This summer marks the 25th anniversary of the U.S. men’s national team reaching the round of 16 at home in the 1994 World Cup, and in the latest episode of the Planet Fútbol Podcast, we feature a panel with five members of that team—Alexi Lalas, Tony Meola, Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos and Cobi Jones—discussing that memorable summer at the 2019 ICC tournament launch in New York City.
You can listen to the full episode in the podcast console below and subscribe to and download the Planet Fútbol Podcast on iTunes. Recent guests include Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes, broadcaster Julie Stewart-Binks, MLS commissioner Don Garber, Minnesota United's Collin Martin, MLS standouts Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and Bastian Schweinsteiger, USWNT's Julie Ertz and Bundesliga-based U.S. national team rising stars Josh Sargent and Tyler Adams.
Here are some of the standout selections from the conversation:
Alexi Lalas on how he would describe the USMNT’s World Cup ‘94 coach, Bora Milutinovic:
“He was like Yogi Berra and Yoda mixed. It was incredibly frustrating to a lot of players, and depending on where you were in your career and certainly your age. For me, he was huge, because he made me look at the game in a completely different way and asked me to think about my game and the game that I was playing and every moment of the game in ways that I hadn't thought of before. For some older players and players who were further along their career, it could be incredibly frustrating, the type of trainings that we did, the constant testing—not just physical testing but psychological testing.
"But ultimately there was a method to the madness, in that he had to choose the best at that point 22 players to represent the country. And he was constantly evaluating as to who in that moment was going to be able to do the job, not just on the field but in the context of the team. And all of these tests that he had, as frustrating as they were at times, you look back and can see why he was doing it. It's psychological, and all coaches and managers go through it. It's why they call them managers he had to manage a bunch of crazies and a bunch of players who were at different points in their career and very different personalities. And put the best 22 together.”
Tony Meola on the U.S.’s 2-1 upset of Colombia in the second game of World Cup ‘94:
“It was a Colombian side that most people picked to go to the semifinals of the World Cup ... I don't think we've ever talked about what everyone thought going into that game. We knew it was going to be the most difficult game, and if you go back, maybe after 10 minutes we’re lucky not to be down 2-nil. And then we kind of got our second wind and for about 35 minutes...
Tab Ramos: “... you got your second wind because you had to make about 25 saves …” (laughs)
Meola: “But we did. We actually put our foot on the pedal a little bit if you remember. We had some opportunities and we get the fortunate goal, and of course that has a history behind it [with the scorer of the Colombian own-goal, Andrés Escobar, tragically murdered in Colombia not long after his team’s World Cup exit]. And then maybe the best pass that we've ever seen at the national team level, Tab to Earnie Stewart over the top and then a great finish. If you go watch that pass in that game, you’d be really hard pressed in the entire history of the U.S. men's national team, I don't know if you guys agree, to find a better pass threaded through two players.
"And we were 2-nil up, and they scored late, 93rd minute or so, and there was a little bit of pressure, but we found a way. That's kind of where our national team took off. It was the stage that said, O.K., we're here, and as Tab said, ‘We're here to compete. We can compete. We're not going to win every game, but we're here to compete with the best teams in the world.’”
On their thoughts when they saw the famous U.S. World Cup ‘94 denim jerseys for the first time:
Lalas: “NOW they’re cool.” (laughs)
Reyna: “I'll never forget. I was the youngest, so I just kept my mouth shut all the time everywhere. And Adidas came and did this big presentation, I think it was at the Rose Bowl, and they brought it out. And Tab just started laughing, and I think that kind and says it all. Because we were all in shock. We were all in shock. We couldn't believe it. And they thought it was great. I don't know if you guys have ever seen the jacket that goes over it, which had the stripes, and it was worse than the top.” (laughs)
Meola: “The shorts were no better.” (laughs)
Reyna: “We just couldn't believe it. I think going back to ‘94, prior to that and up until today, it's just respect. These guys prior to me joined the national team and they were just fighting for respect in this country for soccer players and for the sport. And ‘94 was the first chapter of the world waking up to us and taking us seriously. And we've had to continue to do that. But I think with the uniform it was something where we thought, 'Oh no, people are going to laugh at us.'”
Ramos: “I remember at the meeting we're like in the middle of the field like you're saying, are people may recall John Harkes had been named to People Magazine's Sexiest Men Alive, and I remember telling the Adidas guy, ‘Look, John Harkes doesn't even look good in this!” (laughs)