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The Best Goals, From Free Kicks to Own Goals, in United States World Cup History

Clint Mathis of the USA celebrates scoring the opening goal

Did you know the United States has scored 32 goals in its World Cup history? Since it’s Memorial Day weekend, it sounded like a good idea to make a 100 percent arbitrary list of the most significant of those goals.

Best U.S. World Cup Goal Emeritus: Joe Gaetjens vs. England 1950

Clear footage of this oft-talked about goal in Belo Horizonte doesn’t even seem to exist. All we know is Haitian-born Joe Gaetjens scored, perhaps, the flukiest goal in World Cup history. Without question, it’s one of the most significant goals in the annals of American soccer history. How much it truly mattered is always hard to gauge since nobody in 1950 America even knew it happened at the time given the sport’s status.

Gaetjens later disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1964 in Haiti, and his death attributed to the Duvalier regime.

Best U.S. World Cup Own Goal (American version): Jeff Agoos vs. Portugal, 2002

Agoos, a trusted gamer under Bruce Arena, helped usher America from the debacle that was the 1998 World Cup and into the new century. Legend tells it he burned his uniform after Steve Sampson left him off the 1998 roster in favor of David Regis. In his first World Cup game, Agoos made up for lost time with this spectacularly tragic own goal vs. Portugal, however the Americans held on 3-2.

Best U.S. World Cup Free Kick: Eric Wynalda vs. Switzerland, 1994

The denim kits. The Silverdome. Tony Meola’s ponytail. … This goal has a lot going for it and perfectly encapsulates mid-90s American soccer. If only the person who uploaded it used a song from Alice in Chains’ Jar of Flies album as backing music …

Best U.S. Headed Goal: Brian McBride vs. Portugal, 2002

I’ve never liked the expression, “Is this real life?” however when this goal happened, around 2:30 a.m. to put the U.S. ahead 3-0 against Portugal’s ‘Golden Generation’ I looked across the living room, bleary eyed at my father, and both our expressions said the same thing: is this really happening?

Best U.S. World Cup Goal Nobody Talks About: Clint Mathis vs. Republic of Korea, 2002

Long story short, the U.S. doesn’t advance to the quarterfinals if not for this 24th-minute goal Mathis in an eventual 1-1 draw with South Korea. In fact, people would probably still be bitching about the 4-1 smackdown Poland handed the team a few days later. Who knows what would have happened to soccer in America is 1998 was followed by a quick three-and-out in Korea/Japan four years later? Jack Edward’s emphatic “That’s why he’s here,” still makes you smile. Well, it makes me smile, at least.

Best-Worst U.S. World Cup Goal That Wasn’t Allowed: Eddie Lewis vs. Germany, 2002.

Kaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhn. It’s still hard to re-watch the non-call on Torsten Frings’ clear handball on the line in the 2002 quarterfinals. Life isn’t fair, kids.

Best U.S. World Cup Goal to Chumpatize England in the 21st Century: Clint Dempsey vs. England, 2010

Robert Green, you had one job …

Best U.S. World Cup Goal by Landon Donovan in 2010: Landon Donovan vs. Slovenia, 2010

Donovan’s goal vs. Algeria is the one we remember, but this one vs. Slovenia — from that insane angle — is basically an eff you moment, blasting it by Samir Handanović. If anyone still refers to Donovan as “Landycakes” after this goal, they need their head examined.

USA V COLOMBIA

Best U.S. World Cup Team Goal: Earnie Stewart vs. Colombia, 1994.

Dooley … Wynalda … Ramos … Stewart. … Forget the acid wash, these guys could play.

Best U.S. World Cup Goal to Spur False Hope: Clint Dempsey vs. Ghana, 2006

Sitting in the stands in Nuremberg that day, American fans (myself included) actually felt hope when Dempsey scored to make it 1-1. Alas … like most moments in U.S. soccer history, it was a false hope. German referee Markus Merk ensured that later with a dreadful penalty call on Oguchi Onyewu right before halftime, four minutes after Dempsey’s tally.

Most Tragic U.S. World Cup Goal: Andres Escobar, Colombia 1994

Everyone in America cheered at Escobar’s mistake — which helped the U.S. advance to the knockout rounds. Who knew at the time that Escobar’s slip-up would eventually cost him his life  at the hands of a drug cartel?

Best U.S. World Cup Goal Called by Ian Darke: Landon Donovan vs. Algeria, 2010

Gold Goal USA! (Never forget how much Tim Howard’s long throw meant to this seminal moment in U.S. Soccer history.)

Bonus track:

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