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The American soccer team made some history in this World Cup by winning their group for the first time since 1930. And that epic 1-0 win over Algeria to advance out of group stage play was only the fifth shutout by a U.S. team in soccer’s biggest event and the first since 1950. Landon Donovan’s stoppage time goal against Algeria gave him four goals, which tied Bert Patenaude (1930) as the American leader.
That Algeria win also broke two other trends for team USA: in three previous third games of the opening round of the World Cup, the Americans had lost all of them. And this year also was the only time the USA ever finished group play undefeated.
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Of course, Donovan added a goal on a penalty kick in the disappointing Round of 16 loss to Ghana, so he stands alone as the all-time USA World Cup goalscorer now, both in the World Cup (five) and all internationals (45). That was the first-ever extra time World Cup game for the U.S., which led for a total of just three minutes in this tournament. And that has been Team USA’s problem: falling behind, and usually early, as it did against England, Slovenia and Ghana. The U.S. has never won a World Cup match when allowing the first goal, going 0-16-3.
The Americans still have yet to reach the semifinals since that ’30 team. That was the first-ever World Cup, and the USA was one of just 13 teams to compete in Uruguay. The Americans beat Belgium and Paraguay before getting thumped by Argentina in the semis.
The following World Cup was held in Italy in 1934 and the Americans barely qualified as one of 16 countries. And they didn’t stay long, as the World Cup was still single elimination back then (as in 1930) and the Americans were blasted by host Italy, 7-1.
The United States didn’t qualify for the World Cup in 1938 in France, and there was no event again until 1950 because of World War II. Of course that year, in Brazil, the USA upset England 1-0 in what was probably the biggest win in American history before Donovan’s goal against Algeria. That England victory remains one of the top upsets in World Cup history, often referred to as the “Miracle on Grass.” But even with that, the USA didn’t advance out of its group as it lost its other two first-round games.
Amazingly, the Americans didn’t return to the World Cup until 1990, when the tournament was held in Italy. Just to get there, the USA had to beat Trinidad and Tobago (1-0) on the final day of qualifying. But the U.S. was overmatched in the World Cup, losing to Czechoslovakia, Austria and Italy by a combined 8-2.
Of course, four years later the World Cup made its first and still lone visit to the United States, and the Americans were automatic qualifiers. They tied the Swiss at 1-1 in the old Pontiac Silverdome in their opening game – the first indoor game at the World Cup. Then the U.S. beat world No. 4 Colombia, 2-1, thanks to an own goal by Andres Escobar, who was later murdered perhaps just for that mistake. The Americans rather choked in a 1-0 final group stage loss to Romania, and that meant a Round of 16 matchup with Brazil, which won 1-0.
In the 1998 World Cup in France, the team lost all three group matches, to Germany, Iran and Yugoslavia, and finished in last place in its group and last in the entire field. That cost Coach Steve Sampson his job.
In 2002 in the South Korea/Japan World Cup, the Americans reached the quarterfinals in arguably their most impressive World Cup to date. They shocked Portgual in the opener and then fairly lucked into the Round of 16, where the U.S. stunned Mexico, 2-0. However, Germany waited in the quarters and so did a 1-0 U.S. loss.
Finally, in 2006 in Germany, the Americans opened with a 3-0 defeat by the Czech Republic before surprisingly drawing eventual champion Italy, 1-1. But Ghana – remember them? -- ended the Americans’ World Cup with a 2-1 loss.
Overall the Americans have seven wins, 17 losses and five draws in World Cup play.