United States 1999 U-17 World Cup squad reunites 20 years after semifinal run

You probably remember when the US national team used last month's Concacaf Nations League match against Canada as an opportunity to honor the contributions of DaMarcus Beasley, who retired following this season as one of the all-time USMNT greats.

What you probably don't know is the occasion also served as a 20-year reunion for the best US squads you might never have heard of.

It all began when Beasley found a dead chicken head at his feet.

Really.

Two decades ago, a squad that featured the likes of a teenage Beasley, Landon Donovan, Kyle Beckerman, Oguchi Onyewu and others made a scintillating run to the semifinals of the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

But to get to the World Cup finals in New Zealand, they had to endure the same intimidating Concacaf environments they would later encounter on the senior level. Particularly, they needed an away result at El Salvador during a two-leg playoff for Concacaf's final qualifying spot. It was there Beasley got his first taste of his Concacaf future.

"I was making signs to run a play, it hit my foot and I immediately jumped," Beasley recently told USsoccer.com. "I looked down and it was a dead chicken head right by my foot. I took the corner kick, and I don’t think anything came from it, but that’s a true story. One-hundred percent.”

The American squad weren't entirely caught off guard. After all, they had recently watched the senior team battle many of the same conditions to reach the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France.

"In preparations for the game, we’d watch videos of past qualifiers where the fans would throw bags of urine at the opposing players on the field," recalled U-17 squad member Jordan Cila. "To get us prepared, we were practicing, and the coaching staff would throw water balloons at us during practice. What I realized warecalls psychologically, getting water balloons thrown at you is not preparation for getting urine bags or other things thrown at you."

Said Beasley: "I’ll never forget it. Nobody else wanted to take corners after that. … It was, ‘Beas, you keep taking corners'.”

Down 1-0 and with Donovan serving a red card suspension, Cila went on to hit an away hat trick as US won the opening leg 6-1, effectively sealing their passage.

For more on Beasley and company's historic run, check out an oral history of that 1999 team on the US Soccer website.