Saturday’s CONCACAF Cup showdown between the U.S. and Mexico at the Rose Bowl is the soccer game of the year in Southern California, and represents an opportunity for another iconic moment in the history of soccer in the region. We won’t know if it will be one of the best ever games until it’s played, of course, but to put it into some context, here are the Top 5 games to take place at the Rose Bowl.
5. 2011 Gold Cup final (Mexico 4, U.S. 2): The last time these countries’ senior teams faced off in Southern California, at the Rose Bowl, Mexico came out on top in the end. The U.S. took a 2-0 lead within 25 minutes thanks to Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan, but Mexico bounced back and scored four unanswered goals courtesy of Pablo Barrera (who had two), Andres Guardado and Giovani dos Santos. The final goal, scored by dos Santos, has become a YouTube favorite (or nightmare, perhaps, for USMNT fans and Tim Howard) as Mexico won that edition of the Gold Cup.
4. 1984 Olympics final (France 2, Brazil 0): The 1984 Olympics, hosted in Los Angeles, are considered one of the most successful Olympic games ever and one of the seminal moments in American sports history. On the soccer side, the Olympic tournament (which was only a men’s event at that point) was very successful, and very likely paved the way not only for the U.S. to host the 1994 World Cup but also for the eventual formation of Major League Soccer. The final, held at the Rose Bowl, featured France against Brazil, with a French team largely devoid of household names winning 2-0. The game set an American record for attendance at a soccer game that stood for 30 years, with a crowd of 101,799. That a largely American crowd would turn up in such numbers for soccer games in an era when it was unclear if soccer could really “make it” in America gave a resounding answer that yes, it could.
3. 1994 World Cup final (Brazil 0(3), Italy 0 (2)): Another capper on another successful tournament, Brazil’s penalty shootout victory over Italy was not a display of high-scoring soccer that many were hoping for, but the iconic moment of Italy star Roberto Baggio blasting his penalty kick in the shootout over the goal has not been forgotten. Both teams were star-studded, and ultimately a player from each side, Branco and Roberto Donadoni, played in MLS, ironically both for the MetroStars.
2. 1994 World Cup (U.S. 2, Colombia 1): It may seem strange to pick a group stage game over a final in importance, but the USMNT’s win over Colombia is one of the most important in American soccer history and was also a turning point in Colombian soccer. For the Americans, getting their first World Cup win in the modern era, on home soil, was the validation needed to justify hosting the World Cup and working so hard to bring the national team up to international level. It also helped the U.S. qualify for the knockout stage and made several of the 1994 World Cup players household names. For Colombia, it effectively ended the hype that the talented squad could win the World Cup, likely contributed to the murder of captain Andres Escobar, who turned in an own goal in the match, and marked the end of the era when drug money helped fuel the rise of soccer in the country, as so expertly covered in the documentary “The Two Escobars.”
1. 1999 Women’s World Cup final (U.S. 0(5), China 0(4)): If men’s soccer has dominated the local history, at least in the big games, the biggest game of all came in women’s soccer. The U.S. hosted the 1999 World Cup, looking to win their second World Cup, and on a blistering day, captured Americans’ attention by outlasting China in the final, taking the game to extra time and penalties, before winning in the shootout on home soil. Brandi Chastain’s iconic celebration after kicking the clinching penalty is one of the most famous sports celebrations, and much like the men’s 1994 World Cup team, many of the “99ers” became household names. Perhaps even more than the men of their generation, the women who won the World Cup were also pioneers helping to make female participation in team sports normal and common for a new generation.