June 17, 2013
By Michael Lewis
Lessons learned from WCQ home losses
The last time the United States lost a home World Cup qualifier, 911 had only one connotation.
The time before that, the U.S. hadn't qualified for the World Cup since 1950.
I should know -- I covered those two games (and even still remember the exact dates):
* A 1-0 loss to Costa Rica at El Camino in Torrance, Calif. on May 31, 1985
* A 3-2 defeat to Honduras at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 1, 2001
The Americans haven't lost since.
On Tuesday, the USA will bring a 24-match home unbeaten streak (22-0-2) into its CONCACAF hexagonal confrontation with Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium in Costa Rica on Tuesday night.
Rest assured everyone, I will not be attending that match, but I will be watching on TV. But you can't blame a writer for those rare losses. They were against pretty decent teams, even if both those countries failed to reach their respective World Cups in 1986 and 2002.
So, what were the lessons learned from those devastating defeats?
Well, in 1986's case, there were plenty. First of all, there was no professional soccer league in the United States, so many players had to earn a living playing indoor soccer, which is the worst way to prepare for a grueling World Cup campaign.
Also, the U.S. entered that semifinal round qualifier undefeated, which included a 1-1 draw in Costa Rica (man, would the Americans love that type of result today).
And because there was no pro league and soccer was in such a sorry state, the U.S. Soccer Federation wound up marketing the game to the Costa Rican community. It's bad enough the USA team has had to face hostile grounds on American soil. It was made worse by having Costa Rican folk dancing at halftime at El Camino College that day.
Honest, I am not kidding.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. was eliminated, 1-0, exactly a year to the day that Mexico '86 was going to kick off.
In 2001, there are many lessons. First of all, do not, I will repeat, do not let TV dictate when kickoff has to be. The game kicked off at the ungodly hour of 10 a.m. ET because ESPN had a host of college football games to televise. Obviously, that early kick off did not help the Americans, even though the Hondurans had to play at that time as well.
And again, just because you beat a team on the road -- the U.S. had secured a 2-1 victory in Honduras in March 2001, its first win in Central America in 11 1/2 years, on an 11th-hour goal by former Red Bull Clint Mathis (the U.S. did not play all that well in that encounter, but did enough things well to secure the win).
And oh yes, while he did not get much credit that day or in the American media the next day because of all of the goals and Earnie Stewart's rollercoaster ride for the USA (heroics and wearing the goats horns), Amado Guevara pulled the strings at midfield for an inspired Honduran side.
Like it or not, sooner or later the unbeaten streak will be snapped. Heck, even Mexico has been struggling at Azteca Stadium. But given where the USA and Honduras stand entering Tuesday's match, it shouldn't happen.
Still, almost a dozen years later, hopefully those lessons have not been forgotten by a new generation of talented players.