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The U.S. National Team will close out 2012 with a Wednesday, November 14, friendly against Russia at Kuban Stadium in Krasnodar.
The Russians, No. 9 in the current FIFA World Rankings, are coming off a frustrating first-round exit at this year’s European Championship, while the Americans, ranked 27th, are 9-2-2 in 2012 and a tie away from posting their best single-year record in their history. [November 12]
Comment: This could be a useful exercise for both sides. Russia, led by the Zenit Saint Petersburg trio of Victor Faizulin, Roman Shirokov and Aleksandr Kerzhakov, leads European Group “F” in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup and has gone 4-0-0–all by shutout–under coach Fabio Capello, who last faced the U.S. at the 2010 World Cup as England boss. As for the U.S., coach Juergen Klinsmann will use the opportunity to tinker yet again before his side begins the final round of CONCACAF qualifiers for Brasil ’14 in February.
But this game will hardly go down as historic. The Cold War is a distant memory, and the two countries now keep one another at arm’s length, a frozen smile on their faces. There have been meetings, but nothing of consequence:
o February 3, 1979, U.S. 1, USSR 3, in Seattle
o February 11, 1979, U.S. 1, USSR 4, in San Francisco
o February 24, 1990, U.S. 1, USSR 3, in Palo Alto, CA
o November 21, 1990, U.S. 0, USSR 0, in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
o January 25, 1992, U.S. 0, Commonwealth of Independent States 1, in Miami
o February 2, 1992, U.S. 2, Commonwealth of Independent States 1, in Detroit
o February 13, 1993, U.S. 0, Russia 1, in Orlando
o February 21, 1993, U.S. 0, Russia 0, in Palo Alto, CA
o January 29, 1994, U.S. 1, Russia 1, in Seattle
o April 26, 2000, Russia 2, U.S. 0, in Moscow
All friendlies, of course, with the Soviets/CIS’ers/Russians holding a solid 6-1-3 advantage. The only competitive match between the Eagle and Bear was played September 22, 1988, in Taegu during the Seoul Olympic Games. The U.S., featuring North American Soccer League old-timers Rick Davis and Kevin Crow and up-and-comers like Paul Caligiuri, Tab Ramos, John Harkes, Frank Klopas and Peter Vermes, had played Argentina and host South Korea to ties but needed at least a high-scoring draw against the Soviets to advance to the knockout round for the first time in its Olympic history. Despite goals by John Doyle and substitute Brent Goulet, the USA lost, 4-2.
There might have been a game of real significance, however–a real Cold War potboiler–had the stars not mis-aligned four years earlier.
In 1984, the U.S., as host, held an automatic berth in the Los Angeles Olympic soccer tournament. At the draw conducted that spring by FIFA at the plush Huntington Sheraton Hotel in Pasadena, CA–a stone’s throw from the Rose Bowl, site of the final–media members and guests gasped when it was revealed that the USA had been drawn into the same first-round group with the Soviet Union. Visions of a Miracle on Grass, a redux of the Americans’ titanic upset of the USSR in ice hockey at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY, immediately danced through many a head.
When the media questioned draw emcee Joseph Blatter, then general secretary of a FIFA even less transparent than the one he heads today as president, the shifty Swiss was characteristically oblique. The U.S. and USSR landing in the same group didn’t happen by sheer chance, he allowed. On occasion, said Blatter, FIFA will honor a host nation’s “request.”
In the end, the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that set up the American-Soviet clash were all for naught. On May 8, the Soviet Union, still smarting from the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games, announced that it was boycotting the Los Angeles Games. Thirteen other communist bloc nations followed suit, plus Iran and Libya. As for the ’84 soccer tournament, it meant that all three medalists from Moscow ’80–Czechoslovakia (gold medal), East Germany (silver) and USSR (bronze)–would be no-shows. They were replaced by three nations that fell short in Europe’s Olympic qualifiers: Italy, West Germany and Norway.
That summer, the U.S. thumped Costa Rica, 3-0, in its opener at Stanford Stadium, then lost to Italy, 1-0, at the Rose Bowl and missed the quarterfinals with a 1-1 tie with Egypt back at Stanford. It appeared to be a golden chance lost, because for this tournament FIFA had changed the rules to allow players, regardless of amateur/professional status, to take part if they hadn’t played in a World Cup for a European or South American country. Thus, this American team was loaded with NASL players, not raw amateurs. And the absence of a marquee match like U.S.-USSR allowed ABC, the Olympic broadcaster, to choose to limit its coverage of the 16-nation, 32-game tournament to all of five minutes.
The ’84 Olympic soccer tournament drew a record 1.4 spectators to lead all sports–track and field included–and enable the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee to turn a $40 million surplus. And that turnout prompted FIFA, four years later, to award the 1994 World Cup to the United States.
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