Memories That Are Pitch Perfect

Monday, November 12, 2007

D.C. United's season ended 10 days ago, but area soccer fans haven't been crying into their scarves over the loss of red-hot MLS action because the league's title game will be held right here at RFK Stadium on Sunday. The imminent arrival of the Super Bowl of American futbol had us pondering the greatest moments in U.S. soccer history:

One2002 World Cup

Never mind Midnight Madness, this was Pre-Dawn Pandemonium. Because the tournament was played in Japan and South Korea, fans here had to either stay up way late or get up way early to see their team in action, but it was worth it, as the U.S.'s finest soccer hour came in the wee hours. What's sweeter than getting to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in nearly three-quarters of a century? Getting there by beating your biggest rival. Take that, Mexico! At one point our neighbors to the south were 21-0-3 against the United States over more than 40 years. But goals from Brian McBride and Landon Donovan, and some great saves by Brad Friedel, ensured a U.S. victory on the biggest stage possible. Even without the trip to the quarterfinals, the trip to Asia would have been worthwhile thanks to an opening-game win over heavily favored Portugal, and not just because it gave us ESPN commentator Jack Edwards's cheese-tastic line, "Mine eyes have seen the glory!" That victory went a long way toward erasing the embarrassment of the 1998 World Cup, when the Americans finished dead last, behind such countries as Tunisia, Bulgaria and, if memory serves, the Vatican. But that was then and this was, well, 7 a.m., and it was pretty sweet. Even though the United States lost in the quarterfinals, many thought it looked even more impressive, giving traditional soccer uber-power Germany all it could handle before succumbing, 1-0.

Two1999 Women's World Cup

An epochal event not just for the sport of soccer but for women's sports in general. Held in the United States, the tournament was a huge success, attracting more than over 90,000 fans for the final between the hosts and China. Many more watched on TV, including millions of dudes who couldn't even have known at the time that their viewership would be rewarded by Brandi Chastain's decision to give the shirt off her back for a U.S. win.

ThreePaul Caligiuri's 1989 Goal

Caligiuri was the first American-born player to perform in Germany's prestigious Bundesliga, but he is best known for scoring a goal against Trinidad and Tobago on Nov. 19, 1989. Take that, tiny Caribbean nation! His 25-yard blast may not have been "The Goal Heard 'Round the World" (as it was later dubbed, quite possibly by Jack Edwards), but it did give the United States its first World Cup appearance in 40 years.

Four1994 World Cup

There was some concern elsewhere in the world about letting the decidedly non-soccer-mad United States host the sport's ultimate event, but those fears were more than allayed by a tournament-record 3.6 million attendees. Many more watched on TV, including millions of dudes who couldn't even have known at the time that their viewership would be rewarded by . . . a 0-0 final decided on penalty kicks.

FiveCreation of the MLS

Inextricably tied to the previous item, the formation of a high-level soccer league was essential to the United States being awarded the '94 World Cup. In turn, that event's success provided the credibility and momentum for MLS's start of play in 1996. Now the league is a fixture on the American sports landscape, and it has become an attractive landing spot for international stars of a certain vintage (and high-profile marital status).

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