The United States drew the "Group of Death" for their march across Brazil - an intimidating trio of Ghana, Portugal and finally Germany. They passed the first test in heart-stopping fashion, finally getting revenge over Ghana with a 2-1 win. The victory marked only the fifth World Cup win for the United States in the last 64 years.
The good news is we're hear to relive one of those wins against Portugal. What better way to prepare your blood pressure for Sunday's incredibly important match.
June 5th, 2002 in Suwon, South Korea - USA 3 : 2 Portugal
The United States had been swept out of the 1998 World Cup in France. If the disappointment had dampened the interest of the marginal US Soccer fan, then the 2002 World Cup in Korea was about to drown them out. The time difference between the US and the World Cup in South Korea and Japan was between 13 and 17 hours. To watch the US play fans had to set alarm clocks to wake themselves in the wee small hours of the morning. But those that watched the opening match against Portugal with bleary eyes witnessed one of the great wins in their lifetime.
Portugal was considered among the teams with a legitimate chance of winning the World Cup and USA was coming off five straight World Cup losses. Prior to the game goalkeeper Brad Friedel said "I don't see any similarities whatsoever from the ‘98 team. We may have had, from top to bottom, a little bit better players individually in '98, but team wise it's not even close." Friedel's statement was a testament to the importance of team chemistry and foreshadowed a very different story for this 2002 team. But even Friedel couldn't have predicted what happened in Suwon.
The US played perhaps their best 36 minutes in World Cup history to start the match. They shocked Portugal scoring three times. The key to the barrage was forward Brian McBride. His blast from a corner kick in the 4th minute was batted by the goalie to the left foot of John O'Brien, who placed it easily in the net. The 2nd goal was an own goal that ricocheted off the foot of Landon Donovan, who was making his first World Cup appearance. What turned out to be the winning goal came in the form of an airborne and prone header from McBride who squarely landed a picture perfect cross from defender Tony Sanneh. The US was improbably up 3-0 just over a third of the way through the match.
Three minutes later the USA would concede a goal off a corner kick and doubt about whether the US could hold on began to creep in. A horribly failed clearance by Jeff Agoos gave back the own goal in the 71st minute, making it 3-2. The pressure mounted as the USA stared at 20 long minutes to fend off an improbable Portuguese comeback. But it was the USA's night, and Portugal would not get another clear chance to score. It was a game that most American's only heard about on the morning news but it woke a nation that had only witnessed one World Cup win since 1950.
The magical run would continue. The US drew the host South Korea in the next match 1-1 and that point would prove to be crucial. The US would fall to winless Poland in their third match 3-1, but advanced when Portugal lost to South Korea.
The United State drew familiar foe Mexico in the round of 16 and easily dispatched of their neighbor 2-0. That set up a gigantic rematch with world power Germany. Could they match their heroics against Portugal and knock off another Goliath?
Part 3 of the series will relive this Germany match as well as the time the United States met Jurgen Klinsmann.
I can't tell you how excited I am to see if the United States can repeat this effort against Portugal!