Jurgen Klinsmann, who later went on to coach the U.S. men, scored one goal and helped set up another against the Americans in Paris in 1998. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
On Sunday, June 16, it will be 21 years and a day since a United States team competed in a World Cup game at Parc des Princes. That’s when the American women will take on Chile in their second Group F encounter at the historic venue. On June 15, 1998, the U.S. men dropped a 2-0 Group F decision in their France ’98 opener to Germany. FrontRowSoccer.com editor Michael Lewis covered the match, and this is his game story from a generation ago.
By Michael Lewis
PARIS — About an hour before kick0ff, Sepp Blatter, president elect of FIFA, talked about the U.S.’s chances in its World Cup opener on June 15.
“So far we have had surprises in the World Cup, but we’ve never had a miracle,” he said. “Today, they will not stop the Germany team on the way to the final victory. There will be no miracles.”
There were no miracles at Parc des Princes that night, only a near disaster for the Americans, who were soundly beaten and outplayed by the Germans in a 2-0 Group F loss.
The defeat, the Americans’ worst in the World Cup since their 5-1 defeat to Czechoslovakia eight years ago, left them as longshots to reach the second round. At least they had an excuse then; it was their first appearance in 40 years. This is their third consecutive appearance. To get out of the first round in one piece they’ll need a victory over Iran on Sunday and at least a tie with Yugoslavia in their final opening-round match on June 25.
It won’t be easy, although no one ever said the World Cup was. Last night the lessons came from Jurgen Klinsmann, Jens Jeremies and Andreas Moeller, among others.
“In the first half, we showed them way too much respect,” midfielder Chad Deering said. “We gave them too much space. We wound up on our heels and we tried to play out of it.”
There was never any flow to the struggling U.S. attack. Playmaking midfielder Claudio Reyna, who was whacked by German midfielder Jeremies 21 seconds into the match and often for the rest of the game, never was a factor.
The outcome could have come down to high-pressure international experience, which the U.S. lacked. Incredibly, the Americans had only four players who performed at USA ’94 as head coach Steve Sampson decided to bench or clean house of several key veteran players earlier this year.
In contrast, the aging Germans, the reigning European championship who fielded a lineup averaging nearly 30.5 years per man, with three members of their 1990 championship team still alive and kicking — defender Jurgen Kohler, midfielders Thomas Haessler and Klinsmann.
It was another veteran player, Olaf Thon, whose corner kick created the Germans’ first goal in the ninth minute. The kick sailed to Klinsmann, who headed the ball to Moeller, who scored on a three-yard header. The ball somehow eluded defender Michael Burns, known for being at the right place at the right time on goal line clearances. Burns was situated at the near post with goalkeeper Kasey Keller on the opposite side.
“It was an unfortunate goal for us. It was a fluke goal,” Burns said. “It came on an awkward place on my body and my hip. I couldn’t get my chest on it. The ball had eyes and somehow found itself in the back of the net.”
Instead of attacking, the U.S. circled its wagons. “Our team did not want the game to become a runaway in the first half,” Sampson said. “We played conservatively.”
It wasn’t until the second half that the U.S. started to assert itself. Except for second-half sub Frankie Hejduk’s diving eight-yard header that goalkeeper Andreas Koepke dived to stop in the 53rd minute, its shots wound up off target.
Klinsmann gave the Germans some breathing room in the 65th minute, trapping a right-wing cross from Oliver Bierhoff and beating sweeper Thomas Dooley before slotting it home with his right foot from six yards. Sampson called it “a great goal. You don’t give him that opportunity because nine times out of 10, he puts it in.”
The goal was Klinsmann’s ninth in the World Cup, which moved him into a tie for sixth place on the all-time list along with such legendary stars as Italy’s Paolo Rossi and Portugal’s Eusebio. With Germany’s successful World Cup history in Europe, he’ll have more than ample opportunity to add to that total, probably playing at least through the quarterfinals.
After their June 15 performance, the Americans can’t be guaranteed the same future.