By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jun 1, 2020) US Soccer Players – It was 30 years ago that the United States was preparing to play in its first World Cup since 1950. Qualifying for Italia ‘90 in November 1989 had been a history-making feat for a nation that had been in the international soccer wilderness for so long.
The team, made up largely of recent college grads and a mix of semi-pro and indoor players, faced a tough Group A. Drawn with hosts Italy, Czechoslovakia, and Austria, the USMNT would exit without a point. Bob Gansler’s team set the foundation for what would come four years later when the USMNT upset pre-tournament favorites Colombia to reach the Round of 16. With no pro league in the US at the time, most of the players on the 1990 and ’94 teams were put under contract by US Soccer and paid a salary.
After losing the opener 5-1 to Czechoslovakia on June 10 in Florence, the Americans pulled off a shocker against Italy in Rome just four days later. The hosts could only manage a 1-0 win, prompting Italy manager Azeglio Vicini to say, “The Americans proved they are an excellent team, nothing like the team that lost 5-1.” The US closed out the tournament on June 19, losing 2-1 to Austria in Florence.
Only four players on that 1990 World Cup squad had European experience. After the tournament, 12 members of that team who had played at least one game would sign with European clubs. Considering the situation for American soccer players following the collapse of the NASL, that made the World Cup a success.
A look back at the US’s mullet-topped starting lineup of the time reveals one loaded with players now considered the modern era’s pioneers. Most of the players were in their early 20s, making the USMNT one of the youngest at the tournament. In the end, Italia ’90 would prove to be a building experience for what would come.
The US has a long and storied soccer past, but it was the events of the late 1980s and early ‘90s that helped the game come alive again. American soccer was in disarray after the NASL collapsed in 1985, the same year the USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup that took place the following year in Mexico. The players on Gansler’s 22-man World Cup roster would prove to be ambassadors for the game in this country at that tournament and in the years that followed. A majority of them remain involved with soccer. Below is a look at those players and where they are now.
1. Tony Meola (goalkeeper)
Starting goalie for the United States for much of the ‘90s, he retired in 2008 after a successful MLS career. Inducted into the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2012, he is now a radio host on SiriusXM.
2. Steve Trittschuh (defender)
After playing in MLS, he retired in 2001 as a member of the Tampa Bay Mutiny. Earlier this year, he tookover as coach of USL club Saint Louis FC.
3. John Doyle (defender)
Like many players at the time, he used Italia ’90 as a springboard for a club career in Europe. He retired in 2000 after a four-year stint with the San Jose Earthquakes, where he went on to serve as general manager. Doyle is the director of coaching of the Mustang Soccer League in California.
4. Jimmy Banks (defender)
Made two appearances at the 1990 World Cup, he was a trailblazer for being just one of two African-American players on the roster in those days. Primarily an indoor player, he spent his entire career with the Milwaukee Wave. He founded an inner-city youth soccer camp and was a full-time and volunteer with the Milwaukee Boy’s and Girl’s Club. Banks died in 2019 at the age of 54 from cancer.
5. Mike Windischmann (defender)
Team captain in 1990, he would go on to play for the USMNT at the 1992 FIFA Futsal World Championship. Elected to the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2004, he currently teaches and coaches at the Susan B. Anthony Academy in New York.
6. John Harkes (midfielder)
A mainstay in the US midfield for much of the ‘90s, he had a very successful club career in England primarily with Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County and in MLS with DC United. Elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2005, Harkes worked as a commentator before turning to coaching. He is the coach of USL side Greenville Triumph SC.
7. Tab Ramos (midfielder)
Like Meola and Harkes, he grew up in New Jersey and was also a USMNT stalwart throughout the ‘90s. The first player to sign with MLS, he spent the last seven years of his career with the NY/NJ MetroStars. Elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2005 and playing at three World Cups, he currently coaches the Houston Dynamo.
8. Brian Bliss (defender)
Following a club career in Europe and MLS, he went on to coaching starting in 1999. He served as the technical director of the Columbus Crew for six seasons, helping the Crew win an MLS Cup. Henderson is the technical director and director of player personnel at Sporting Kansas City.
