A USA vs. South Korea World Cup semifinal? Maybe it was just too much for the world to handle back in 2002. But it almost happened.
The USA outplayed Germany in a World Cup quarterfinal in Ulsan, South Korea, but the turning point in the game in the 49th minute didn't quite turn the Americans' way.
Claudio Reyna delivered a corner kick which was flicked on to US defender Gregg Berhalter, who redirected the ball toward goal. Goalkeeper Oliver Kahn made the initial stop, but the ball popped out and spun backwards toward goal before it was knocked off the line by the left hand of Germany defender Torsten Frings, who years later played for MLS side Toronto FC.
"I took the corner and I had an angle that I could see it," said Reyna, who's now the director of soccer operations for NYCFC. "And my reaction is that, 'If I saw it, the referee had to see it.' It’s pretty clear that it could’ve changed the whole game with a penalty and a red card. It’s something we’ll never forget."
The referee was Scotsman Hugh Dallas and he shooed away the protests by the US captain and the other players.
"The ref kind of ignored us," said Reyna, who wore the captain's armband on the day. "It was one of these things where I think the big teams get the calls and the little teams don’t. I do believe in that, because of a lot of tradition with some of the bigger teams. Still, the reality is how could you not see that?"
"He wasn't trying to hear anything," recalled Berhalter, who's the head coach of the Columbus Crew. "He was very standoffish in that game with everyone and he had a strange demeanor in that game … It was something where he wasn't calling that."
The controversy didn't stunt the USA's momentum. The Americans were feeling it on that day and they had plenty of looks at goal, but they were just off the mark when it counted. And the other times a wall named Kahn stood in the way.
"We had other chances also. That wasn't the only one," Berhalter recalls. "It wasn't like it paralyzed us. We played an excellent game. It had more implications because it would've been a penalty kick and red. It could've positioned us to go to the next round."
But even in defeat, there was consolation. That US team injected a dose of credibility and belief that is still felt to this day -- "that was the World Cup we became respected globally," says Reyna. They went toe-to-toe with a perennial favorite and an eventual tournament finalist in 2002.
"Some of the guys on the team knew the players from Germany," Mathis said. "And the Germans said, 'Hey, you outplayed us and you were the better team.' That’s something you don’t usually hear from those guys talking to Americans … Win that game and we thought we could’ve made it to the final."
But is the credibility earned by that magical 2002 US team enough to ensure the Americans get that same call in Brazil 12 years later?
"I think so," Berhalter says. "I think the refs are aware of all the different camera angles and scrutiny and they realize every call they make will be looked at. And I'd like to believe that this day and age it would be called."
Is the USMNT finally at a point where they will get the big calls in Brazil? Or will the traditional powers still curry favor with officials? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below:
USA GREATEST WORLD CUP MOMENTS
No. 10: Despite red cards, USMNT stun Italy (2006)
No. 9: Brazil gives USMNT the blueprint (1994)