Dropped! The five most shocking roster cuts in modern USMNT history
Bruce Murray, 1994
We look back on the United States' 1994 World Cup team as a scrappy band of overachieving raggamuffins. But that narrative overlooks the fact that wily – some would say out-and-out crazy – coach Bora Milutinovic culled a significant amount of legitimate talent in the run-up to the tournament, highlighted by Peter Vermes, Desmond Armstrong and Kasey Keller.
“A coach should never throw experience away,” Vermes said at the time.
Perhaps the most accomplished among them was Murray. The striker had started all three of the U.S. games at the 1990 World Cup, netting one goal and assisting on the only other one scored by the young squad at that tournament. A future Hall of Famer, he was the program’s all-time leading scorer when his international career ended, and in the run-up to USA ‘94, he was playing at a high level with English side Millwall.
But Milutinovic decided to hand the keys to the U.S. attack to Eric Wynalda, and the rest is history.
Conor Casey, 2010
The burly targetman climbed the ranks at the turn of the century, performing well at the 2000 Olympics, then with several clubs in Germany, and subsequently in MLS. And he played a key role in punching the U.S.’ ticket to the 2010 World Cup.
Casey conjured up a man-of-the-match performance in a dramatic 3-2 win in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, that clinched the United States’ place in South Africa, scoring two goals and drawing the foul that set up Landon Donovan’s game-winning free-kick strike.
When Bob Bradley made his final World Cup roster selections, however, he was more concerned with finding a replacement for speedy Charlie Davies than cover for rising star Jozy Altidore. So in came Edson Buddle, Robbie Findlay and Herculez Gomez, and Casey was left out.
Steve Snow, 1992
His is one of the most amazing stories in American soccer history that most modern fans have never heard of. Snow was a brash forward who rose alongside Alexi Lalas, Claudio Reyna and the rest of the talented late-’80s crop, a pure finisher who led the U.S. team to fourth place at the 1989 FIFA U-20 World Cup, still their best-ever finish at that tournament.
“In our area, everyone knew who Steve was and how good he was. He was unstoppable,” said U.S. icon and fellow Chicagoland native Brian McBride years later. “He had great feet in tight spaces, and in that day and age, he had the quickest release of anyone I’d seen. And he was deadly.”
But Snow’s big ego and abrasive personality made him few friends, including among the national-team coaching staffs of the era. When he was benched for the United States’ opening game at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Snow blew his top in a postgame diatribe to reporters, eviscerating coach Lothar Osiander and – in the long run – spelling doom for a once-promising international career.
Nick Firchau told Snow’s story in a riveting long-form piece in 2014; it’s a fantastic read.
John Harkes, 1998
Now widely known as perhaps the most lurid tale in modern U.S. soccer history, Harkes’ sudden dismissal from the 1998 World Cup squad was a baffling mystery to the public at the time.
After all, he was the team’s central-midfield engine, a pioneer who’d paved the way for Americans in the English leagues. U.S. coach Steve Sampson had dubbed the accomplished, charismatic Harkes “captain for life” two years prior, only to cut him several weeks before France ‘98, where the U.S. would finish dead-last.
Long a subject of whispered rumors, it took more than a decade for the full story to bubble to the surface. Harkes, it turned out, had an affair with the wife of teammate Eric Wynalda, and Sampson felt he had no choice but to remove him for the transgression.
Landon Donovan, 2014
Most readers will be all too familiar with this snub, a bomb dropped by Jurgen Klinsmann in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup that stunned almost everyone.
Arguably the most outstanding U.S. player in history, Donovan had crossed Klinsmann by taking a four-month sabbatical from the sport after leading the LA Galaxy to the 2012 MLS Cup title, citing burnout and a risk to his psychological health.
But he seemed to earn his way back into the picture over the ensuing year, starring in a dominant U.S. run to the 2013 Gold Cup championship, then scoring one goal and assisting another in the 2-0 qualifying win over Mexico in Columbus, Ohio, that clinched passage to Brazil 2014.
Donovan and Klinsmann had even more history, however. Perhaps most notable was the fateful chapter at Bayern Munich, where the coach identified the player as an impact acquisition in the winter of 2008-09 only for Donovan’s displays to disappoint. Bayern declined to make him a permanent signing after his loan stint, Klinsmann was fired soon thereafter – and many believe he never forgave Donovan.
Dropping the most famous face in the history of the program on the eve of the 2014 World Cup divided opinions among both the U.S. fanbase and the team itself. But it also consolidated Klinsmann’s power and primacy as the main man.