9. Christopher Sullivan (forward)
An attacking midfielder, he retired in 1997 as a member of the San Jose Clash. He went on to have a fruitful broadcasting career. Sullivan now splits his time as founder of Puro Futbol, a clothing brand, and as an assistant coach with the Sunnyvale Alliance Soccer Club in California.
10. Peter Vermes (forward)
After spending several seasons in Europe and later establishing himself in MLS, he went on to coach Sporting Kansas City starting in 2009. Inducted into the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2013, he remains coach of Sporting KC, making him the longest-tenured coach in the league.
11. Eric Wynalda (forward)
One of the greatest strikers in US soccer history, he played abroad most notably with FC Saarbrucken in Germany and later MLS. Inducted into the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2004, Wynalda worked as a broadcaster and now coaches USL side Las Vegas Lights FC.
12. Paul Krumpe (defender)
After playing both indoor and outdoor soccer, he retired in 1991 and went into coaching. He has been the coach of Loyola Marymount University’s men’s team since 1998.
13. Eric Eichmann (forward)
Played professionally in Germany and the MISL before serving as an assistant coach with the Miami Fusion. He is the director of coaching and player development for Boca United, a youth academy in Florida.
14. John Stollmeyer (midfielder)
After his playing career ended soon after the World Cup, he spent time as an assistant coach at Notre Dame. Stollmeyer works at the investment firm Raymond James in Indianapolis.
15. Desmond Armstrong (defender)
After splitting his time in the MISL and a short stint with Brazilian giants Santos, he retired in 1996. Inducted into the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2012, he works as a broadcaster in Cleveland and provides commentary during USL matches.
16. Bruce Murray (forward)
Retired as the USMNT’s leading scorer in 1993, he served as an assistant coach at Harvard during the mid-2000s. Murray currently coaches at the St. James Center for Soccer Excellence in Virginia.
17. Marcelo Balboa (defender)
One of the best US defenders of the ‘90s, he played in MLS until 2002. He worked as a broadcaster for ESPN and Spanish-language network Univision. Balboa currently splits his time for Univision and as head coach for the boys’ team at Monarch High School in Colorado.
18. Kasey Keller (goalkeeper)
The third-stringer ‘keeper in 1990, he would go on to be the starter by 1998. After a remarkable European career, Keller retired as a member of the Seattle Sounders in 2011. He currently works as the Sounders’ color commentator during local broadcasts and as an assistant coach for Newport High School Boys Soccer in Washington state.
19. Chris Henderson (midfielder)
Also a member of the 1992 US Olympic squad, he spent part of the ‘90s in Europe before playing in MLS. Henderson retired in 2006 and is currently the vice president of soccer and sporting director of Seattle Sounders FC.
20. Paul Caligiuri (midfielder)
After scoring “the shot heard ‘round the world” in 1989 that got the team into the World Cup, he scored the US’s first World Cup goal in 40 years at Italia ’90. Caligiuri had a successful club career in Germany and later MLS. He retired in 2001 and inducted into the US National Soccer Hall of Fame three years later. He currently coaches NPSL side Orange County FC.
21. Neil Covone (midfielder)
Retired shortly after the 1990 tournament, he is a partner with the Florida-based law firm Hinshaw & Culbertson.
22. David Vanole (goalkeeper)
Meola’s backup in 1990, he retired shortly after the World Cup and embarked on a successful coaching career. He was the goalkeeper coach for the USWNT in 2000, a position he would later hold at the New England Revolution. Vanole passed away in 2007 at the age of 43.
Head Coach: Bob Gansler
Replaced as National Team coach in 1991 by Bora Milutinovic, he went on to serve in a variety of coaching positions. Most notably, he coached the Kansas City Wizards from 1999 to 2006, winning an MLS Cup. Gansler retired in 2008.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- The history of the Hudson River derby
- The state of American club soccer
- The history of English players in MLS
- The short history of Chivas USA
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