The 1994 World Cup is often looked at as a turning point in American soccer history. The 1990 World Cup team and the 1991 Gold Cup winning team deserve ample recognition as vital trailblazers but it was the 1994 World Cup group that welcomed in a new era of soccer in the United States. After finishing last in their group with a -6 goal differential in the 1990 World Cup, expectations were not high for the Americans in 1994. The world would not have been surprised to see the Americans bow out early once again.
However, with unprecedented spotlight as hosts of the tournament, the U.S. Men's National Team (USMNT) performed bravely and advanced to the knockout stage with a draw against Switzerland and a win against Colombia. The win was their first World Cup victory since upsetting England in the 1950 tournament and this was the first time the US had seen the Round of 16 since the 1930 World Cup.
The Hermann Trophy and MAC Player of the Year awards were well represented on this groundbreaking team with Tony Meola, Alexi Lalas, Claudio Reyna, John Harkes, and Brad Friedel all making the squad. Meola was appearing in his second World Cup for the U.S. but this time he was given the captain's armband.
An opening 1-1 draw against Switzerland gave the U.S. men the confidence they needed heading into their pivotal second game against #4 ranked Colombia. The Colombians were expected to absolutely demolish the USMNT but a dangerous cross from Harkes in the first half led to the infamous Andres Escobar own goal. Early in the second half the USMNT went up 2-0 thanks to an Earnie Stewart goal and the Colombians were unable to overcome the two goal deficit falling 2-1 to the Americans.
Following the historic win over Colombia the USMNT lost their final group stage game 0-1 to Romania but would still advance to play Brazil in the Round of 16. Despite going up a man near halftime the Brazilians were just too overwhelming for the Americans. The Brazilian red card left Tab Ramos with a fractured skull and the yellow card accumulation forcing Harkes to the bench meant the two best ball handlers were off the field for the U.S. Eventually the Brazilian onslaught would break through in the 72nd minute with a goal from Bebeto. The U.S. would lose that game 1-0 and be eliminated but despite the loss, the message the USMNT intended to deliver had already been sent. They were able to compete with anyone in the world and could no longer be overlooked.
Meola and Lalas played in all 4 games for the USMNT and anchored the defensive effort that would allow them to hold Switzerland, #4 ranked Colombia, and Romania to one goal each on their way to the Round of 16. They were also able to hold the eventual champion Brazilians to a single goal in the Round of 16. Harkes led the U.S. midfield and only missed the match against Brazil due to being suspended for yellow card accumulation. Although, they did not see the field in the 1994 World Cup Friedel and Reyna played an important role and their best days in a U.S. uniform were yet to come for the young Americans.
This USMNT and the Hermann Trophy and MAC Player of the year award winners on it entertained hosted and put on the highest attended World Cup in history, a record that still stands today. The tournament was also financially important to US Soccer. It brought in an unexpected surplus of $50 million dollars that would later become the seed money for Major League Soccer(MLS), the 1999 Women's World Cup, and the 2003 Women's World Cup.
Harkes, Meola, Lalas, Reyna, Friedel, would all play prominent roles with the USMNT going forward and in the development of Major League Soccer. They are still promoting and impacting US Soccer to this day. In 2013 as the US Youth Soccer Technical Director Reyna rewrote the US youth soccer curriculum, he now is the director of football operations at New York City FC. Lalas, Friedel, Meola and Harkes, amongst many other things, are all successful analysts/commentators for American soccer.
These representatives of the MAC Hermann Trophy have had an immeasurable impact on US Soccer and continue that legacy today. Without their trailblazing, current MAC Hermann Trophy recipients and the USMNT may be facing a much less friendly landscape for soccer in the United States.