The road to Germany for the US National Team started in Columbus Crew Stadium on June 13, 2004. The US defeated Grenada 3-0 that day with DeMarcus Beasley scoring twice and Kasey Keller earning the shutout to become the All-Time US leader with 38 wins. The US then went to Grenada and earned a 3-2 win on the strength of goals from Landon Donovan, Josh Wolff, and Beasley to move on to the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying for Germany 2006.
The US earned 3 wins and 3 draws in their six semifinal round qualifying matches. The highlight of the semifinal round was a match in RFK Stadium versus Panama where Donovan scored twice and Eddie Johnson netted a hat trick as the US won 6-0. That win clinched first place in Group 1 for the US and it was on to the final round of qualifying.
The US started the final round of qualifying on the road in the Port of Spain, Trinidad to take on the Soca Warriors. Eddie Johnson and Eddie Lewis staked the US to a 2-0 lead and things were looking good for the US. But, T&T scored in the 89th minute and the US had to hold on during stoppage time. But, the US was able to gain a vital three road points to start things off right.
Up next was the US's nemesis Mexico. And the match was again slated to be played in US Soccer's personal house of horrors, Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Mexico was able to get first half goals from Jared Borgetti and Antonio Naelson en route to a 2-1 win over the US. Three days later, the US returned home and got back on back on track with a 2-0 win over Guatemala in Birmingham, Alabama. The US kept the home winning streak going as the defeated Costa Rica 3-0 in Salt Lake City thanks to two goals from Landon Donovan and one from Brian McBride. Next, the US traveled to Panama City and defeated Panama by the same 3-0 score. The US ended the first half of the hexagonal stage with 9 points and a +6 goal differential.
The US opened up the second half of the final stage in East Hartford versus Trinidad & Tobago. Once again, T&T gave the US everything they could handle as the US were able to get on the board early thanks to a 2nd minute Brian McBride goal. But, that was all the scoring on the day as the US had to settle for a 1-0 home win.
Up next was Mexico and a battle for 1st place was to take place in Columbus Crew Stadium. At halftime, the match was still scoreless. But, the US took control of the match in the first 15 minutes of the second half as Steve Ralston scored in the 53rd minute and DeMarcus Beasley scored in the 58th minute. But, this match may be best known for the way that big central defender Oguchi Onyewu shut down Mexican forward Jared Borgetti and the stare that Gooch gave Borgetti during the second half. Making the victory even sweeter was that the US was able to celebrate the fact that they had clinched a trip to Germany with the win against their arch rivals.
The US put it on cruise control for the final three matches as they played Guatemala to a scoreless draw in Guatemala City, lost to Costa Rica 3-0 on the road in San Jose, Costa Rica, and finished things out with a 2-0 win over Panama in Foxboro thanks to goals from Kyle Martino and Taylor Twellman.
But, the past is merely prelude to today. US-Czech Republic live from Gelsenkirchen. It doesn't get any bigger than this.
Four years ago the US was able to get their World Cup started on the right foot by taking out Portugal 3-2 thanks in large part to a very hot start. The US can't expect the Czech Republic to overlook the US like many feel that Portugal did in the 2002 World Cup. But, one thing that the US does have going for it today is that they look to be the healthier of the two squads. The Czech Republic will likely be without striker Milan Baros who was the leading goal scorer at Euro 2004. Playmaking midfielder Pavel Nedved had been working through with a left knee injury and big striker Jan Koller is coming back from knee surgery.
The US has had a few injuries that they have had to deal with lately. The two biggest have been a slight hamstring strain that captain Claudio Reyna picked up in a US tune up match. The good news is that Reyna has been at full strength since the team has arrived in Germany and he looks to be 100% fit for the Czech Republic match. John O'Brien has been fighting all sorts of injuries over the past few years. lately, it has been an Achilles injury that has been an issue for the talented midfielder. It is unlikely that O'Brien would be fit enough to go a full 90 minutes for the US, but he could see some time for the US. Brian Ching also picked up a cut over his right eye that needed 13 stitches to close, but he will be available for the US today.
For a professional scouting report on the Czech's check out this podcast with US assistant coach Glenn Myernick: Mooch on the Czechs
My heart says that the US pulls another stunner and takes out the one of the best teams in the world in the Czech Republic. My head says that things won't go that well given the US's poor record in Europe versus European competition. And in the end, I'll split the difference and say that the game is tight and ends up being a 1-1 draw.
That being said, it's your duty as an American soccer fan to call in sick today and head on down to the Garage Door and root on Team USA. Unless you've thought ahead and taken vacation time like I have.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of the Rochester Rhinos or SoccerSam.com. Feel free to send any comments or complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org. James promises to read (but not to respond) to all of them.