Has USA men's soccer team ever made World Cup quarterfinals? Revisiting last time USMNT made it to the final eight

Has USA men's soccer team ever made World Cup quarterfinals? Revisiting last time USMNT made it to the final eight

Back to the future?

The U.S. men’s national team has tended to be more bridesmaid than bride in international competition over the years. Despite reaching the knockout stage in three of their last four World Cups, the Yanks haven’t quite been able to break through the glass ceiling, falling short of the quarterfinals time and time again.

There have been close calls, for what it’s worth — in each of the U.S.’s last two forays into the competition, they were felled by extra time goals in the Round of 16. Still, for an American team hoping to cement its status as one of the better teams in world football, a deep run in the tournament is vital.

The Yanks aren’t too used to international success, admittedly. But they’re not completely unfamiliar with it, either. Because for all their foibles on the world stage, they have found a few moments of bliss in their sordid history.

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With that, here’s what you need to know about the U.S.’s history in the World Cup quarterfinals.

Has USA men’s soccer team ever made World Cup quarterfinals?

Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. men’s national team has, in fact, made it a World Cup quarterfinals. In fact, it has done so twice.

The Americans’ first trip to the competition, the inaugural World Cup in 1930, was their most fruitful. Led by Bert Patenaude (who scored the tournament’s first-ever hat-trick against Paraguay), Jimmy Douglas and captain Tom Florie, the Stars and Stripes made it all the way to the semifinals before bowing out to Argentina.

That version of the competition featured just 13 teams, though. If you want a more recent evidence of sustained Stars and Stripes success, you’ll have to peer 72 years into the future.

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USA at 2002 World Cup

Ah, 2002. The year of “Spider-Man”, “Lord of the Rings” and Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles.”

All in all, it was a rather memorable 12 months. And that bore out on the pitch, too.

Led by a brash young forward with a lush bit of hair, the Yanks made that year’s World Cup in Japan and South Korea their best showing in the modern era. Here’s how they did it:

USA 3, Portugal 2

The U.S. got its World Cup campaign off to a fiery start in ’02, defeating the Selecao in a 3-2 goalfest.

The Portuguese, led by 2000 Ballon d’Or winner Luis Figo, were a formidable bunch, nabbing a spot in the 2000 European Championship semifinals.

Still, the Americans outclassed their Portuguese counterparts on the day, with John O’Brien and Brian McBride finding the back of the net. A Jorge Costa own goal made the difference on the day as the ruthless Americans got their first World Cup win since the 1994 competition on their own soil.

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USA 1, South Korea 1

Tasked with meeting co-hosts South Korea in the next round, the Red, White and Blue had their work cut out for them. The South Koreans blew past Poland with ease in their opening match. Still, the U.S. showed off its confidence when Clint Mathis netted in the 24th minute.

South Korea upped the ante in the second half and eventually the equalizer. Still, it was a competent display by an American team that put itself in position to make it out the group.

Poland 2, USA 0

Poland, a side that looked rather uninspired in its opening two matches, proceeded to take the Americans to the sword, bagging two goals to walk out as worthy winners. With that loss, it seemed likely that the U.S. would be bounced from the tournament, especially given Portugal’s standout display the previous game against Poland.

That didn’t happen, though. Because South Korea outlasted the Selecao, picking up its second win of the tournament. As a result, Portugal finished with three points to the U.S.’s four. Talk about fine margins.

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Round of 16: USA 2, Mexico 0

Things didn’t get any easier for the Americans, who were matched up with CONCACAF rivals Mexico in the Round of 16. It was a game that sparked the legendary “dos a cero” phrase and chant, with the Yanks walking out as 2-0 winners. A fresh-faced 20-year-old  netted the goal that put El Tri away. His name? Landon Donovan.

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Quarterfinals: Germany 1, USA 0

The U.S.’s World Cup dream would come crashing down against Germany in the quarters. A Michael Ballack header knocked the Yanks out of the World Cup.

Despite the defeat, the Stars and Stripes made a rather strong account of themselves. Donovan was superb, skipping past the German backline with ease. On another day, the U.S. would’ve put a couple past legendary ‘keeper Oliver Kahn.

Nonetheless, it represents the Americans’ best showing in a modern-day World Cup.

Landon Donovan at 2002 World Cup

The U.S. had a number of standout players in its 2002 squad. McBride bagged two goals during the tournament. Mathis was the creative force that manager Bruce Arena yearned for on the flanks. Captain Claudio Reyna offered composure and tactical flexibility in the middle of the park.

But no player stood out more in the American effort than Donovan. It wasn’t just his goals — he only found the net one time in the tournament. But he raised hell on the ball, jinking past players with ease. For his exploits, he was awarded the tournament’s Best Young Player Award, joining Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Michael Owen, among others, as players to claim the hardware.

Other players who have since received the honor include Thomas Muller, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe. Now that’s exclusive company.