The USMNT Decade: Best and Worst
Best Team Performance of Decade: 2002 World Cup vs Portugal
Without Claudio Reyna and Clint Mathis the US took the field against a Portuguese side making its first World Cup appearance in sixteen years. Still, Portugal had been outstanding at the Euro 2000 tournament and boasted a collection of world class players including Luis Figo, perhaps at this moment in time, the world’s best footballer.
Coming into the match the US was fighting the perception of being one of the weakest sides at Korea/Japan 2002.
The US did however, have Ajax’s John O’Brien healthy and he made all the difference. Not only did O’Brien score a great goal in the 4th minute to get the US off and running but he helped to control the tempo of the match as well from an advanced central midfield role.
Bruce Arena’s hunch of starting Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley worked out very well as did the Pablo Mastroeni’s surprising start. Frankie Hejduk, playing on the left side of defense was brilliant the entire World Cup.
The moment of the match game came courtesy of Brian McBride’s diving header after a brilliant run and cross by Tony Sanneh. It was a move perfected when the duo played together with the Milwaukee Rampage of the A-League (Now USL-1).
The second half saw a furious Portugal comeback, but the US held on for a defining victory.
Honorable Mention: 2001 vs Mexico, 2002 vs Mexico, 2006 vs Italy, 2009 vs Spain
Worst Team Performance of the Decade: 2009 Gold Cup vs Mexico
The US entered the Gold Cup Final in 2009 having not lost to Mexico on American soil in over ten years. While Bob Bradley had selected an experimental team for the competition, the selected US team had until that point in time featured in more qualifying games cumulatively this cycle than the Mexican side that Javier Aguirre selected that day. In fact, the side that took the field for El Tri, featured several players who had NEVER been capped prior to the summer of 2009. Every single US starter had been capped prior to the summer other than Jay Heaps.
After a level first half, the US collapsed. Continuing a 2009 trend of giving up second half goals in bunches, the US conceded five goals with no answer against a Mexican “B” side. This result also allowed Mexico to overcome its psychological hurdle of winning on US soil versus the US team.
As for the record book, it was the worst loss in a competitive match (friendlies excluded) by the USMNT since 1957, the worst loss overall (friendlies included) since 1964 and tied the 5-0 result in a friendly 1984 vs England. The US had plenty of bad teams between 1950 and 1990, and mostly solid performances since the early 1990s. But for one afternoon in time, the 2009 US team resembled the US teams from the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Dishonorable Mention: 2001 vs Honduras, 2001 vs Costa Rica, 2002 vs Poland, 2006 vs Czech Republic
Best Individual Performance of the Decade: Clint Mathis vs Mexico 2001
Newer MLS and USMNT fans may not recall when Clint Mathis was a game changer. On one cold evening in Columbus, Mathis completely changed the complexion a critical World Cup qualifier. Clint Mathis was subbed into the match in the on first half when Captain Claudio Reyna suffered an injury. Along with his fellow Georgian Josh Wolff who was subbed in for the injured Brian McBride, Mathis took over the match.
The US scored two great team goals, both started by Mathis, and the midfield tempo changed completely once he entered the match. It would be eight years before Mexico came back to the US and defeated the United States. Mathis’ spectacular performance set the tone of the decade.
Honorable Mention: John O’Brien vs Portugal 2002, Clint Mathis vs South Korea 2002 Claudio Reyna vs Germany 2002, Oguchi Onyewu vs Spian 2009
Player of the Decade: Claudio Reyna
Little debate needed here. When Reyna was healthy, he was a unique player in the history of the USMNT. A box to box midfielder who could win the ball and also hold it well, the player captained the US team while forging an incredibly successful European club career.
Reyna is a unique player in American soccer history. He also was the trailblazer who transformed the thinking of Americans on the European club scene from “hard working journeyman” to “leadership and quality.”
Honorable Mention: Frankie Hejduk, Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Eddie Pope
Most Under Appreciated Players List
Frankie Hedjuk, Tony Sanneh, Eddie Lewis, Josh Wolff, Chris Armas
US MNT Ultimate XI of the decade
Honorable Mention: Eddie Lewis, Oguchi Onyewu, Earnie Stewart, Michael Bradley, Josh Wolff, Pablo Mastroeni