KENYA BROWN - Wednesday, June 10, 2020
The United States national team received a rude welcome back to the World Cup as they were decimated by Czechoslovakia in their Group A opener in Florence, Italy.
Making a good start to the campaign may have been a very tall order to ask from the Americans, who are making their return to the tournament for the first time since 1950, but this ragtag group of players consisting of a mix of professionals and university players certainly wanted to give a shock to their central European foes.
Head coach Bob Gansler elected to go with an attack-minded 3-4-3 formation, with Eric Wynalda, Peter Vermes, and Bruce Murray leading the front line. John Harkes, Tab Ramos, John Stollmeyer, and Paul Caligiuri were given the start in the midfield. At the back, Desmond Armstrong, Steve Trittschuh, and U.S. captain Mike Windischmann would look to shut down any attacks from the Czechs. Between the post was Tony Meola, who Gansler has opted to be his number one since the World Cup qualifiers over David Vanole.
The U.S. put up a fight in the early stages of the first half, but the more experienced Czechoslovakia team would go on to draw first blood in the 25th minute when they launched an attack deep in their own half. Thomas Skuhravy would be on the spot to finish off the play as he slotted his shot past Meola.
The Czechs were given a chance to double their lead before halftime when the referee, Kurt Rothlisberger of Switzerland, pointed to the spot for a penalty. Trittschuh would be the guilty party for the infraction as he brought a player in the area. Michal Bilek took the penalty duties for the team and powered his spot-kick past the outstretched hand of Meola as the Americans found themselves in a deeper hole.
With all the momentum on the side of the Czechs, they continued to role as they added a third goal six minutes into the second interval. The captain, Ivan Hasek would head the ball into the back of the net at the near post from a corner kick.
Any chance of getting a result from this game was eliminated, and the day went from bad to worse for the U.S. side as Wynalda was sent off in the 52nd minute after lashing out at Lubomir Moravcik.
A silver lining in that dark cloud hanging over the U.S. would come at the hour mark when Caligiuri showed some fine individual flair to score the team's first World Cup goal since 1950. If his "shot heard around the world" goal back in November 1989 was impressive, then this one will certainly sit alongside it as the midfielder dribbled the ball into the area and sidestepped Czech goalkeeper Jan Stejskal to guide the ball home.
Despite that glimmer of brilliance, normal service resumed as the Czechs added a fourth goal in the 79th minute when Skuhravy won the air battle against Meola to head the ball in to score his second on the day.
The U.S. backline was out of steam and their opponents made them pay once again as they scored a fifth in stoppage time to round out the game. Milan Luhovy put the finishing touch on the play to give the Czechs full points.
A very rough outing for the U.S. and there will be no reprieve as they face the host, Italy, four days later in Rome.
The United States sits at the bottom of Group A without a point.