Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday Funday - US Qualifies for 1990 World Cup

The United States men's national team squares off against England next Saturday in their opening match of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. While England is the heavy favorite, the United States men's national team has come a long way since they last met England in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.

After a shocking 1-0 defeat of England in the 1950 World Cup dubbed "Miracle on Grass", the United States national team had a 40 year absence from the World Cup. In 1989, FIFA awarded the United States the 1994 World Cup. FIFA's decision was criticized around the world because the United States' perceived lack of soccer aptitude. The aforementioned 40 year absence from the World Cup and the lack of a top flight professional outdoor league made the international soccer community question why FIFA would give the United States the most watched sporting event in the world.

The host nation automatically qualifies for the World Cup. In order to justify FIFA's decision to stage the 1994 World Cup in America, the United States men's national team had to qualify for the 1990 World Cup in Italy on their own. If the United States failed to qualify for the 1990 World Cup, FIFA and the United States men's national team would have become the laughing stock of international soccer for not competing in the World Cup for 54 and only getting to participate by virtue of automatic qualification for hosting the World Cup.

The North and Central America and Caribbean region (CONCACAF) had two spots up for grabs for the 1990 World Cup which was decided at the 1989 CONCACAF Championship. Costa Rica took the top spot in the 1989 CONCACAF Championship on goal differential and qualified for their first ever World Cup. Costa Rica "won" because Mexico was disqualified for fielding improper players (too old) which watered down the field.

On Sunday, November 19, 1989 the United States faced Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain (the capital of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago) for the second of two CONCACAF qualification spots for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. The odds were stacked against the United States. The United States had not won a game on foreign soil in almost 2 years and in order to qualify for the World Cup they would have to beat Trinidad and Tobago on their home soil.

Some of the notable United States players from the game were John Harkes (current lead color analyst for ESPN's coverage of the 2010 World Cup), Marcelo Balboa (king mullet of the United States men's national team), Tab Ramos (who "hates to practice but loves to win" in his cheesy Snickers commercials), Tony Meola (set back soccer players decades with his failed attempt to kick for the New York Jets), and Paul Caligiuri (the man of the match).

The United States won the match 1-0 thanks to Paul Caligiuri's "Shot heard round the world". Although not as big as "The Miracle on Ice" or "The Dream Team", Caligiuri's goal is one of biggest moment's in United States sports history (unless the United States men's national team can pull of the improbable and win the World Cup).

Sunday, November 19, 1989 was truly a Sunday Funday and the most important day in United States soccer history. Not only did the United States qualify for their first World Cup in 40 years but the United States men's national team also silenced the critics who opposed the United States hosting the 1994 World Cup. Hosting the World Cup in 1994 lead to the formation of the MLS which gave the United States a legitimate professional soccer league in the United States for the first time in decades in 1996. Although soccer is still not a major sport in the United States, without Paul Caligiuri's goal, soccer would be light years behind where it is today.

The MLS will never (or at least not for a number of decades) be on the same level as the English Premier League, La Liga (Spanish 1st division) or Serie A (Italian 1st division) but Americans support winners. If the United States men's national team makes a deep run in the World Cup or even wins (especially with how much coverage ESPN is dedicating to the World Cup), soccer will take off in America and the United States men's national team (and tangentially the MLS) will have huge support.

Sorry if you are not a soccer fan but I have World Cup fever. As a result, I am going to cover the United States men's national team on the blog for the next month or so while still trying to sprinkle in other Cheesehead content.

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