Rising from the depths in 1987

American soccer was at a nadir in 1985 and '86. There was an advertisement a few years ago for Soccer America magazine in which one of its writers was quoted as saying: "Anybody who decries the state of American soccer today doesn't remember 1985."

1985 was a particularly bad year. The NASL folded in March of that year, the New York Cosmos did in June, and in between the United States was eliminated from World Cup qualifying by Costa Rica in a game in which it had only needed a tie at home to advance to the next round. Adding to the gloom was the fact that the World Cup the United States had been trying to qualify for was one for which its bid to become the host had been rebuffed by FIFA in 1983.

So who brought the United States back? Paul Krumpe and Jim Gabarra did. OK, that's an exaggeration. Lots of people contributed. But Krumpe and Gabarra scored three very important goals that helped to kick-start that American soccer revival. Yes, this is the same Paul Krumpe who has been the men's soccer coach at Loyola Marymount since 1998 and the same Jim Gabarra who has coached in both WUSA and WPS.

Here was the situation: After the doldrums of 1985 and '86, the start of the route back for coach Lothar Osiander (above) and the U.S. team was the qualifying rounds of the 1988 Olympic Games. The United States and other CONCACAF countries were allowed under the Olympic eligibility rules then in force to use their full national teams (although the games are not listed as full internationals). Qualifying for the Olympics would be nice, a limited goal, not nearly as big a deal as qualifying for the World Cup, but one that would tell the world that there was still some life in the U.S. team. It was perhaps even more important to avoid the ignominy of being eliminated in the first round, which would tell the world that American soccer was still lying face down in the ditch it has been kicked into in 1985.

That first round of Olympic qualifying looked like a hazardous one. The United States was paired with Canada, which had been in the 1986 World Cup, in a two-game, total-goals series. On May 23, 1987, Canada scored a 2-0 victory in the first leg in Saint John, New Brunswick. Dale Mitchell, a veteran of seven seasons in the NASL, scored in the fifth minute, and Norm Odinga added a second a few minutes after halftime.

So, it came down to the second leg, played a week later at the St. Louis Soccer Park in Fenton, Mo. The United States had a hole to climb out of, starting with a two-goal deficit. Enter Krumpe, who was playing for the Chicago Sting of the Major Indoor Soccer League, and Gabarra, who was playing for the Los Angeles Lazers of the MISL. Krumpe's goal in the 32nd minute cut that deficit to one goal. His goal in the 58th minute tied the aggregate at 2-2. And Gabarra's goal in the 73rd minute, on a shot from the edge of the penalty area, gave the United States a 3-2 aggregate victory and put it on the route back to respectability. The Americans did qualify for those Olympics, and American soccer has been on an upward path for much of the time since. Gabarra's goal isn't as famous as Paul Caligiuri's goal two-and-a-half years later against Trinidad, but it had a similarly huge effect on the future of American soccer, as did Krumpe's goals.

For the record, Krumpe and Gabarra weren't the only people on the field that day in Missouri (you probably guessed that). The others who played for the United States that day were David Vanole, Mike Windischmann, Steve Trittschuh, John Doyle, John Harkes, Brian Bliss, Bruce Murray, Brent Goulet, Chico Borja and Eric Eichmann. Osiander continued to coach the U.S. through the rest of 1987 and '88, including the 1988 Olympics in Korea and the beginning of World Cup qualifying in 1988.