U.S. vs. Panama-2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinal-Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX

The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) returns to Houston for the first time since the summer of 2016 when they face Chile at BBVA Compass Stadium at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26th.

This will be the seventh time the U.S. men have played in the Bayou City. The first came in 1988 when they lost 2-0 to Ecuador. The most recent match came in July of 2016 when they were soundly beaten by Argentina 4-0 in the semifinal of Copa America Centenario. Overall the USMNT are 1-2-3 in Houston, the only victory coming against Panama in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals.

USMNT History in Texas

The United States Men have played 24 times in Texas, compiling an overall record of 13-3-8. The first contest was played on September 8, 1974-a 1-0 loss to Mexico on artificial turf at the old Texas Stadium in Irving. After this opening loss, the majority of the USMNT Texas matches have taken place in the DFW Metroplex where the U.S. has since been undefeated (10-0-5). The other two games played in Texas by the United States were victories in San Antonio.

As would be expected, the majority of the Texas games have been against CONCACAF opponents, 5 against Mexico, 4 versus Costa Rica and 8 others against a variety of Central America countries and Jamaica. The USMNT have never played against a team from outside of the Americas in this state.

Curiously, the U.S. National team has never played a World Cup Qualifier in the Lone Star state. In fact, Mexico has played two more World Cup qualifiers than the United States here. CONCACAF minnows Belize and Guyana sold the rights to their home qualification matches against Mexico to promoters and the games were played in Houston at Reliant Stadium (vs. Belize-2008) and BBVA Compass Stadium (vs. Guyana-2012).

Summary of USMNT Houston Matches

June 10, 1988 Ecuador-2 United States-0 (Friendly)

This match was part of a series of seven friendlies called the Clasico International Cup, played throughout the United States in preparation for the 1988 Olympics. The U.S. played three consecutive matches against Ecuador in this loosely organized tournament. Some soccer historians dispute that these games were full internationals though, as many of the first team were preparing for an Olympics warm up tournament in South Korea that began on June 16.

As a result, many of the regulars and the Head Coach were not present in Houston, but this game, and the one two days later against Ecuador in Ft. Worth, were considered to be meaningful to the U.S. technical staff anyway. Texas soccer legend Kyle Rote Jr., who was the honorary chairman for the Clasico, discussed the importance of this match in the Houston Chronicle. “The other games weren’t as important, but this one, and the one Sunday in Ft. Worth make a difference. We put a pretty good team out for this game. We’re making the transition from player selection to bonding and developing chemistry. Probably eight or nine of these players will make the Olympic team.”

HISD Delmar Stadium (Image credit: Desso Sports)

The June 10th match was played at Houston Integrated School District’s (HISD) Delmar Stadium in front of an estimated 10,000 fans. This central location was used occasionally in those days for international soccer matches. Ecuador opened the scoring in the 36th minute when Pedro Munoz chipped over onrushing U.S. goalkeeper David Vanole. The game was effectively put out of reach when Alex Aguinaga scored for the South Americans late in the second half. The best U.S. opportunity came in the second half when Peter Vermes, current Sporting KC head coach, barely missed a breakaway opportunity. The U.S. ended up with a scoreless draw in Ft. Worth two days later and, as a result, ended up not scoring in any of the three Ecuadorian games.

That September the U.S. Olympic team was eliminated at the group stage of the Olympics in South Korea when they lost their final match to the U.S.S.R, who ultimately won the Gold Medal.

May 8, 2003 United States-0 Mexico-0 (Friendly)

The United States played nine more matches in Texas before finally returning to Houston 15 years after the first appearance. This match was held at then Reliant Stadium in front of a sellout crowd of close to 70,000….the majority of whom were there to root for Mexico. The interest in this match far exceeded the expectations of the NFL’s Houston Texans staff, who organized the match. One of their executives was quoted in the Houston Chronicle as saying they could have sold 10,000 more tickets if the stadium was larger.

This was the first match played between the two countries since the
U.S. shocking 2-0 win over Mexico in the knock-out rounds of the 2002 World Cup…earning the unofficial title for this match of “La Revancha en la cancha (Revenge on the field).” The crowd was the largest ever to watch a soccer match in Texas, and outside of California, the largest crowd ever to watch a U.S. Soccer match to that point. Prior and subsequent to this game, the enthusiasm generated for this match has been cited as one of the contributing reasons MLS decided to relocate the San Jose franchise to Houston (Dynamo) in 2005.

Unfortunately the game itself did not live up to the hype. The Texans elected to build a temporary soccer pitch rather than use their football grass field. According to the Chronicle, the pitch didn’t earn rave reviews from U.S. Soccer officials and some players, especially from the Mexican team. The game itself was a typical U.S.-Mexico match with Mexico dominating possession and the United States playing to counter. The first half was controlled by Mexico, but the USMNT did create opportunities near the end of the first half and in the second. One of the better chances was generated by current Dynamo defender DaMarcus Beasley, who was a midfielder earlier in his career. Future Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark was also in the starting lineup. The game ended in a scoreless draw and both teams drew some measure of satisfaction from the result.

February 6th, 2008 United States-2 Mexico-2 (Friendly)

In a game that was the most intense of any National Team game I have seen played in Texas, the USMNT and Mexico went toe-to-toe for 90 minutes and ended in a 2-2 draw. Like the first match in 2003, a sell-out crowd of over 70,000 was present at Reliant Stadium, but this was the only similarity to that match. The carnival like atmosphere of the first game was replaced by a very vocal and passionate crowd on both sides. Most of the top international players were called in by the U.S. and Mexico, so the quality on the pitch was superb.

