Paul Caligiuri in the U.S. locker room after scoring his historic goal. (Michael Lewis Photo)
By Michael Lewis
With this being the Fourth of July and America’s 243rd birthday, we figured we would celebrate in our own unique way:
By listing the most important goals in U.S. men’s and women’s history.
In this story, we’ll take a look at the men:
1. Paul Caligiuri (1989)
If Caligiuri doesn’t score in the 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over Trinidad & Tobago Nov. 19, 1989, there is a good chance you might not be reading this story or following soccer today. That’s how much this score meant for the future of the U.S. men’s team. It would have been embarrassing enough had the Americans failed to qualify for Italia ‘90 after being awarded the 1994 competition in 1988. Caligiuri put all doubts to rest in the 31st minute at Hasely Crawford Stadium after Brian Williams upended John Harkes in midfield. Tab Ramos took the free kick, got a quick return pass and noticed an open Caligiuri in the middle. Caligiuri beat an opponent and lofted a high, looping shot over goalkeeper Michael Maurice for his second international goal. “I know my abilities to take those kind of shots so I can strike the ball from distance with my left or right foot,” he told The Guardian. “So it’s a confidence level that you don’t think about. I’m confident I can take the shot. You just know you can so you do it. I know the distance. I knew it had to have some power on it. It couldn’t be a floating ball. It had to have some power with some dip on it.”
2. Landon Donovan (2010)
It couldn’t have been more dramatic for the Americans in their Group C finale against Algeria at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa. With the score at 0-0, they needed a win and not a draw to reach the Round of 16 at this World Cup. They managed through a miracle goal, becoming group winners for the first time since the 1930 competition. The scoring sequence took 12 seconds. Goalkeeper Tim Howard saved a seven-yard header by Rafik Saifi and threw the ball to the right side to Donovan, who raced up the field unmarked. He found Jozy Altidore with a pass, and the Toronto FC striker touched it to Clint Dempsey, who took a shot as keeper Rais M’Bolhi slid in to stop it. The ball rebounded to Donovan, who slotted it in from seven yards. “The moment kind of slowed down for me,” Donovan said. “It’s a reaction. It’s good that it happened quickly. You don’t want too much time to think about it.” A bust at the 2006 World Cup, Donovan quickly became a hero four years later. “I’ve been through a lot in the last four years, and I’m so glad it culminated this way,” said an emotional Donovan, who cried during a press conference. “It makes me believe in good in the world, and when you try to do things the right way, it’s good to see them get rewarded.”
3. Joe Gaetjens (1950)
Called by many the shot heard around the world, Gaetjens scored one of the most memorable goals in World Cup history. His goal was the corner stone of the Americans’ 1-0 victory over England in Belo Horizonte, Brazil that June 29. There have been debates over the years whether Gaegjens, a Haitian citizen and a U.S. resident at the time, was trying to score. The bottom line is that the ball went in.
During a World Cup reunion with teammate Harry Keough and England’s Wilf Mannion in Belo Horizonte in 1987, Walter Bahr, the last surviving U.S player, explained to yours truly how the goal was scored. Bahr, who passed away June 18, walked his way through the sequence, starting with Frank McElvenny’s throw-in from the right side 35 yards out. “I was playing left half-back,” Bahr said. “I came in for McElvenny’s throw-in. I dribbled the ball … maybe to here.” Bahr stood 25 yards from the goal. “I took a shot,” he said. “It was going to the far post. The goalkeeper had to move to his right to get the ball and somehow Joe Gaetjens came from that side and deflected it with his head.” Past goalkeeper Bert Williams into the goal. “We were happy to get off the field with maybe a 2-, 3- or 4-0 loss and to get a goal like that, we maybe awakened the sleeping giant,” Bahr said.
Gaetjens suffered a tragic fate, presumably dying in prison or he was executed as a political prisoner in his native Haiti at the age of 40 in 1964.
4. Brian McBride (2002)
For a U.S. player, there’s nothing like scoring against Mexico. And that goes double when the result is dos a cero. McBride, who tallied some vital international goals in his time, did just that – for the whole world to see against El Tri at the 2002 World Cup. He struck for the first goal in the Round of 16 encounter. Against the run of play, Claudio Reyna started the scoring sequence a 40-yard run down the side, crossing the ball to Josh Wolff, who was close to the goal line. Wolff, who didn’t look before flicking it back to an open McBride. The striker fired home a hard, right-footed shot in the eighth minute. “I knew there was an opportunity for me to get the ball. It was on a lay back like that,” he said. Landon Donovan added an insurance goal in the 65th minute. The result was significant because the game was played at a neutral ground between two teams that usually prevailed at home against each other.
5. Eric Wynalda (1994)
Talk about bad timing. On the day of the Americans’ 1994 World Cup opener against Switzerland at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich., Wynalda woke up with hives on his body. He got it from drinking the wrong energy drink that he said was given to the team. He said he had an allergy to a pair of dyes – yellow No. 5 and red dye 40. Wynalda showed U.S. coach Bora Miluntonovic the hives. “He said: ‘This is nothing. Day is your day.’ And he walked out. I said, OK.’ I took a cold shower, I put my sweats on.” Wynalda added he “was uncomfortable” due to the hives. “It was like being covered with bee stings,” he added. “It was horrible.”
