History of the United States Men's Soccer Team

The Early Years

The United States men's national soccer team played its first international matches against Canada, in New Jersey, in 1885 and 1886, lossing 1-0 to Canada in the first year and winning Canada 1-0 the following year; however, neither match is considered official. It would be over 30 years before the United States would finally play an officially recognized international match. The United States played its first official international match under the auspices of U.S. Soccer against Sweden in Stockholm, where the U.S. won 2-3.

The U.S. was one of 13 countries to accept an invitation to compete in the first-ever World Cup in 1930. The team defeated Belgium 3-0 in its first game (one of the first two games in World Cup history) and went on the finish third, still its best-ever finish.

The Americans played the next World Cup in 1934, but were eliminated after one game, a 7-1 drubbing to host Italy. They failed to qualify in 1938 and the next two scheduled tournaments were cancelled due to World War II.

In 1950, the U.S. soccer team made one of its most memorable World Cups, beating England, one of the tournament favorites, 1-0 on a diving header goal by Haitian immigrant Joe Gaetjens. The result was so stunning that some English papers allegedly believed the score was a misprint and listed England as a 10-1 winner. Unfortunately they were not able to go above group stage. The game was chronicled in the book "The Game of Their Lives" and in the 2005 movie of the same title.

Despite qualifying for the first four World Cups ever held, a dark period in the history of U.S. soccer followed, as the national team did not even manage to qualify for a World Cup between 1954 and 1986.

40 Year Gap from World Cup

It would be another 40 years before the U.S. returned to the World Cup, failing to qualify. Though professional soccer briefly became popular in the 1970s as the North American Soccer League (NASL, established 1967) attracted aging stars such as Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer, there were few talented American players.

Despite the United States' relative success in early international tournaments, soccer remained a niche sport in the U.S. for many years. In the three decades after the 1950 World Cup, the only victories for the United States came against Haiti, Bermuda, Honduras, Canada, Poland, and China.

After the enthusiasm caused by the creation and rise of the NASL in the 1970s, it seemed as though the U.S. men's national team would soon become a powerful force in world football. Such hopes were not realised, however, and the United States was not considered a strong side in this era. From 1981 to 1983, only two international matches were played.

The emergence of today's national team can be traced back to two events in late-1980s. First, on July 4, 1988, FIFA awarded the 1994 World Cup to the United States, with the condition that the U.S. Soccer Federation plan to create a professional soccer league (Major League Soccer). Second, the men's national team qualified for the 1990 World Cup with a thrilling 1-0 win at Trinidad and Tobago, which needed only a tie to hold off the U.S. for the final qualifying spot. Paul Caligiuri's game-winning goal, which The New York Times wrote at the time "saved American soccer," has taken on legendary status for U.S. soccer fans. "At least half of the things that have happened in U.S. soccer since would never have occurred if Paul hadn't scored that goal," said former national team star Tab Ramos in 2001.

The Early Years | Rebirth of American Soccer | U.S. Soccer in the 21st Century