Down and out

A lot of what I've written about the U.S. men's national team in this series of posts on historical matters has had to do with high points, like events in 1991 and 1995. It's time to give a little attention to low points. The United States had a 40-year drought between World Cup appearances. It would be foolish to pretend that there were only four lows during that stretch, but these four World Cup qualifiers were particular disappointments: Canada 5, United States 1, Toronto, June 22, 1957--The United States had lost both of its games against Mexico, 6-0 and 7-2, and its hopes of advancing to the next round of World Cup qualifying were hanging by a thread going into this game. Still, you would expect that it might fare OK against an opponent that was playing its first full international in 30 years. Oops.

Haiti 1, United States 0, San Diego, May 11, 1969--After being eliminated in qualifying for the 1954 '58, '62 and '66 World Cups, the United States seemed to have a better chance of making the 1970 World Cup, because it didn't have the obstacle of Mexico, which was an automatic qualifier as host. The Americans looked pretty good under coach Phil Woosnam in winning a round-robin group against Canada and Bermuda in the fall of 1968. That advanced them to a home-and-home series in the spring of 1969 with Haiti, which hadn't even bothered to enter qualifying for the previous three World Cups. However, the U.S. team wasn't the same as it had been in the fall, after a winter of inactivity and the loss of Woosnam, who had been named executive director of the NASL. Goals by Joseph Obas and Guy St. Vil gave Haiti a 2-0 win in the first leg on April 20 in Port-au-Prince. Three weeks later in San Diego, the Americans attacked from the start as they tried to dig their way out of the two-goal hole, but the only goal that day was another by St. Vil.

Canada 3, United States 0, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Dec. 22, 1976--The American players had celebrated with a victory lap after beating Canada in a World Cup qualifier in Seattle in October 1976. It appeared that they had wrapped up second place in a group against Mexico and Canada from which two teams were to advance to the final CONCACAF group. But Canada gained an unexpected draw in Mexico a week later, tying the United states in the final standings and forcing a playoff. The United States dominated that playoff, two months later in Haiti, everywhere but the scoreboard. Canada's defend-and-counterattack strategy paid off in the 21st minute when Brian Budd's shot deflected off a defender, a post and the crossbar before settling in the American net. The score stayed 1-0 until the final five minutes, when Bob Lenarduzzi and Bob Bolitho added two more Canadian goals. It must be said, however, that the United States' chances of earning a World Cup berth wouldn't have been good even if it had won that playoff. Only one CONCACAF team was to advance to the World Cup, and Mexico was the overwhelming favorite.

Costa Rica 1, United States 0, Torrance, Calif., May 31, 1985--The United States needed only a tie in its home game against Costa Rica, which it had tied in Costa Rica a week before, to advance to the CONCACAF qualifying finals against Honduras and Canada (Mexico again was an automatic qualifier as host of the World Cup). However, the Americans knew that a defeat would eliminate them for the ninth straight World Cup. That game, at a junior-college stadium, may have been the night when the USSF realized what a bad idea it was to play World Cup qualifiers against Latin American nations in Southern California. The United States controlled much of the action, but Costa Rica stunned it in the 35th minute. Jorge Cheves floated a free kick toward the far post, goalkeeper Arnie Mausser came off his line but couldn't reach it, and Evaristo Coronado headed it into the open net for a goal that held up the rest of the way. Coming just two months after the folding of the NASL, this defeat left the future of American soccer looking very bleak.