Most of the biggest soccer victories in United States men’s national team history have taken place on a worldwide stage. Fans remember the World Cup wins against Portugal and Mexico and Confederations Cup wins against Germany and Spain.
The most amazing of all, though, might have been one in the CONCACAF Gold Cup on a rainy February night in 1998. As the Gold Cup begins this week, it’s worth remembering one of the most surprising scorelines in U.S. soccer history.
United States 1, Brazil 0.
The Gold Cup was a little different in 1998. Among other things, it took place in the winter, not the summer. Despite that, a full-strength American team was in Los Angeles for the game, as well as many of Brazil’s best, including Romário, who had won the Golden Ball (best player) award at World Cup ’94.
Up against them was the USA, whose secret weapon was Kasey Keller in goal. Even then, Keller — balding, but refusing to accept it — looked more like an accountant than a world-class athlete. In reality, though, he was a seasoned pro, having played six years in the English top division. He flew in from Leicester City just hours before the match, fighting off jet lag for the USA’s semifinal matchup.
It’s hard to overstate how bad the United States has been against Brazil. Going into the match the Americans had lost all seven matches between the two sides. It had been 68 years since they had so much as scored a goal. They have amassed 10 more losses since.
Even playing at home on Feb. 10, in bad weather, the USA wasn’t hoping for much.
“In the back of my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Just don’t take a number. Just don’t get hammered 4-0 or 5-0,’ ” Keller said years later.
As the game progressed, it became more clear that it was Keller against the world. Throughout the first half, Romário repeatedly strolled past the United States defense. Somehow, there was Keller to make the save, each and every time. After the fourth or fifth stunning save, the Brazilian striker couldn’t help himself; he waited for Keller to rise so that he could shake his hand.
After the game, Romário said, “That was the greatest performance by a goalkeeper I have ever seen.”
The second half wasn’t much different, with Keller again saving the Americans several times. On the other end, the USA converted its one chance. Preki, with basically his first touch of the match after coming on as a substitute, curled a 25-yard shot past the Brazilian keeper. The USA defense — mostly Keller, repeatedly denying Romário — held Brazil scoreless for the final 30 minutes to clinch the 1-0 victory.
The USA lost the final of the Gold Cup that year, to Mexico. It didn’t matter; the Americans had partied enough after the Brazil win. Even now, it’s a victory to be remembered — and celebrated.
• The USA Cup youth soccer tournament begins this week at the National Sports Center in Blaine, and while it’s still the largest soccer tournament in the Western Hemisphere, the team numbers came up just short of a record. This year’s event has 1,168 youth teams — 10 fewer than last year — representing 15 countries and 17 U.S. states.
• MLS named its starting XI for next month’s all-star game against Real Madrid, after a month of fan voting. The team is heavy on big-name designated players. Defender Greg Garza, from Atlanta United, is the only starter who doesn’t fall into that group. Chicago coach Veljko Paunovic will select 11 reserves and MLS Commissioner Don Garber will add two other picks.
• Dom Dwyer’s goal against Ghana for the USA, his first for his adopted country, made him and Sydney Leroux the answer to a trivia question: Who is the only married couple in which both husband and wife have scored for the USA? Dwyer and Leroux are the fourth couple to represent both national sides.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
NWSL: Orlando at Washington, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Lifetime. Last week Alex Morgan made her 2017 debut for Orlando, but it didn’t help the Pride against Chicago. Orlando’s 1-0 loss dropped it to sixth in the league, the same distance from last-place Washington as it is from a playoff spot. The Pride needs a victory, and soon.
Gold Cup: USA vs. Panama, 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Ch. 9. The USA has played 34 games in the group stage at the Gold Cup, winning 30 of those and drawing three. The lone loss came against — you guessed it — Panama, in 2011. The USA got revenge that year in the knockout rounds, but it was a reminder that the Americans can’t take anything for granted.
NASL: San Francisco at Miami, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, beIN. The North American Soccer League doesn’t have a playoff for the spring season title, but its two best teams — Miami FC and the expansion San Francisco Deltas – are playing a de facto playoff over the next two weeks. Miami leads by four points. Can it hold off San Francisco at home?
Gold Cup: Curacao vs. Jamaica, 6 p.m. Sunday, FS1. Since the Netherlands Antilles broke up in 2010, Curacao has had to go it alone. Things haven’t gone that badly, and earlier this year, Curacao defeated Jamaica in the Caribbean Cup final. This is Jamaica’s chance to get revenge, and reclaim Caribbean supremacy.