United States men’s national team fans will not fondly remember the 2010s. The results were a departure from the previous 20 years of upward trajectory, culminating in a failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, ending a streak of seven straight competitions. Despite the setbacks, there were several important moments worthy of a look back. It was a decade of big tournaments, the retirement of top players, and the emergence of new stars.
The USMNT scored over 250 goals in the past ten years. Here’s a list of five of the most important and a few more of note.
2010 World Cup - Landon Donovan - 91st minute vs. Algeria
In its final Group C match, Bob Bradley’s side was tied 0-0 heading into second half stoppage time and needed a win to advance into the knockout rounds. Tim Howard corralled a weak header from Algeria and started a counter attack with an inch-perfect throw to Landon Donovan. Donovan found Jozy Altidore, who centered to an onrushing Clint Dempsey. Dempsey’s shot was saved by Raïs M’Bolhi, but Donovan was there to calmly slot home the rebound. All the pressure that built over 90 minutes was released in an instant. Donovan lived up to his star billing and delivered on the world’s biggest stage.
The U.S. won the group and advanced to the knockout rounds (where they were eliminated by Ghana), but the goal took on a life of its own. Amid the buzz of the vuvuzelas and Ian Darke’s instant classic call of “Go, go USA,” supporters across the world celebrated. Videos of fans in bars were created and shared on every channel, providing the most support, attention, and optimism the team has ever experienced. Not only is this one of the important goals of the decade, outside of Brandi Chastain in 1999 and Paul Caligiuri in 1989, it’s possibly the most significant in the history of U.S. Soccer and is responsible for an uptick in the sport’s popularity with Americans.
2012 Friendly - Michael Orozco - 80th minute vs. Mexico
Since the rivalry with Mexico began in 1937, the USMNT has notched a single victory at the Estadio Azteca. It came in a 2012 friendly featuring a less-than-first-choice squad that broke “the aura of invincibility” via a Michael Orozco goal. In the 80th minute, Brek Shea slalomed into the box and found Terrence Boyd. The striker attempted a back heel, and the ball made its way to an opportunistic Orozco, who completed the sequence. Combined with a superlative effort from Tim Howard, the U.S. escaped Mexico City with a win for the first time. Despite the match being a “meaningless” friendly, the team celebrated and it was difficult to hold that against them.
In a largely forgettable decade, this match stands out and continues to generate discussion. “To this day, everybody talks about that goal – friends, family members, coaches, team-mates,” Orozco said in 2016. “They call me ‘El Historico.’” While it’s impossible to ascertain whether this friendly had any impact on future results, the U.S. did not lose either of its successive World Cup Qualifying matches at the Azteca.
2014 World Cup Qualifying - Eddie Johnson - 90th minute vs. Antigua and Barbuda
The U.S. was in bad shape during the third round of 2014 CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. Tied on points with two other countries, they would likely need a result against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala to advance to the Hexagonal. Jürgen Klinsmann made the somewhat controversial decision to drop striker Jozy Altidore due to what was considered below average international form; Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon were included in his place.
While the USMNT was expected to have an easier time with Antigua & Barbuda, they were tied at 1-1 deep into the second half at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. Klinsmann’s gamble paid off, with Gordon crossing the ball to Johnson, who headed in for his second goal. The U.S. closed out the match, won the following fixture against Guatemala to advance, and finished atop the Hex to secure a place in the World Cup. It was not the most glamorous performance, but disaster was averted, instilling confidence at a key moment in qualifying.
2014 World Cup - John Brooks - 86th minute vs. Ghana
For a very long time, it was not rivals Mexico that caused American fans to grimace. Bogeyman Ghana knocked the USMNT out of the 2006 and 2010 World Cups by 2-1 margins, in the final group stage match and Round of 16 extra time, respectively. For supporters, being placed in a seemingly insurmountable Group G with the Black Stars (along with Portugal and eventual champions Germany) aroused the worst feelings of déjà vu. For the players, there was “a little extra motivation,” but nothing matching the narrative intensity surrounding the match.
The U.S. opened its tournament against Ghana, with Clint Dempsey scoring in the first minute of the match. Jürgen Klinsmann’s side held the lead until the 82nd minute, when André Ayew leveled proceedings. Just when impending disappointment intruded, John Brooks created a yard of space and headed Graham Zusi’s corner into the net to secure three points. Following the match, the towering German-American center back claimed he dreamed scoring the game-winning goal.
The USMNT advanced based on goal differential, before ultimately losing to Belgium in the Round of 16. Despite the disappointing finish, the team escaped the Group of Death, largely because of Brooks’ effort. More importantly, the U.S. exorcised its World Cup demon, whether the players believed it in or not.
2016 Copa América - Clint Dempsey – 27th minute vs. Paraguay
The host nation USMNT was not expected to be a factor at 2016’s Copa América Centenario. They entered the third match of group play with one point and (although unknown at the time) would need a victory to advance to the knockout rounds. As he had done many times, Clint Dempsey stepped up and finished a perfect cross from Gyasi Zardes. Klinsmann’s side held on for the win, playing most of the second half with 10 players after DeAndre Yedlin was sent off with his second yellow card.
The USMNT won the group and earned a surprising fourth place finish. The results temporarily quieted criticism of Klinsmann and possibly extended his tenure as manager. There were hints of lineup consistency and a step up in quality heading into CONCACAF qualifying. However, the team could not continue this run of form, resulting in Klinsmann’s eventual firing and the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. In hindsight, Dempsey’s goal either delayed the inevitable or was a final glorious moment for a departing generation.
Other goals of note
2013 Gold Cup - Brek Shea - 69th minute vs. Panama
Even when Landon Donovan missed, he managed to make a major impact. Brek Shea found himself in a fortuitous position to pounce on Donovan’s misplayed shot and clinch a fifth Gold Cup for the USMNT.
2014 World Cup Qualifying - Landon Donovan - 78th minute vs. Mexico
Who could have known this would be Landon Donovan’s final goal for the national team? The co-all-time leading goal scorer closed out a Dos A Cero result against Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium in 2014 World Cup Qualifying.
2016 Friendly - Christian Pulisic - 69th minute vs. Bolivia
Christian Pulisic is already considered one of the most talented players in national team history. He began his senior international career at 17-years-old and scored his first goal in his third cap.
2017 Gold Cup - Clint Dempsey - 82nd minute vs. Costa Rica
This free kick tied Dempsey with Donovan as the all-time USMNT goal scorer and cemented a spot in the 2017 Gold Cup final. He finished his career with 57 international goals.
2017 Gold Cup - Jordan Morris - 88th minute vs. Jamaica
Jordan Morris pounced on a loose ball to break a 1-1 deadlock in the 88th minute and scored his third goal of the tournament. The USMNT clinched its sixth Gold Cup.
Are these the U.S. men’s national team’s five most important goals of the 2010s? What goal would you have included? Share it in the comment section.