The U.S. victory over England on June 29, 1950, in the World Cup in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, should have signaled the start of a spirited rivalry.
Instead, United States-England games have been scheduled only sporadically. And the matches since the '50 upset, rather than stimulating the imagination, mostly have been mismatches.
The English were shocked by what happened in Brazil and were equally disconcerted three years later after losing to Hungary. But English arrogance is balanced by humility, at least on the sporting field, and they likely considered inviting the U.S. for a Wembley rematch. But the closest the U.S. got to that, for a long time, was a Hampden Park game in 1951 against Scotland, a 6-0 loss before more than 107,000 spectators.
The rematches were set in the U.S., with England winning 6-3, 8-1, 10-0 and 5-0 from 1953 to 1985. Such high scores would have been humiliating for the U.S. but for soccer's low profile.
But that changed as the U.S. prepared to play host to the 1994 World Cup.
The U.S. gained much credibility by taking a 2-0 victory over England at Foxboro Stadium, thanks as much to Tony Meola's saves on two Ian Wright breakaways as to the goals by Thomas Dooley and Alexi Lalas.
The U.S. has not defeated England since that '93 game. But these days, at least the U.S. can be invited to Wembley and be expected to provide some decent opposition.
When England and the U.S. meet May 28, the game will take on a different dimension because of the presence of David Beckham. The fact that Beckham will earn his 101st cap as a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy indicates how U.S. soccer is intertwining with the sport in the rest of the world.
|U.S. men's schedule|
|U.S. vs. England
Wembley Stadium, London, England
3 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic
U.S. vs. Spain
U.S. vs. Argentina
And if familiarity adds spice to a rivalry, England-U.S. matchups should become more heated.
England basically has treated games against the U.S. as strolls. The team's visits to the U.S. mostly have been postseason holidays. The U.S. victory in '93 should have been a wake-up call for England, but it was received as just another indictment of Graham Taylor, who was fired as manager a couple of months later.
Instead, that U.S. success was a wake-up call for the Americans. Coaches and players had been attempting to convince the public the U.S. deserved to play host to the World Cup, and this was not easy after a humiliating performance at Italia '90.
But, once Bora Milutinovic took over as coach in 1991, the U.S. began delivering credible performances, setting standards that remain in place today.
In any case, this will be another in a 55-year series of friendlies.
Remarkably, the U.S. defeated England the only time the teams met in a competitive match. Someday, they will meet again in the World Cup, and that will be a matchup to spark imaginations. Until then, nothing is at stake, except reputations. But, even in an age of hyper investment in soccer, reputations and credibility mean a lot.
Frank Dell'Apa is a soccer columnist for The Boston Globe and ESPN.