Glorious nights at a World Cup are rarely the product of one or two individuals. Sweat-stained accomplishment is almost always a result of inspired endeavor dispersed throughout the field.
On the other hand, a few performances do rise above the others, supplying the narrow margin between success and something less. Here, then, are five of the best performances fashioned in a U.S. shirt during a World Cup (listed in chronological order).
Emotions are all over the place over the U.S.' shocking win against Colombia. People recall that memorable 1994 night in the Rose Bowl for reasons bright and dark. It was a spectacular upset, nudging America at large to get excited about the World Cup.
Some people might recall
But does anyone really recall that Ramos was an absolute tour de force, managing the midfield, passing with clarity and doing so much strong work on defense?
"All the stuff he did in that game, the little stuff, he made it look so simple, so it's easy to overlook," said
Ramos was perhaps the best all-around player on
"You don't even think about it, but he had a lot of great games," Wynalda said. "It's just that a lot of them came in losses. The one that we got a great result out of was Colombia that night."
Landmark performances were sprinkled around the field in Suwon, South Korea, as
But if Sanneh's contribution of skill, smarts and industry wasn't the best among his peers that night, then it surely was McBride's. The big U.S. striker gave Portugal's decorated center backs everything they could possibly handle and had a direct hand in two U.S. goals.
World Cup 2002 in Asia was such a watershed for American soccer, such a proud and momentous time, that fans sometimes forget just how razor-wire thin were the margins.
After the massive upset of Portugal, the United States would still need at least one more result to break free of group play. In the end a draw with South Korea was enough, although just barely.
And speaking of tiny margins, only by a whisker did they even manage the draw that day in the pulsating cauldron that was the 60,000-seat stadium in Daegu. That whisker belonged to goalkeeper Friedel as much as anyone.
Friedel's man-of-the-match performance included a brilliant 40th-minute stretch to stop a penalty kick and several other game-changing saves. He twice denied strong efforts from heralded Korean attacker
The big American's PK stop, however, was undoubtedly the game-turning moment.
The Koreans enjoyed a 19-6 edge in shots but could only better Friedel when
"The penalty save was a big momentum swing and gave us a big lift,"
Reyna was the heart of the American effort in 2002 and the central focus of Arena's attack. So there was high tactical intrigue when he appeared on the right side of a 3-5-2 arrangement for the U.S.' second-round contest against bitter border rival Mexico.
He may have been stationed nominally in the midfield, but Reyna essentially played as a right back. His job was to tame the rampaging runs of
Early in the match, McBride took a quick free kick in midfield as Reyna raced down the right side. Reyna's centering pass found
Reyna was an absolute force throughout. Adding to the achievement was this: He was playing his third match in eight days, having started against South Korea and Poland. "Reyna played a position he was not used to and he came through big," Arena said at the time.
Precious little came out of the awkward U.S. stumble through Germany four years ago. Tellingly, the only brush with success came in a draw, albeit one that was worthy if not outright valorous. Three dismissals that night in Kaiserslautern (two for the United States) reduced the match to a 10 v. 9 oddity, but it also arranged circumstances that begged for heroes.
The United States held the eventual World Cup winners in a 1-1 draw thanks to relentless toil. McBride was literally bloody with effort, the recipient of a nasty elbow from
But no one covered more ground that night than Donovan. His demonstration of will and stamina was nothing short of inspirational for teammates. With acres of space to cover in midfield, Donovan lumbered back and forth, forward and backward to apply pressure, finally dropping from exhaustion at the final whistle.
"He really did set the example for the whole team," recalled center back
Donovan's labor carried a practical value, too, for Italy was pressing ever harder for the game-winner. The American attacker always seemed to have another sprint in him, which prevented the Italians from being more assertive still.
"They had to respect his speed," Conrad said. "It kept them honest and made them stay home. Having him on the field that night made a big difference."