By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jun 4, 2018) US Soccer Players – There was a time when the United States needed to rely on friendlies. It was the early 1990s. MLS didn’t yet exist. American players struggled to get minutes with club teams. Some had signed contracts in Europe, but for most that wasn’t an option. With the USMNT working towards the 1994 World Cup, there wasn't a qualifying schedule or a Confederations Cup to get games that counted.
It was under these conditions that the four-nation US Cup tournament was born. US Soccer organized the first edition, played in May and June 1992, to help USMNT coach Bora Milutinovic get the roster ready for the 1994 World Cup.
After the US won the inaugural edition in 1992, among a field that featured Italy, Ireland, and Portugal, organizers invited a trio of even tougher nations to come stateside for the ‘93 edition: Brazil, England and defending World Cup champion Germany. For both organizers and the USMNT, this was a tournament that would pave the way for a successful World Cup 12 months later.
“To me, the main legacy of those US teams was that the 1992 and 1993 US Cup tournaments were when the team that played well in the 1994 World Cup really came together,” said soccer historian Roger Allaway.
There are 13 US players who played in that 1993 tournament who now are in the National Soccer Hall of Fame: John Harkes, Tab Ramos, Thomas Dooley, Desmond Armstrong, Jeff Agoos, Eric Wynalda, Alexi Lalas, Tony Meola, Earnie Stewart, Bruce Murray, Fernando Clavijo, and Cobi Jones. Goalkeeper Brad Friedel will join them in October.
It was 25 years ago that this groundbreaking tournament kicked off in New Haven, CT, when the United States facing Brazil on June 6 before 44,579 fans at the Yale Bowl. There were also games in Boston, Chicago, Washington, DC and Detroit, all venues that would host the World Cup.
Organizers called the first half of the USMNT schedule the “World Series of Soccer” and featured a string of highly-publicized friendlies across the country. Those games included a 2-2 draw against Denmark in Tempe, AZ and a 2-1 loss to Colombia in Miami.
US Cup ’93, promoted as part of this series of friendlies, featured lots of milestones. For Germany, who had unified under one flag following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, it was the chance to test players amid a larger player pool. England would end up missing out on the World Cup, but that summer they were still in contention. Brazil, after a poor 1990 World Cup, had put together a roster that would go on to lift the trophy at USA ’94.
One of the biggest pieces of history took place with the final game of the round-robin tournament. Germany played England indoors at the Pontiac Silverdome in suburban Detroit. The match was the first competitive soccer game under a roof featuring natural grass.
On the field, Wynalda, Harkes, and Ramos were among a growing group of players making a living playing in Europe. Wynalda, at the time, played for Saarbrucken in the Bundesliga, while Harkes was at Sheffield Wednesday in the Premier League. Ramos, meanwhile, played for Spanish second division side Real Betis.
The Americans would lose 2-0 to Brazil, but come back strong against England and Germany in their final two games. At Foxboro Stadium, the US took on England, a team under lots of pressure from fans and the British press. Manager Graham Taylor had come under heavy criticism after England lost 2-0 to Norway in a World Cup qualifier right before the team had traveled to the United States.
“I don't have any fear of putting our skills against English players’ skills because I’ve played with them,” US striker Roy Wegerle, who played for Coventry City in the Premier League, told The New York Times on the eve of the game.
What transpired at Foxboro on June 9 is the stuff of US Soccer legend. The Americans won 2-0 on goals from Dooley in the 42nd minute and a Lalas header in the 72nd, much to the delight of the pro-US crowd of about 38,000 in the stands that day. The victory brought comparisons to the USA’s 1-0 shock result against England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil and made Lalas an instant star in the process.
“As in 1950, when Walter Winterbottom's team were beaten 1-0 in Belo Horizonte, England are the laughing stock of international football,” wrote famed soccer writer Joe Lovejoy in The Independent. “Never mind those headless chickens: the lame-duck manager (Taylor) is on borrowed time. The Americans came to the game with one win in 15 internationals and had not scored for nearly six hours. Yet they won strictly on merit. From England's viewpoint, it can hardly get any worse.”
The Americans had gotten some attention after Milutinovic had spent much of the two years leading up to this tournament trying to get his players to be competitive enough to win against traditional soccer powers. The win boosted the confidence of the US players as they prepared for their final game four days later against Germany at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Germany had played Brazil to a 3-3 draw thanks to two goals from Jurgen Klinsmann. Despite the US’s resilience and a searing heat, a crowd of 53,549 watched as the Germans won, 4-3. Meola in goal and the US defense, which had played so well against England, fell victim to the speed and pace of Germany’s formidable midfield and an attack led by Karl-Heinz Riedle. The German striker scored a hat-trick that afternoon in a game broadcast on ABC. It was the first time in National Team history that a match was on a major TV network commercial free.
Nicknamed “Air” because he was strong on high balls, Riedle headed in all three of his goals past Meola that afternoon. Down 4-1 in the 59th minute, momentum seesawed and the US got two more goals – from Stewart in the 72 minute and Dooley six minutes later – to make the game interesting. The high-scoring match was a great commercial for soccer at a time when a skeptical public wasn’t sure what to make of the sport. That was the point of the 1993 US Cup, and the USMNT made it.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
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