First XI: What qualifies?

which more closely resembled some municipal velodrome in Barbados. Seriously, the condition of the field was worse than something you'd see in a Sunday morning urban pickup league. The U.S. needed to win to advance to the second round of qualifying and while beating Barbados does not seem like a difficult task, this was no easy game. Arena made many bold roster decisions for this game, including calling Tony Meola and Tab Ramos back into the national team for the first time in ages. Ramos, who would call this his final appearance for the USA, started in central midfield and did a good job of helping the U.S. keep the ball. Meola, fresh off his MLS MVP campaign, was cool and calm in the net, and actually used this game as a springboard to the roster for World Cup 2002.

8. Brian McBride goal vs. Guatemala at RFK Stadium, Sept. 3, 2000. A choppy game looked headed for a scoreless draw at steamy RFK when Brian McBride scored this late game winner, getting on the end of a Cobi Jones cross. One point would've left the U.S. pretty angry on this day, but McBride came to the rescue and got them three.

7. Razov scores quickly vs. T & T, June 20, 2001. You need to win at home during qualifying and there's nothing better than an early goal. It took Ante Razov just a minute and fourteen seconds to put the USA on top of Trinidad and Tobago at Foxboro Stadium -- a huge goal that propelled the U.S. to a significant 2-0 victory on the road to Japan/Korea. For a guy who's never gotten a sniff of the World Cup, Razov deserves lots of credit for providing timely goals during his minutes in qualifiers.

6. Roy Lassiter and McBride lead U.S. victory over Costa Rica at Stanford Stadium, Dec. 14, 1996. U.S. coach Steve Sampson had been saying that MLS was hurting the national team more than it was helping, mainly because a number of players had bolted the intensity of Europe and were being asked to sell a new product. Nevertheless, Sampson was thankful for MLS on this day in northern California as the Tampa Bay Mutiny's Lassiter and the Columbus Crew's McBride helped the U.S. avenge an earlier loss to Costa Rica and advance to the final stages of qualifying.

5. Roy Wegerle, two goals at Canada, Nov. 9, 1997. Remember how Wegerle -- after looking pretty lost in Colorado -- found a home in D.C. in Year Two of MLS? The goals he scored for D.C. earned him minutes for Sampson as the USA went on the road to Vancouver, looking to wrap up a spot in France '98. Wegerle, who last we heard was trying to earn his card on the European PGA Tour, tallied a pair for the U.S. and also secured a spot on the USA's roster for 1998. Of course, we also recall how D.C. dealt him for Lassiter a year later, a trade that lives on in infamy in MLS.

4. Clint Mathis nails a free kick for U.S. at Honduras, March 28, 2001. Those of us who couldn't make the trip all had to watch this game on a grainy pay-per-view feed, and it was not a pretty game. Mathis, in particular, was horrible for just about the entire match, but more than made up for it with a David Beckham-like free kick that lifted the U.S. to an improbable 2-1 victory in Honduras. Gotta think this performance by Mathis led to Jack Edwards' now famous "That's why he's here" call at the World Cup. I described this game in my ESPN column as the only game I'd ever seen a team create zero chances and score two goals. If you recall, the USA's first goal was a goofy deflected shot off the foot of Earnie Stewart.

3. Marcelo Balboa, Alexi Lalas, Eddie Pope and Brad Friedel hold Mexico scoreless at Azteca, Nov. 2, 1997. Who thought the U.S could get a point in the heat and smog of Azteca, with 114,000 Mexican fans in the stands? Anyone? This was truly an amazing defensive performance by an all-MLS rear guard -- especially after Jeff Agoos was sent off in the first half and John Harkes was pressed into duty at left back. So good, in fact, that the Mexicans had to listen to deafening whistles for most of the second half. Safe to say the USA would take 0-0 every time they ever have to play in Mexico City.

2. Josh Wolff's second-half exhibition vs. Mexico at Columbus, Feb 28, 2001. The now famous cold-weather game heated up in the second half when Arena called on the speedy Wolff. In what is probably Wolff's greatest performance for the national team, he scored a goal -- outracing Jorge Campos to a Mathis long ball -- and assisted on an insurance tally when he faked like he was going to stall in the corner only to pull the ball back, dribble the end line and lay off a beautiful pass to Stewart. Crew Stadium rocked that night ... and it was really funny to watch Mexico shiver.

1. Tab Ramos scores vs. Costa Rica in Portland, Sept. 7, 1997. A big-time atmosphere in Portland, thanks to Nike and the thundersticks (had anyone ever seen those things before this?). But the game needed a moment of brilliance and the MetroStar Ramos provided it. His blast from the top of the box was the only goal of the game as the U.S. picked up three points from the ticos. We never got to see Ramos at his best in MLS, but even when he was out of form for the Metros he always seemed to find reserve energy and fire when it was time to play for the USA.

Jeff Bradley is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. Send your comments and complaints (200 words or less, please) to Jeff at and he promises to read (but not respond to) all of them. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.

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