Trailing 1-0, the Americans were awarded a free kick in the 45th minute after John Harkes was fouled by Ciri Sforza 28 yards out. Reyna, who usually took free kicks, had incurred a hamstring injury days prior, so the set piece was up for grabs. Wynalda wanted to take it. “Four guys were interested in taking it,” he said. “The first one was Harkes and I didn’t even listen to him. I grabbed the ball and I made sure I was the one who was going to take it. Marcelo [Balboa] wanted me to touch it to the side so he could hit it. At one point Tab [Ramos] said something along the line, ‘Are you sure? And that was his way of saying, ‘Push it to the side and let me hit it.’ I literally blanked them all. “I had been taking free kicks [for FC Saarbrücken] in Germany. I had some success, but I had never scored. I hit the post a bunch of times and I forced saves. The lasting memory I had was Tab Ramos walking past me and saying: ‘Just put it on goal and don’t make us look stupid.’ That was the last thing I heard before I shot.”
Wynalda curled the ball into the upper left corner past keeper Marco Pascolo. “It was the best goal I could ever score in a World Cup because of exactly where the ball went,” Wynalda said. The USA earned a point, its first in the World Cup since the 1-0 win over England in 1950.
6. Jozy Altidore (2009)
After reaching the FIFA Confederations Cup semifinals by the skin of their teeth and only one win after a pair of sub-par group-stage matches, the Americans pulled off a major upset, stunning Spain, the top-ranked team in the world, 2-0, on goals by Jozy Altidore (27th minute) and Clint Dempsey (74th) at Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein, South Africa. The USA snapped Spain’s 35-game unbeaten streak and 15-game winning streak. Charlie Davies started the scoring sequence on Altidore’s goal, shuffling a pass off to Dempsey, who sent the ball to Altidore. The former Red Bull shrugged off Joan Capdevila, took three steps and fired a right-footed shot from the top of the box that goalkeeper Iker Casillas got a hand on. The ball bounded off the left post and into the net for a 1-0 U.S. lead. “It just shows we can compete with the best,” U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said. “To do it on a consistent basis is our biggest thing moving forward. “We have showed we can play with the big boys. We can beat them.” The Americans’ amazing performance continued for the opening 45 minutes against Brazil in the final by grabbing a two-goal halftime advantage. Then the Brazilians remembered who they were and stormed back for a 3-2 win.
7. Bert Patenaude (1930)
Patenaude became the first player to put the ball into the back of the net three times in in a World Cup game, although it took FIFA 76 years before recognizing his feat in a 3-0 win over Paraguay in the inaugural competition. July 17, 1930. He scored in the 10th minute and a second one five minutes later. However, that second goal was credited as an own goal by some international historians or to teammate Tom Florie, according to an official FIFA match record. Patenaude added another goal in the 50th minute. For years, Argentina’s Guillermo Stabile was credited with registering the first hat-trick as he did the scored three times two days later. FIFA confirmed that Patenaude had scored all three goals Nov. 10, 2006. Better late than never.
8. Buff Donelli (1934)
In the first encounter between the two great CONCACAF rivals, Donelli smashed four goals in what turned into a 4-2 U.S. victory over Mexico in a World Cup qualifier in Rome, Italy (that’s right, Rome) May 24, 1934. Donelli put on a one-man show before 10,000 spectators and Italian leader Benito Mussolini. He connected off a long pass after defender Edward Czerkiewicz’s interception in the 15th minute. After Mexico equalized seven minutes later, Donelli broke a 1-1 tie with a goal in the 30th minute off a William McLean feed. After Mexican Lorenzo Camarena was ejected in the 59th minute for trying to stop Donelli with his hands as he raced toward the goal, Donelli took advantage of extra player in the 73rd minute through his third goal, a breakaway after a Werner Nilsen pass. After the Mexicans moved within 3-2, Donelli found the range again in the 87th minute, taking a pass from Florie and firing a shot between two defenders. Donelli could have had five goals, but he missed a penalty kick.
“Mexico had a team that was pretty equal to ours,” Donelli was quoted in the book. “But they were not very quick. They had a very, very deliberate style of attack. There was not a whole lot of imagination; it was a predictable attack. And if you did anything. If you moved a wee bit, it would put them off balance. I was just able to go around the man very easily.” The Americans’ gift for besting Mexico was a quarterfinal-round encounter with eventual World Cup champion Italy in the tournament opener. The Italians rolled over the USA, 7-1, the worst result in American World Cup history.
9. Michael Bradley (2017)
OK, stop the booing. Let’s be courteous and patriotic on at least one day. The USA hasn’t scored many goals at Azteca Stadium and this one was a beauty, a 35-yard chip shot over goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa to help the Red, White and Blue to a 1-1 draw at the cauldron of CONCACAF. “I took the first touch and saw that he was a good ways out,” Bradley said. “Here, if you catch a ball right with the thin air, the ball is going to really fly.” He became just the fifth American to score at Azteca, joining Michael Orozco (2012), Charlie Davies (2009), Eddie Lewis (2005), Ricky Davis (1980) and Willy Roy (1972). At the time, it was considered to be a big, big point for the Americans, who failed to qualify for the World Cup when they could not earn a point when they needed it the most, on the final day of the Hexagonal in a 2-1 defeat at Trinidad & Tobago.
10. Benny Feilhaber (2007)
After Landon Donovan knotted the score at 1-1 with a 62nd-minute penalty kick in the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, the 22-year-old Feilhaber, who had all of eight international matches under his belt, struck nine minutes later. The midfielder intercepted a Mexican clearance and volleyed the ball home for a 2-1 victory at Soldier Field in Chicago that June 25. The U.S. came back from a deficit against Mexico for the first time in its 73-year rivalry that had totaled 53 matches at the time. “It was nice to win the Gold Cup, but it’s a little sweeter when we beat Mexico,” U.S. captain and defender Carlos Bocanegra said. “We came from behind. It’s nice we drained their spirits.” The win boosted the Americans into the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa.