That U.S. squad went on to make history, shocking England, 1-0 at Brazil 1950.
The Red, White & Blue then spent 40 years in the qualifying desert, being eliminated by Mexico while going winless in 15 games (0-12-3) over eight cycles, including the 1949 tournament.
There were some small glimmers of hope with three home draws – all in Los Angeles.
Playing a home-and-away series to open 1962 qualifying, the USA overcame a 3-1 halftime deficit, using an 86th minute equalizer from Al Zerhusen to register a 3-3 draw before 10,000 fans at Wrigley Field, a baseball park in LA on Nov. 6, 1960. The USA was eliminated following a 3-0 loss in Mexico City a week later.
The USMNT also played Mexico to a 2-2 draw before 22,570 spectators at the LA Coliseum on March 7, 1965. After allowing a goal in the 34th minute, the hosts rallied behind Walt Schmotolocha (49th minute) and Helmut Bicek (59th minute). Mexico, however, knotted it up on Salvador Reyes’ penalty kick in the 65th minute. A 2-0 Mexico win five days later in Mexico City eliminated the United States from the competition.
Following a 1-1 draw at Canada to open 1978 qualification, the USA returned to the LA Coliseum and earned a gutsy 0-0 tie with Mexico. Just like in 1962 and 1966 qualification, a similar fate awaited the USMNT when it played in Mexico City, with El Trí earning a 3-0 decision. The USA rebounded with a 2-0 win of its own against Canada in the group finale, forcing a playoff with Les Rouges to see who would advance to the final round along with Mexico. The USA ultimately lost the one-match playoff, 3-0 to Canada in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Despite already being eliminated from qualification for the 1982 FIFA World Cup and with Mexico already through to the next round, another glimmer of hope came in 1980, when the USA registered its first win against El Trí since that 1934 triumph in Rome. Playing in front of a paltry, 2,126 fans at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, the USA utilized a brace from New York Cosmos striker Steve Moyers to earn a 2-1 win
No one realized it at the time, but it would be 15 years before these two neighbors met again in qualifying. The countries hosted FIFA World Cups (Mexico in 1986; USA in 1994) and Mexico was suspended from Italia ’90 for using an overage player in an Under-20 competition.
MODERN ERA: USA MAKES IT A RIVALRY
The odds of the USMNT beating its archrival by the same score – 2-0 – at the same venue (Historic Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio) four consecutive times are astronomical.
While those contests get many headlines, the winds of change started four years prior during 1998 qualifying.
The first encounter was a wild 2-2 deadlock at old Foxboro Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. on April 20, 1997. The tone of the match was set with the game 39 seconds old when defender Alexi Lalas sent a back pass to goalkeeper Kasey Keller into the six-yard box. Keller, not noticing that Mexican striker Carlos Hermosillo was lurking eight yards to his right, tried to clear the ball, which bounded off the Mexican’s head into the net. After Mexico grabbed a 2-1 lead, the U.S. was given a gift of its own in the 74th minute when Eric Wynalda’s cross from the left glanced off the head of USA midfielder Thomas Dooley to Mexico’s Nicolas Ramirez, who headed it into his own net.
A little more than half hour into the return leg at Estadio Azteca on Nov. 2, 1997, the USMNT faced a potential nightmare. Not only were they without four regulars, but the visitors were also forced to play a man down in the final 58 minutes after Jeff Agoos was red carded.