The United States took leads twice through Oguchi Onyewu and Jozy Altidore, but Mexican defender Jonny Magallon scored twice off of corner kicks to even the match both times. From what I remember, Magallon likely created one of the worst nights of U.S. defender Drew Moor’s career, who was beaten on both goals. The final goal was scored two minutes into the second half, but the intensity of the match didn’t stop until added extra-time came to an end.

This international window was also the first time Houston-native and Dynamo midfielder Stuart Holden was called into a senior National Team camp, though he didn’t make the game day roster.

June 22, 2011 United States-1 Panama-0 (CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinal)

This match was the first of the two semifinals, both played in Houston, for the 2011 version of the North, Central and Caribbean Confederation Gold Cup tournament. The U.S. played Panama in the opener and Mexico was pitted against Honduras in the night cap. The United States had lost a group stage match against Panama 2-1 in the early stages of this tournament, so heading into the semifinals, there were no guarantees that the U.S.-Mexico final that many wanted to see would be realized.

A crowd of over 70,000 packed into Reliant Stadium to watch the semifinal doubleheader. The majority of the fans were there to see Mexico (and to a certain extent Honduras), so it was a strange atmosphere with the stands half-empty at the start of the U.S. match. The U.S. struggled to break down Panama in the first half and U.S. coach Bob Bradley inserted Landon Donovan, who had not started for some reason, into the match at the start of the second half. Donovan created the only goal of the match when he slotted a laser-like, low cross into Texas-native Clint Dempsey who put it away in the 76th minute, easing the anxiety of U.S. fans in the crowd. The original pass to Donovan was created by Freddy Adu, the U.S. Soccer teenage savior who never realized his potential. His effort off the bench that night was arguably the most significant contribution he made to the National Team in his brief international career.

By the end of the match the stadium was full and the United States victory lap earned a goose-bumps inducing, thunderous ovation from both U.S. and Mexico supporters. Expressing his appreciation for this post-match reception, Dempsey, who grew up playing in Mexican leagues in Nacogdoches, was quoted in the Houston Chronicle as saying “I’d like to think that a lot of people that were in the stands tonight that were maybe wearing a green [Mexico] jersey are making a living here and they have maybe a little more appreciation for this country.” He continued, “I have a lot of respect for Hispanics,….so it is great to see the appreciation for football and also to see the appreciation here.”

One other note. Houston Dynamo midfielder Boniek Garcia was in the starting lineup for Honduras that night and Dynamo officials pointed out later that they were scouting at these matches, specifically pointing to Boniek as a player of interest. He officially joined the Dynamo a little less than a year later and was part of the lineup for the MLS Finals that Houston lost to LA Galaxy that year.

January 29, 2013 United States-0 Canada-0 (Friendly)

This match was the end of the January U.S. Soccer camp that has been, not affectionately, coined “Camp Cupcake” by the press in the past. The European based players were not available for this match and in fact they were focused on the upcoming February 6th 2014 World Cup qualifier in Honduras. U.S. Head Coach Juergen Klinsmann admitted that only a small portion of the players in this match would be on the team that traveled to Central America for that qualifier.

A crowd of more than 11,000 came to BBVA Compass Stadium on a cold January night to witness a completely forgettable game. Canada did not have its full roster either and sat back waiting for the U.S. to try and break them down. Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis had one of the few good opportunities on the night and this match also was the first of former Dynamo attacker Will Bruin’s two career caps, when he came on as a second half substitute. For me the highlight of the night came when Dynamo legend Dwayne DeRosario, who was Canada’s only attacking threat, was substituted off to a standing ovation from the appreciative Houston crowd. After the game he talked about how much he appreciated the gesture and how, despite now living in Canada, he viewed Houston as a second home.

June 21, 2016 Argentina-4 United States-0 (Copa America Centenario semifinal)


Kickoff of United States vs. Argentina Copa America Centenario semifinal-NRG Stadium, Houston

The United States hosted a centennial version of the oldest tournament in the world-Copa America-during the summer of 2016. It was somewhat of a surprise that the USMNT made it to the semifinal match in Houston, but the team was playing well and ran off three consecutive wins leading up to the semis, after losing the opening group stage match to Colombia.

Another sellout crowd was at NRG Stadium to watch this anticipated match. Like all of other large crowds at big soccer events in Houston, the majority of the fans were there for something other than a U.S. team however. In this case it was a chance to see Argentina and their star Lionel Messi. The stadium was full of Messi jerseys and at one point the fan worship reached absurd levels when a man ran out onto the field early in the second half and bowed down to worship in front of the Argentinian forward.

In any event, any hopes the United States had to advance dimmed in the 3rd minute when, off a corner kick, Messi chipped a ball to Ezequiel Lavezzi who headed past goalkeeper Brad Guzan. It was obvious from the looks on the U.S. players faces after this goal that they knew they were in trouble. The game was effectively over when Messi converted a world-class free kick in the 32nd minute. Two Gonzalo Higuain second half goals ended the rout.

The United States entered the game in a difficult position as three starters were unavailable due to yellow card accumulation. Leading up to this match they were forced to play a man down for 50 minutes in a group stage victory over Paraguay in Philadelphia and then had to travel cross country for a difficult quarterfinal match against Ecuador in Seattle. These challenges were clearly not the main reason why this match was so one-sided however. This match against Argentina demonstrated, yet again, the quality gap between the U.S. and top international sides. Embarrassingly, the United States did not manage a single shot during the match leading to much consternation on social media.

It was generally a miserable night for anybody who was a U.S. Soccer fan. The crowd did get to enjoy (a little too much in my opinion) the fantastic Messi free kick.

Tuesday night will be the seventh match for the USMNT in Houston and a chance to deliver a second victory to even the overall record there.  TV coverage will begin at 6:55 CDT on ESPN2, UniMas and UDN.