RJ DEMELLO - Thursday, June 5, 2014
Rising up again all odds, the U.S. team defeated Portugal in its opening game of the 2002 World Cup.
The 2002 World Cup for the United States started with an extremely tough test in European power Portugal. Fernando Couto, Luis Figo, and the rest of the Portuguese team were ranked in the top 10 and heavily favored going into the game in Suwon, South Korea.
John O'Brien got the USA on the board early, and after a Portuguese own goal Brian McBride made it 3-0 in just the 36th minute. Portugal responded quickly with a goal by Beto in the 39th minute. A Jeff Agoos own goal lead to a nervy final 20 minutes for the Americans, but in the end the team managed to pull off the unlikely upset.
It's time to take a look at who stuck out for the United States on the 5th of June some 12 years ago.
Brad Friedel - 7.5 - Glancing at the final score one may think that Friedel had a rough day at the office. The fact is neither goal was remotely his fault, especially the Agoos own goal in the second half. He commanded his box and came up big when he needed to. The prime example being in the 62nd minute when in a 30 second span Friedel punched a ball to safety and then, as Portugal came back up the field, rushed off his line to smother the ball before the onrushing Sergio Conceicao.
[b]Tony Sanneh - 7.5 - Sanneh had the simple task of marking one of, if not the best, players in the world, Luis Figo. The FC Nuremberg man shut down his side of the field, forcing Figo to float all over looking for the ball. Not only that, the Right Back got forward extremely well. Sanneh forced the turnover that fell to Donovan, the youngsters attempted cross then deflected in off of a Portuguese defender for the second goal. To top it off Sanneh played in the inch perfect cross to McBride for the third goal.
Eddie Pope - 7 - Was the rock in the center of the United States defense that frustrated Portugal all game. Pope was at the right place at the right time constantly and did well to consistently clear the ball from danger. He was not at fault on either of the Portuguese goals and was unlucky to cramp up and leave the game in the 80th minute.
Jeff Agoos - 5 - Would have been the scapegoat if Portugal managed to come by to tie the game but in the end the team was not punished by his own goal in the 71st minute. Agoos battled well and had a huge clearance late in the first half to keep it 3-1 at the break.
Frankie Hejduk - 6.5 - Hejduk won the job over David Regis and did not look back when he stepped on the field in Suwon. The Portuguese attacked down his side early and often, with the left back consistently standing his ground. He did give away the ball a bit going forward which hurt the USA as the team was constantly under pressure.
[b]Earnie Stewart - 6 - The captain on the day showed well throughout the first half. Stewart's delivery off of a corner kick early led to John O'Brien's opening goal. Another dead ball play saw his shot almost lead to an Eddie Pope goal off the rebound. Unfortunately, Stewart had to depart at the half due to a groin injury.
Pablo Mastroeni - 6 - Mastroeni was forced into the starting lineup as a result of an injury to Claudio Reyna. The Colorado Rapid started off shaky with two giveaways and a bad foul in a five minute span early in the first half. From there Mastroeni settled down and did his job pestering the Portuguese attackers in front of his defense. He also played the ball into Landon Donovan that started the attacking move on the USA's third goal.
John O'Brien - 7 - He was on the board with the crucial opener just four minutes into the game. O'Brien put in solid defensive work for 90 minutes and helped alleviate pressure at times with his on the ball skill. Perhaps the one hiccup of his game came when his poorly attempted clearance off a corner was put in the back of the net by Beto to make the score 3-1.
DaMarcus Beasley - 6.5 - Beasley's performance was all about putting in the work on both sides of the ball for 90 minutes. He tirelessly tracked back to help Hejduk in defense time and time again, while continuing to be dangerous going forward throughout the game. He drew fouls, took the ball to the corner, and threatened with his speed throughout. The only negatives to his game were a few giveaways in dangerous areas over the course of the match.
Landon Donovan - 7 - Was very active with McBride up top, especially early in the match. His attempted cross deflected off a Portuguese defender and into the net in the 29th minute, putting the United States up 2-0. His quality play continued, playing the ball down the line to Sanneh before the Right Back crossed in to McBride for the third goal. He was replaced in the 75th minute for the fresh legs of Joe-Max Moore.
Brian McBride - 8 - Man of the Match - To say McBride was a handful for the Portuguese defense would be an understatement. For 90 minutes he battled with Couto, and most of the time he won. McBride won the header that was saved into the path of O'Brien for the opening goal. He then made a great fake to the near post and floated to the far post to head home Sanneh's cross for the eventual game winning goal. Perhaps more importantly was his hold up play and consistent ability to win headers as the match went on. Without McBride's effort up top, the US takes zero points from this game.
Cobi Jones - 6.5 - A great 45 minutes from Jones who replaced the injured Stewart at the half. The LA Galaxy midfielder showed his veteran qualities when they were needed most, calming the team down and taking the ball to the corner as the game wound down. That coupled with his defensive work and Jones provided just what the Americans needed in to survive the game and take the three points.
Joe-Max Moore - 5.5 - In his 15 minutes Moore saw little of the ball as the US was in full bunker mode. He put in the work on defense that the team needed from his fresh legs. The best example being in the 86th minute when two US players were beat, it was Moore who tracked back to stop the Portuguese attack in its tracks.
Carlos Llamosa - 5.5 - Forced to come on for the last 10 minutes due to Eddie Pope cramping up, Llamosa did his job. He helped the defense preserve the one goal lead and see out the unlikely victory.
McBride was the difference maker while Agoos was unfortunate to direct the ball in his own net and to make the US sweat for the final 20 minutes. At the end of the day, this group of guys banded together and managed a win no one thought was possible.