The biggest Gold Cup moments in U.S. history

Wednesday July 24th, 2013

Benny Feilhaber celebrates after his 'golazo' helped the U.S. defeat Mexico in the 2007 Gold Cup final.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

From Chris Wondolowski's misspelled jersey and subsequent hat trick to Brek Shea's late game-winner and Landon "Dufresne" Donovan's sunglasses, this CONCACAF Gold Cup has been a fun ride for the U.S. national team.

The Gold Cup often is. Launched in 1991 after nearly 30 years of irregular regional championships, the tournament has provided the maturing U.S. national team program with many of its finest moments. Some deride the Gold Cup as too frequent or too top-heavy, but none can deny that competition between World Cups has helped the U.S. develop its player pool while learning to win at the international level.

As Wednesday night's semifinal approaches, looks back at the U.S.'s most memorable moments in the history of a competition that now has some history.

1991 semifinal -- The first "Dos a cero"

It was a semifinal stunner at the inaugural Gold Cup that really kindled the U.S.-Mexico rivalry. Before some 40,000 fans at the predictably partisan Los Angeles Coliseum, the unheralded Americans shocked El Tri, 2-0, on goals by John Doyle and Peter Vermes. Yes, that's the future MLS defender of the year finishing off the favorites with a 64th-minute scorcher.

It was only the third time in nearly 60 years that Mexico lost to the U.S. The defeat cost coach Manuel Lapuente his job and signaled the unexpected beginning of a new regional power dynamic.

1991 final -- Campeones!

When the '91 Gold Cup kicked off, the only competitive title ever claimed by American men was the 1983 CONCACAF U-16 crown. That's it. There was next to no winning tradition in U.S. soccer.

That changed on July 7, 1991. Tournament MVP Tony Meola earned the shutout and Fernando Clavijo converted the clinching penalty as the Americans defeated Honduras, 4-3, in a shootout following a 0-0 draw.

Captain Peter Vermes lifted the trophy (the '91 Gold Cup was more of a small punch bowl) and the U.S. entered a new era.

"We're champions of CONCACAF now," former midfielder Hugo Perez said in a retrospective published on U.S. Soccer's website. "Everybody's not going to come and beat America now. With this win, everybody's got to start thinking, 'Hey, let's watch for America.' I think that's good for us, it's good for America and it's good for soccer."

1993 semifinal -- One Shining Moment

Cle Kooiman was a rugged defender from Southern California who scored one goal in his 12 games with the U.S. But what a goal it was.

The '93 semifinal in Dallas was scoreless heading into overtime -- it was sudden death back then -- and Kooiman sent the U.S. to the title game with a brilliant, 12-yard volley that would've made any striker proud. The golden goal, from perhaps the least likely source, came in the 103rd minute.

The Americans would lose the final to Mexico, 4-0. Kooiman went on to play in the 1994 World Cup and finished out his career in MLS with the Tampa Bay Mutiny and Miami Fusion.

1998 semifinal -- "Here's Preki, on his left foot..."

The US is 1-16-0 against Brazil. This was the one. Preki Radosavljevic helped the Americans secure a semifinal berth with a 78th-minute winner against Costa Rica. He then beat the Brazilians on a 65th-minute play that started with a trademark cutback to his left foot, followed by a curling bid that left goalkeeper Cláudio Taffarel helpless.

Brazil, playing in the Gold Cup as an invited guest, had to know the cutback was coming. It was the two-time MLS MVP's signature move. It was inevitable. But also was practically unstoppable. Even for the reigning world champions.

1998 semifinal -- A legend salutes a legend

Preki's strike surely would have been the lone U.S. highlight in a lopsided loss in Los Angeles if not for the heroics of Kasey Keller, who made 10 saves. At one point, after Romário was denied from close range, the Brazilian striker waited for Keller to stand up then shook the goalkeeper's hand.

Following the 1-0 defeat, Romário told reporters that it was, "the greatest performance I've ever seen by a goalkeeper. It was an honor to be on the field with him."

The U.S. would lose the Gold Cup final to Mexico, 1-0, five days later.

2002 final -- Champions again

Eleven years after claiming that inaugural title, the U.S. won its second Gold Cup championship with a 2-0 win over Costa Rica at the Rose Bowl. The Americans enjoyed a bit of good fortune as Mexico was dispatched by guests South Korea in the quarterfinals and after surviving a penalty shootout with Canada in the semis, the U.S. was on its way.

Josh Wolff and Jeff Agoos scored in the final (how about that free kick from veteran defender?) and coach Bruce Arena's team took a winning swagger with them into the World Cup four months later.

2005 semifinal -- Glorious Gooch

In the summer of 2005, Oguchi Onyewu was a strapping 23-year-old central defender with immense physical gifts who already had three years of pro experience in Europe. He was the future of the American back line. No play illustrated his combination of fearsome athleticism and savvy like the powerful header that sent the U.S. to the Gold Cup final. The Americans were level with Honduras, 1-1, at Giants Stadium. Onyewu followed the path of Landon Donovan's stoppage-time free kick, raced into the penalty area like a striker and scored the winner. It was his first international goal. The U.S. would defeat Panama in the final on penalty kicks and Onyewu would start in both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

2007 final -- Benny's Golazo

Benny Feilhaber's moment of genius was more than just a thunderous, beautiful goal that would have brought the crowd at any stadium in the world to its feet. It was a game-winner, a trophy-winner, and a strike that lifted the U.S. to its first Gold Cup victory over Mexico in 16 years. It also qualified coach Bob Bradley's team for the 2009 Confederations Cup.

Feilhaber was a valuable contributor at the 2010 World Cup but he hasn't scored for the national team since that day at Soldier Field in Chicago. But that's okay, because this one is worth watching over and over.

2011 final -- Twenty-eight minutes of fury

In retrospect, it was a difficult day. But at the time, for just under half an hour, U.S. fans were euphoric and coach Bob Bradley's team was unstoppable. Inside a packed (and stunned) Rose Bowl, a U.S. squad that had endured a bumpy road to the final suddenly came together. Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan scored, Freddy Adu was pulling the strings like a phenom possessed and Mexico was reeling. It didn't end well, but not all moments do. This one was fun while it lasted.

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