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How many World Cups have the USMNT qualified for, and what's their best tournament result?

The United States national men's team sealed qualification for the 2022 World Cup on Wednesday, returning to the tournament they missed in 2018.

How many World Cups have the USMNT qualified for, and what's their best tournament result?
Damir Šagolj/Reuters

The United States men’s national team qualified for the 2022 World Cup on Wednesday, claiming one of CONCACAF’s three automatic tickets to Qatar 2022 despite losing 2-0 to Costa Rica in San José. It is the 11th time the USMNT have reached the tournament - and the first since 2014. While the US' previous 10 World Cup appearances include a third-placed finish, their run to the quarter-finals two decades ago is surely their most impressive performance.

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Uruguay 1930: USMNT reach semi-finals at maiden tournament

It was at the very first World Cup, in Uruguay in 1930, that the Americans made the podium. Just 13 teams took part in the finals, which remain the only edition of the tournament that didn’t require qualification. Seven South American countries and two from North America were joined by a mere four from Europe - Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia - as the Old Continent mostly balked at the long trip to Uruguay.

Drawn in a three-team group with Paraguay and Belgium, the US clinched top spot with ease. A 3-0 victory over Belgium was followed by a win over the Paraguayans by the same scoreline, in a game that witnessed the World Cup’s first ever hat-trick, scored by Bert Patenaude.

Led by the Irish-born coach Jack Coll, the team featured six UK natives, but US soccer historian Roger Allaway says the British influence on the side has often been exaggerated in the years since. “The fact is that there were six players in that team who had been born in Britain - five in Scotland and one in England - but four of those came to America as children or teenagers years before, and only one of the six had ever played a professional minute in British soccer,” Allaway told an interview with US Soccer Players in 2013.

Through to the semi-finals as winners of Group 4, the US were handed a last-four tie with Argentina - and having so far scored six, they now conceded six, James Brown replying with a late consolation. Argentina went on to lose the final to Uruguay, and the US were awarded third place ahead of fellow losing semi-finalists Yugoslavia on account of their superior goal difference.

USMNT's record at the World Cup

1934Last 16
1950Group stage
1990Group stage
1994Last 16
1998Group stage
2006Group stage
2010Last 16
2014Last 16

South Korea/Japan 2002: US shock Portugal on way to last eight

Seventy-two years later, in South Korea and Japan, the US reached the last eight in what has to be their greatest achievement thus far at the tournament. In 1930, the World Cup was a competition in its infancy, involving a small selection of the globe’s best and requiring just two positive results to reach the semi-finals. By 2002, 199 countries entered qualification for a World Cup that had grown to 32 teams, its final field including seven previous winners.

2002 is also the first World Cup at which the US won a knockout game, Brian McBride and Landon Donavan scoring the goals for Bruce Arena’s men as they beat North American rivals Mexico in the last 16.

To get to the knockout stages, the US had produced a stunning win over Portugal in their opening group-stage game - holding on for a 3-2 victory after racing into a 3-0 first-half lead - before earning a 1-1 draw with hosts South Korea. A 3-1 defeat to Poland followed in the final round of group matches, but, thankfully for the Americans, Korea's win over Portugal sent them through regardless.

After seeing off Mexico in the last 16, the US came up against eventual runners-up Germany in the quarter-finals. Though they were beaten by Michael Ballack’s first-half goal in Ulsan, the Stars and Stripes were left legitimately aggrieved when Torsten Fring's unpunished handball on the goal line denied current coach Gregg Berhalter an equaliser. “I think if we were one of the big countries, we would have gotten that call,” head coach Bruce Arena complained afterwards.

2022 World Cup draw: live with AS USA

The US will take their place in Pot 2 in Friday’s draw for the 2022 World Cup, which is to be held in Doha at 12 noon ET/9am PT. You’ll be able to follow live-text coverage of the draw with AS USA.


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