The U.S. Soccer team's surprising run at the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup is over. But the 1-0 loss to Germany in the quarter-finals Friday night in Ulsan, South Korea, shows the team has made great progress in the last several years.
In 1998, at the World Cup in France, the U.S. Soccer team was embarrassed, finishing dead last in the 32-team field, and scoring only one goal.
In South Korea, at the 2002 World Cup, the Americans tripled that goal total in the first half of their very first game, and they did it against a Portugal team ranked fifth in the world. They went on to win that match, 3-2, then tied the Koreans, 1-1. The four points earned were enough to get them into the second round, despite losing 3-1 to Poland in their last group match.
In the second round, the U.S. team faced arch rival Mexico, and scored a 2-0 shutout win to make it to the quarter-finals. That earned the Americans a match against three-time champion Germany, where they were impressive in a tough 1-0 loss.
After that match in Ulsan, U.S. Soccer Federation President Dr. Robert Contiguglia said the American team's performance against Germany should be commended, and this World Cup effort has to be considered successful.
"We came here with certain expectations and goals and that was to get out of the first round, and we clearly did that, and we surpassed what we expected. And, I think, tonight showed clearly that we can play with the best in the world," he said. "It was fun to listen to the press say that we were the better team. And, actually, the German president, my equal, said, 'without our goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn, you would have won 2-0.' So I'm really pleased there. And as far as what it does for American soccer, I think it gives us incredible credibility, which has been waxing since '98, so I think that monkey is clearly off of our backs. And now we start preparing for the next World Cup."
A player almost certain to be in the future plans is midfielder Landon Donovan. He was one of the two 20-year-olds on the U.S. team, and proved to be one of the best players. He was disappointed he did not convert at least one of his scoring chances against Germany, but he was pleased with the team's effort.
"I thought we did well, to be honest. It wasn't like we could have done this better, or we could have played better. It's good experience for everyone, and that's probably the biggest thing we'll take with us. But, I thought everybody on our team showed that they belong on the field as any of those guys," Mr. Donovan said.
That was a sentiment echoed by U.S. coach Bruce Arena. "I think we've made progress over the last four years," he said. "We've beaten a lot of big countries. We've beaten teams from every continent over the last four years. So we're beginning to improve the quality of our team. But we'll never get any respect, and that's part of what motivates our players, we'll never get respect in England and in Germany, until we beat them. And we need to beat these teams on a consistent basis, and we're not there yet. We'll get there."
Still, Coach Bruce Arena was headed home knowing his side performed better than any other U.S. Soccer team at a World Cup in 72 years.