Before Friday night, the United States men's national team had never won a World Cup qualifier in Kingston, Jamaica, posting an 0-1-4 record that included a painful, troubling loss last September. Nor had Jurgen Klinsmann, the squad's head coach, used the same starting lineup more than once in his first 27 games.
Both of those surprising streaks ended when Brad Evans, the most unlikely repeat starter from the previous weekend’s 4-3 win against Germany, scored a dramatic game-winning goal in the 92nd minute. Three minutes earlier, the Americans had conceded a potentially crushing equalizer to the Reggae Boyz's Jermaine Beckford, but Michael Bradley found the 28-year-old Evans, who turned and found the back of the net for his first national team tally.
On Friday, transfer deadline day in European soccer, Clint Dempsey did what he’s done his entire career when facing a challenge: He succeeded. Heading into the day, Dempsey essentially didn’t have a team to play for. He was coming off a career year, probably the best ever by an American in Europe: 23 goals for his club, Fulham, 17 in the English Premier League, fourth in the league behind international superstars such as Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie. But when the 2012-13 Premier League season started a few weeks ago, he wasn’t playing for Fulham. His manager, Martin Jol, said he refused to play. Dempsey tweeted that there were two sides to the story.
We may never know exactly what was communicated between Dempsey and Fulham brass and why he didn’t play for the Cottagers in the first three matches of the season. What we do know is this: After last season, Dempsey, always seeking the best competition, voiced his desire to play for an elite English club, one capable of playing in the Champions League. Liverpool, while not in the Champions League this season (or last season), is one of the most successful clubs in the history of European club competition. The Reds expressed interest in Dempsey, publicly and privately, and all summer long, Liverpool fans have awaited the news that the club had finally signed the American.
In the fourth in a series of posts on the future of U.S. soccer, Andrew Lewellen looks at Major League Soccer's hotly debated Homegrown Player rule. For Part I of the series, on the recent changes in high school and youth soccer, click here. For Part II, on the 1990 World Cup's impact on the U.S. soccer psyche, click here. For Part III, on the state of the college game, click here.
On November 17, 2010, Juan Agudelo made history for the United States Men’s National Soccer Team. You might know one of the reasons: That day, in his international debut, he became the youngest player ever to score for the USMNT when he netted the winning goal against South Africa in the Nelson Mandela Classic. He was six days shy of his 18th birthday.
But Agudelo made history for another reason that day: He became the first MLS Homegrown Player to appear in a USMNT game. At the time, he was a member of the New York Red Bulls and was one of 18 Homegrown Players in MLS.
In the fifth round of the 2001 MLS Super Draft, the San Jose Earthquakes drafted Corey Woolfolk, a senior forward from Stanford University, a two-year captain who had led the team to the national championship game his sophomore year and finished his career at Stanford ranked top 10, all time, in all scoring categories. Woolfolk wasn’t expecting to get drafted. He hadn’t even been invited to the MLS combine. As he said, his “eyes were set on Europe,” where he wanted to play professionally. Being a fifth-round draft pick, his expectations weren’t lofty: His goal was to make the Earthquakes’ decision to cut him or keep him a hard one.
He succeeded in that mission. In the preseason, he played in seven of San Jose’s nine games and finished as the team’s leading scorer. Woolfolk played that preseason as an unprotected player; MLS players sign contracts with the league, and the league assigns them to teams. He didn’t have a contract. Woolfolk didn’t even earn a paycheck.
Roster deadline day approached. Woolfolk’s agent told him he had a good chance of making the team. And he did. San Jose offered Woolfolk a contract. He signed it the night he got it.
The next morning, the Earthquakes' coach, Frank Yallop, called him into his office. Woolfolk remembers the conversation: “We’re going to have to let you go,” Yallop told him him. Woolfolk asked him why. “It’s not what you’ve done,” Yallop said. “You’ve made our job very difficult. But there’s this player from Germany ...”
In the second in a series of posts on the future of soccer, Andrew Lewellen looks back on a pivotal moment in U.S. soccer history — the 1990 World Cup — and how it changed the trajectory of the sport in the States. For Part I of the series, on the recent changes in high school and youth soccer, click here.
If a “modern era” in American soccer exists, it began on November 19, 1989, when the U.S. National team, made up of current and former college players, played Trinidad and Tobago in Port-of-Spain for the final spot in the 1990 World Cup. Trinidad and Tobago needed only a tie to advance to the World Cup. The U.S. needed a victory. Of course nobody expected the U.S. to win; they hadn’t played in a World Cup since 1950.
But that game against Trinidad and Tobago had an additional dramatic wrinkle: The year before, in 1989, FIFA had awarded the United States the rights to host the 1994 World Cup. Because of the country’s lack of a professional league and its general ambivalence toward the world’s sport, the decision — as FIFA’s decisions often are — was met with criticism and disdain. But FIFA saw an opportunity to use the World Cup to grow the sport in the United States. As the host country, the U.S. would get an automatic bid to the ’94 World Cup. But if they failed to qualify for the ’90 World Cup, it would be an embarrassment, proof that the U.S. could not play at an elite, international level — and did not deserve to host the ’94 World Cup.
Not only was American pride at stake, so were the players’ jobs; they knew that if they lost to Trinidad and Tobago, their contracts — and their salaries — with the U.S. Soccer Federation would be in jeopardy.
In the first of a series of posts on the future of soccer in the United States, Andrew Lewellen looks at the U.S. Soccer Federation's efforts to centralize the development of youth talent. Check back next week for Part II, when Andrew takes a look at a pivotal moment in U.S. soccer history — the 1990 World Cup — and how it changed the trajectory of the sport in the States.
On a hot and hazy June Saturday in Los Angeles, two high-school-aged boys' soccer teams are taking the field for their final regular-season game. One team is playing for the conference title. Sounds pretty basic. All across the country at this moment youth soccer teams are competing — kids in cleats and shin guards dribbling and slide tackling and yelling things like “Good ball!” and “Switch it!” while a team parent organizes a postgame snack of Capri Suns and grocery-store cupcakes.
But this game is different. The two teams are members of U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy. The game is being played at the Home Depot Center, and the complex’s 27,000-seat soccer stadium — home to Major League Soccer’s L.A. Galaxy and Chivas USA — towers in the distance. The home team, the one playing for the conference title, is the Galaxy’s under-18 academy side. If they win, they’ll advance to the national playoffs. If they lose, it will be the end of a season that began 10 months ago, in August. For all that time, the boys on both teams have trained four times a week, competed in one game a week, and played for no other team — not even their high schools. And that’s the way U.S. Soccer wants it.