panama, which topped its group with a tournament opening win against Mexico before defeating El Tri a second time in the other semifinal match.
Facing a confident and athletic Panama team that was buoyed by its unbeaten run to the final and included two of the tournament’s leading goal scorers in Gabriel Torres – his five goals tied the USA’s Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski for most in the tournament – and Blas Perez (three goals), the U.S. found itself in a stalemate through the first hour of the match. However, the Americans would not be denied as winger Brek Shea pounced in the 69th minute to score the only goal of the game and deliver the U.S. its fifth Gold Cup title and first since 2007, when the U.S. also lifted the trophy at Soldier Field. 

USA Honors:

Golden Ball - Landon Donovan; Golden Boot - Landon Donovan, Chris Wondolowski (5 goals)

2015: Fourth-Place Finish

Held in a record 14 venues across the United States and Canada, the 2015 Concacaf Gold Cup made another large footprint during the month of July. The U.S. team, however, faltered in their bid to repeat as Gold Cup champions, falling 2-1 to Jamaica at the tournament’s semifinal in Atlanta.

The U.S. began the tournament well enough, defeating Honduras 2-1 in Frisco, Texas before a 1-0 win against Haiti in Foxborough, Mass. Through to the knockout stage, the U.S. played to a 1-1 draw with Panama, ensuring the MNT topped its Gold Cup group for the 12th time in 13 tournaments.

In the quarterfinals, a Clint Dempsey hat trick punctuated the win as the U.S. easily dispatch Cuba 6-0 in Baltimore, setting up the semifinal showdown with Jamaica in Atlanta. Two first half goals from the Reggae Boyz put the U.S. down 2-0 at the break, but Michael Bradley pulled one back quickly in the second half. Despite the goal and constant pressure, Jamaica held on to defeat the U.S. 2-1.

The defeat set up a date in the third place match with Panama, where the U.S. used another goal from Clint Dempsey to reach another 1-1 draw in regulation and extra time before falling 3-2 on penalty kicks. Along with winning the Golden Boot, Dempsey’s seven goals set a new scoring record for a U.S. player at the tournament, 

USA Honors:

Golden Boot - Clint Dempsey (7 goals); Golden Glove - Brad Guzan

2017: A Sixth Trophy

The USA opened the tournament with a 1-1 draw against Panama in Nashville and a back-and-forth 3-2 victory against Martinique in Tampa. Heading into the final group stage match, the MNT needed a three-goal victory against Nicaragua in Cleveland in order to guarantee a top of the table finish, but the necessary result seemed it might be out of reach after the MNT had two penalties saved. Leading 2-0 late, the third finally came when Matt Miazga tallied his first international goal with a diving header in the 88th minute to push the USA to the top of the group.
Matched with El Salvador in the quarterfinals, two defenders – Omar Gonzalez and Eric Lichaj – scored just before halftime to give the MNT a 2-0 victory in Philadelphia. History would then be made when the USA took on Costa Rica in the semifinals. Following Jozy Altidore’s opener, Clint Dempsey hit home a free kick to record his 57th international goal, tying Landon Donovan for the MNT’s all-time scoring record in his home state of Texas. 
The 2-0 win propelled the USA to a record 10th Concacaf Gold Cup final, setting up a date with Jamaica, who pulled off a 2-1 upset victory of Mexico in the other semifinal. Taking on the Reggae Boyz at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., the teams played a tight first half until Altidore’s 45th minute free kick took the hosts into the locker room up 1-0. Jamaica was undeterred and hit back when Je-Vaughn Watson beat Jordan Morris to get on the end of a corner kick in the 50th minute. Locked 1-1, a number of U.S. chances – including a Dempsey hit off the post -- went begging until Morris gained redemption, hopping on a loose ball in the box before burying a dramatic 88th minute winner to hand the U.S. a 2-1 victory.

USA Honors:

Golden Ball - Michael Bradley; Best XI - Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Omar Gonzalez, Jordan Morris, Darlington Nagbe, Graham Zusi