Since 1934 the U.S. Men’s National Team has engaged in a FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament every cycle except for 1938. With the first match on the road to Brazil 2014 on June 8 against Antigua & Barbuda, I am interested and want to share with you the team’s history in opening qualifying play. Overall, a review of these matches shows the early days were difficult, but, since 1976, the U.S. has been undefeated in its first qualifying match.
The history of U.S. play breaks neatly into two eras which I define as the pre-NASL era and the modern era of soccer in the United States. The total record for first matches is four wins, seven ties, and 5 losses with 28 goals for and 32 goals against. Since 1976, when I posit that the North American Soccer League had begun its impact on soccer, the record is three wins and five ties with 15 goals for and only 2 against.
Another interpretation of the change of fortune in qualification, however, could be from increased participation in qualifying throughout the CONCACAF region. For the first qualifying matches from 1934 to 1972, the U.S. either met Mexico or Canada. Since 1976 the opponents have been primarily Caribbean and Central American nations, teams less successful at making it to the World Cup.
The first U.S. qualifier in U.S. soccer history was arguably its most successful, a 4 – 2 victory over Mexico. The match was played on May 24, 1934 in Rome when Aldo ‘Buff’ Donelli’s four goals dispatched the southern neighbors. The U.S. met Mexico in its next five qualifying matches (1949, 1954, 1957, 1960, and 1965). The first three were played in Mexico City, all victories for El Tri. The two following matches took place in Los Angeles and the U.S. produced ties:
1) v Mexico 5/24/34 Rome, Italy W 4 – 2 Donelli(4)
2) v Mexico 9/4/49 Mexico City, Mexico L 0 – 6
3) v Mexico 1/10/54 Mexico City, Mexico L 0 – 4
4) v Mexico 4/7/57 Mexico City, Mexico L 0 – 6
5) v Mexico 11/6/60 Los Angeles, CA T 3 – 3 Bicek, Zerhusen, Fister
6) v Mexico 3/7/65 Los Angeles, CA T 2 – 2 Shmotolocha, Bicek
Throughout this period Mexico was the qualifying nation to every FIFA World Cup and few teams participated. Beginning with two in 1934, by the time the 1966 FIFA World Cup qualification tournament rolled around, the number of teams attempting to qualify had risen to nine.
Beginning in 1968, the U.S. played four consecutive first qualifying matches against Canada (1968, 1972, 1976, and 1980), the first three in Canadian cities and the last one hosted by the U.S. The first two were losses while the last two were the ties that began the current undefeated run:
1) v Canada 10/13/68 Toronto, ON L 2 – 4 Roy, Stritzl
2) v Canada 8/20/72 St. John’s, NB L 2 – 3 Getzinger, Roy
3) v Canada 9/24/76 Vancouver, BC T 1 – 1 Bandov
4) v Canada 10/25/80 Fort Lauderdale, FL T 0 – 0
Teams attempting to qualify for the FIFA World Cup finally reached double figures with twelve teams competing for a place in the 1970 World Cup hosted by Mexico. The total number of teams entering the qualifying tournament stayed in the teens through the 1990 qualification tournament.
In 1984, with the noted more countries involved in qualifying play, the U.S. opened qualifying with a 0 – 0 tie away to Netherlands Antilles. The U.S. achieved the same result away in 1988 at Kingston, Jamaica. Of course this was an important result toward the eventual qualification for the Italy 1990 FIFA World Cup.
1) v Neth. Antilles 9/29/84 Curacao, Neth. Antilles T 0 – 0
2) Jamaica 7/24/88 Kingston, Jamaica T 0 – 0
Since that time opening matches have shown increasing success with three home wins and one away tie:
1) Guatemala 11/3/96 Washington, D.C. W 2 – 0 Wynalda, McBride
2) Guatemala 7/16/00 Mazatenango T 1 – 1 Razov
3) Grenada 6/13/04 Columbus, OH W 3 – 0 Beasley (2), Vanney
4) Barbados 6/15/08 Carson, CA W 8 – 0 Dempsey (2), Bradley, Ching (2), Donovan, Johnson, own goal
For the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, for the first time, the number of teams competing exceeded 20, with 26 teams entered in the tournament. The 2014 Brazil World Cup the CONCACAF qualifying tournament began with ten teams playing a home-and-home series to move into a second round.
Nineteen teams were added to this stage, playing in six groups of four teams with the six group winners qualified for the third round. Here they were joined by a final six teams attempting to qualify from CONCACAF with teams placed into three groups of four teams each. Overall, 35 teams from the region will participate in World Cup qualifying for 2014.
As the U.S. begins its qualification process at the Third Round in a four-team group of Antigua and Barbuda, Guatemala, and Jamaica, it will need to finish among the top two teams in the group to advance to the traditional CONCACAF Hexagonal, the six-team finish to qualifying. The U.S. has a rich and successful history, particularly in recent years. For U.S. fans let’s hope the team continues this modern trend.
An added note: Congratulations to retired Los Angeles Times sportswriter Grahame L. Jones on being named the 2012 recipient of the National Soccer Hall of Fame’s Colin Jose Media award for career excellence in soccer communications. He joins an illustrious list of outstanding people who have covered soccer in the U.S. and internationally:
2004 Jerry Trecker Sportswriter Hartford Courant
2006 Seamus Malin Broadcaster ABC and others
2007 George Tiedemann Photographer Sports Illustrated and others
2008 Ike Kuhns Sportswriter Newark Star-Ledger
2009 Alex Yannis Sportswriter New York Times
2010 Paul Gardner Columnist and Broadcaster Soccer America, ABC and more
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