EDITORIAL – For American soccer fans, 2021 was a roller-coaster. The U.S. national teams were at times a source of great joy and national pride, and other times the cause of utter heartbreak. We take a look back at a crazy year for US Soccer, month by month.
U.S. Soccer 2021 Recap – A Retrospective – Part 1
Orlando was the place to be in January, as both national teams contested their first friendlies at Exploria Stadium. The men demolished Trinidad and Tobago 7-0, while the women outscored Colombia 10-0 over two games (4-0 and 6-0). A morale-boosting month for the US.
It didn’t take long for the USWNT to get their hands on some silverware as they built on their January performances with a SheBelieves Cup triumph. Gritty wins over Canada (1-0) and Brazil (2-0) preceded a 6-0 thumping of Argentina. Three wins, three clean sheets, and a fourth title in the competition.
A strong men’s team traveled to Europe for a pair of friendlies. Though the US weren’t at their best, they went home with two wins – a comfortable 4-1 victory over Jamaica and a nail-biting 2-1 defeat of Northern Ireland. Sebastian Lletget was particularly impressive, scoring twice against the Jamaicans.
Meanwhile, a selection of u23 players went to Mexico for the Olympic Qualifying Championship. There was nothing to celebrate there, as the US lost 1-0 to bitter rivals Mexico in the group stage before exiting the competition in the semifinals following a 2-1 defeat to Honduras. The result meant the US men would not compete at the Tokyo Olympics. Jackson Yueill and Hassani Dotson scored two goals apiece in the tournament.
The men took a month off while the USWNT went on their own European tour. The world champions first paid a visit to Sweden, drawing 1-1 in a tight match. Megan Rapinoe’s late spot-kick kept the visitors undefeated in 2021. Three days later, the US got back to winning ways with two goals in the first 20 minutes sealing a 2-0 victory over France in Le Havre.
There wasn’t much to enjoy for US soccer fans in May, as the only match played by either national team was the men’s 2-1 loss to Switzerland in a friendly. Sebastian Lletget was on the scoresheet once more, bringing his total to three for the year.
After months of friendlies, the USMNT finally took part in an official competition come June. Denver was the venue for the inaugural CONCACAF Nations League Finals, contested by the USA, Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica. The hosts first faced Honduras in the semifinals. After an intense match riddled with fouls, Jordan Siebatcheu’s 89th minute goal sealed a 1-0 snatch-and-grab for the US.
Inevitably, Mexico awaited in the final. The Americans got off to the worst possible start with Jesus Corona scoring just seconds in to make it 1-0 to El Tri. In the 27th minute, though, Gio Reyna headed home from a Christian Pulisic corner to even the score line. Both sides tightened their defenses afterwards, and neither could break through.
An injury to goalkeeper Zack Steffen in the 69th minute forced debutant Ethan Horvath into action, and he was immediately bombarded with a flurry of shots from the Mexicans. Horvath made several brilliant saves, but Diego Lainez eventually managed to put the ball in the net and earn Mexico the lead. With the clock running down, Weston McKennie found the perfect moment to score his first national team goal of 2021. His well-worked strike sent the match to extra time.
Horvath’s heroics were the only thing keeping the Stars and Stripes in the game during the first 15-minute period of extra time. The second half was a different story, with Pulisic and McKennie looking particularly dangerous. Finally, with seven minutes remaining, Pulisic went down in the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Captain America himself stepped up and slammed the penalty into the top left corner. But the game was far from over. Mexico continued to threaten Horvath’s goal and won a penalty of their own in the dying seconds of the match. The young goalkeeper’s fairy tale night continued as he guessed right and saved the spot kick, earning the USMNT its first trophy since 2019. That USA-Mexico match will surely go down as one of the greatest in CONCACAF history.
The buzz from the title run in Denver didn’t wear off as the USMNT closed out June with a 4-0 friendly win versus Costa Rica. Four different players were on the scoresheet, including the red-hot Reyna.
The USWNT took on something of a supporting role in June, but there’s no denying they had an excellent month too. Playing in three venues across Texas, the world champions took out Portugal 1-0, Jamaica 4-0 and Nigeria 2-0.
On that positive note, we wrap up part 1 of our 2021 recap. Stay tuned for the second half!
Photo Credit: Toni Geiger. @EMDashPhoto emdashphoto.com