When the draw for the 2006 World Cup was held in December 2005, the United States was hoping to avoid some of the better teams in the tournament. Fresh off a quarterfinal appearance in 2002 and ranked in the top 10 in the world, the USMNT had eyes on doing better under then-coach Bruce Arena. Some of the stars from 2002 were on their last legs with the national team, while its younger stars were beginning to form the core of the future of the squad. They were looking to head to Germany to show that their performance from 4 years prior was not just a flash in the pan.
FIFA had other plans for the USMNT, drawing them into a group with the Czech Republic, Italy, and Ghana. Entering the tournament, the Czechs were ranked #2 in the world, the USMNT #5, Italy was at #13, and Ghana was #48. It created a “Group of Death,” one where only a maximum of 2 of the top 10 teams in the world would advance to the knockout stage.
The USMNT dug themselves into a deep hole in their first match, losing 3-0 to the Czech Republic. That created a situation where the team needed to respond with an improved performance, and hopefully a victory, against Italy. They would meet on June 17, 2006 in Kaiserslautern, Germany, where scores of Americans resided due to a military base that is located there. This was the moment the USMNT desired, but they were going against a tough team in the Azzurri.
The USMNT came out on the attack, hoping to keep Italy on their toes and grab an early goal. However, it was the Italians who struck first. In the 22nd minute, Alberto Gilardino was able to get his head on the ball off a set piece and put it in the far net to make it 1-0 Italy. Still, the Americans pressed and were able to put enough pressure to force an own goal in the 27th minute. Off a corner kick, Christian Zaccardo tried to clear the ball, but he shanked it into his own net.
The turning point of the match, and what makes it memorable, came just a minute later. Rising for a header in the midfield, Brian McBride was elbowed in the left eye by Daniele De Rossi, causing blood to pour down his face. De Rossi was shown a straight red, and the Italians were down a man. The image of McBride walking off with his bloody face is one of the lasting images in U.S. Soccer history, representing the grit that our soccer was defined on during those times.
The man advantage continued for the Americans until just before halftime, when Pablo Maestroeni lunged at Andrea Pirlo with a terrible challenge. He was shown a straight red, and it was 10-on-10 soccer at that point.
Early in the 2nd half, it would be the USMNT that would have a man deficit, as Eddie Pope picked up a 2nd yellow in the 47th minute, earning him a dismissal. The Americans were now playing 9-on-10 and needed to re-organize to salvage a crucial point. Switching to a 3-3-2 formation, the USMNT did just that. Italy had 3 more shots on goal the rest of the way, all saved by goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
It was a 1-1 draw for the USMNT and Italy, but the clear winner in the hearts and minds of soccer fans was the Americans. Despite the red cards, they employed the grit, determination, and “never say die” attitude that would come to define the USMNT’s play for years. The USMNT would go on to end their 2006 World Cup with a loss to Ghana, but the lasting moment from this World Cup will be McBride’s bloody face, and this draw is one that people still reflect on today.