1990 World Cup: Rebirth of American Soccer

On July 4, 1988, FIFA made a decision, that in hindsight, truly changed the history of soccer in  the United States.  Despite not qualifying for the World Cup since it’s legendary appearance in 1950, despite the fact that the only ‘professional’ soccer league in the US was actually an indoor league, despite the fact the infamous NASL had been defunct since 1984, despite all of these factors — FIFA chose to bring the World Cup back to the Americas & named the United States the host of the 1994 World Cup.  
You would think that such a decision would somehow spur an interest in  the US National Team.  The International Soccer Archives blog put it best –  It was not so much an explosion as a slow leak that eventually pooled into the masses that now follow the world’s game inside the United States.  
I’m sure that behind the scenes in the USSF there was an incredible urgency to make sure that somehow, someway the US had to qualify for the 1990 World Cup.  If not, the automatic bid as hosts in 1994 would undoubtedly be an embarrassing disaster.  But how can you turn 40 years of failure to qualify? (which is chronicled by Ed Farnsworth on the Philly Soccer Page – http://www.phillysoccerpage.net/2010/05/05/the-drought-us-soccer-1950-1990/)
The task would be led by a former USA international, Bob Gansler, who had been coaching high school soccer only five years prior.  According to Farnsworth, the US would get two very lucky breaks in their qualification campaign. Mexico had been disqualified from participating in the 1990 World Cup for fielding over-age players in a FIFA youth tournament (the Mexico soccer yearbook had helpfully published the players’ birth-dates) and Canada was eliminated by Guatemala in the preliminary round.  
The US almost faced similar fate to Canada in the preliminary round – facing a match against Jamaica to determine if the US would make it to the final round of qualification.  If they lost – the road to Italia ’90 would be over.  Obviously they did win (5-2 in fact) in front of 6,000 fans featuring a lineup that had only 4 players that would play a significant role in Italy.
The final round of qualifying featured five nations – Costa Rica, the USA, Trinidad & Tobago, Guatemala, & El Salvador.  Obviously the lack of the mighty Mexican side meant the US would have an amazing opportunity to take advantage of their absence.  The US played eight matched in the round-robin tournament, winning four, tying 3 & losing only one (to Costa Rica).  However, they managed only six goals in those matches – while only allowing three.  If it weren’t for the goals scored by Tab Ramos, Steve Trittschuh, Bruce Murray, Eric Eichmann, & Hugo Perez then Paul Caligiuri would have simply joined the ranks of all of the other players who had represented the US throughout the previous decades – nameless & faceless.  Instead it was his goal that would catapult the United States to Italia ’90 with “the shot heard around the world.”
The historic 1990 team was known as a ‘bunch of college kids’ with no real international experience.  Three of the players were actually still playing college soccer while the rest were playing in semi-pro leagues in the US.  Only three players were playing professionally in Europe – Christopher Sullivan played in the Hungarian league, Peter Vermes played in the Dutch league & Paul Caligiuri played in the second tier of the Bundesliga.  Most of the regular starters were in their early 20s with the oldest members of the team being only 27.  In hindsight, it is pretty obvious why nobody gave this team a chance.
The first match was against Czechoslovakia & I was a high school freshmen watching eagerly through the commercial breaks that was TNT’s coverage of the World Cup.   Even though I had only heard of one player, the now infamous Caligiuri,  players like Meola (& his super-cool 90s hair & spandex shorts?), Wynalda (who would get red-carded) & Harkes had a charisma about them that made them stick out in the squad.  It was surreal & exciting to watch the US compete in the World Cup – though less then a million Americans watched the match – it didn’t matter…I finally had a national team to follow.  Sure they lost 5-1, sure The New York Times said that the US team had been “humiliated to the point of embarrassment” but that one goal – scored by Caligiuri- gave aspiring American soccer fans hope that they could compete.  The next match was against the mighty hosts, Italy – led by the iconic Franco Baresi & Roberto Donadoni (among many others too numerous to list).  Even less Americans watched this one (500,000 – mostly Italian-Americans I’m sure).  Italy grabbed a lead after 11 minutes of somewhat disinterested play.  The Italians must have completely checked out at that point because that was it.  No more goals — giving the few Americans watching the hope that they may actually pull of the miracle of a tie.  Farnsworth describes what almost was:  In the 70th minute the US nearly equalized when Italian keeper Walter Zenga couldn’t hold a free kick by Bruce Murray. Peter Vermes struck the rebound but the ball was cleared off the line.  After the match the Italian manager Azeglio Vicini declared, “The Americans proved they are an excellent team, nothing like the team that lost 5-1.” Gansler said, “this is the US team I know.”
The final match was against Austria & it ended in another loss – this time 2-1.  Bruce Murray grabbed the second goal scored by the Americans in the tournament.  That was it…three games, two goals & a last place finish.  But it was the World Cup – & the Americans had players that displayed some talent.  It was a springboard for players like Harkes & Wynalda to successful careers in Europe, Tony Meola was becoming the face of American soccer – even though he failed to make it in Europe (or for the New York Jets) his spirit & tenacity would be indicative of the US team for decades to come.   Ironically, Kasey Keller watched the whole thing from bench.
Eric Wynalda, Forward  107 Caps, 34 Goals
1990 World Cup, 1994 World Cup, & 1998 World Cup
Noteable Clubs:  FC Saarbruken, San Jose Clash, Leon
Kasey Keller, Goalkeeper   101 caps
1990 World Cup, 1998 World Cup, & 2002 World Cup
Notable clubs:  Millwall, Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Seattle Sounders Marcelo Balboa, Defender   128 caps, 13 goals1990 World Cup, 1994 World Cup, 1998 World CupNotable clubs:  Leon, Colorado Rapids

John Harkes, Midfielder  90 Caps, 6 goals
1990 World Cup & 1994 World Cup
Notable Clubs:  Sheffield Wednesday, D.C. United
 
Tony Meola, Goalkeeper 100 Caps
1990 World Cup &1994 World Cup
Noteable clubs:  Watford, Kansas City WizardsPeter Vermes, Forward  67 caps, 11 goals1990 World CupNotable clubs:  Colorado RapidsPaul Caligiuri, Midfielder   110 caps, 5 goals1990 World Cup & 1994 World CupNotable clubs:  SC Freiburg, Los Angeles Galaxy

Tab Ramos, Midfielder   81 caps, 8 goals

1990 World Cup, 1994 World Cup, 1998 World Cup

Notable clubs:  Figueres, Real Betis

Bruce Murray, forward   86 caps, 21 goals

1990 World Cup

Noteable Clubs:  Millwall, Ayr United

 

Mike Windischmann, Defender  50 caps

1990 World Cup Captain

Notable clubs:  Brooklyn Italians

 

Steve Trittschuh, Defender  38 caps, 2 goals

1990 World Cup

Notable clubs:  Sparta Prague, Colorado Rapids

John Stollmeyer, Midfielder/Defender   31 caps

1990 World Cup

Desmond Armstrong, Defender   81 Caps

1990 World Cup

Notable Clubs:  Santos

Eric Eichmann, Forward   29 caps, 4 goals

1990 World Cup

Notable clubs:  Kansas City Wiz

Jimmy Banks, Defender   36 caps

1990 World Cup

John Doyle, Defender   53 caps, 3 goals

1990 World Cup

Notable clubs:  VfB Leipzig, San Jose Earthquakes

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