SAN JOSE, Calif. – American soccer legend Eric Wynalda once compared the United States’ 2-0 defeat of Mexico in the 1991 CONCACAF Gold Cup Semifinal to the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” at Lake Placid.
When it comes to soccer, Wynalda wasn’t far off.
Since playing the first match against El Tri in 1934, the United States had only won two games in 25 attempts to that point. Since their previous victory, the men in red, white and blue hadn’t beat their southern rivals in 11 years.
Few gave John Doyle, Dominic Kinnear and the rest of the United States team a chance against Mexico that night on July 5, 1991 at the LA Memorial Coliseum, despite their success in the tournament’s group stages.
“It was the first Gold Cup ever, so it was all new. No one really knew what to expect,” Doyle said. “It was one of the first tournaments for our new coach, Bora Milutinovic. He came in with fresh ideas – everyone gets excited for a new coach.”
Under Milutinovic, the U.S. went undefeated in Group B, defeating Trinidad and Tobago 2-1, Guatemala 3-0 and Costa Rica 3-2 heading into their Gold Cup semifinal bout with Mexico.
“It was a great atmosphere, but it was all about Bora because he had coached Mexico,” Doyle added. “It was very little surrounding an actual rivalry between the U.S. and Mexico.”
Goalkeeper Tony Meola stood pat behind Doyle in the United States’ defense. As they were both peppered with shots in the early going, both held their own against a duo of prolific Mexican strikers.
“Mexico had their fair share of chances, but Tony [Meola] played great in goal for us,” Doyle said. “For me personally, I was up against [Carlos] Hermosillo and Zague [Luis Roberto Alves], two good forwards that proved to be a handful.”
With the match scoreless heading into the final stanza, Doyle made good on a chance at the far post for the game’s opening goal in the 48th minute.
“We had a set piece at the edge of the box that got flicked on to the back post by Balboa,” Doyle explained. “I was standing just outside of the six-yard box and I guided the ball between the keeper and the post.
“It wasn't really any big deal, but it was neat to score against Mexico and go to the crowd of Hondurans who were cheering for us."
Downplaying the goal as he may, Doyle, 25 at the time, sent CONCACAF into a frenzy with his far post finish. Having signed with Swedish club Örgryte IS the year prior, the Fremont native returned to his home state of California to score quite arguably the biggest goal against El Tri.
“It was exciting. I was playing in Sweden at the time so to come home and score that goal was great,” Doyle said of his goal. “Peter Vermes followed with a great goal of his own. Still, Mexico had their chances, but we stood our ground and the match ended 2-0.”
Doyle would provide relief in defense for the United States, clearing the ball off of the goal line on their way to the first Dos A Cero result in the country’s history.
“Mexico had always been the number one team in CONCACAF and that was the first time where we proved that we could compete with Mexico. It was an era we started to feel more confident and it all started on that night in LA.”
The United States’ historic defeat of Mexico punched their ticket to the CONCACAF Gold Cup final against Honduras two nights later at the Coliseum. The match, scoreless through regulation, headed to penalty kicks. Even at 2-2 in the shootout, Kinnear’s conversion gave the U.S. a 3-2 advantage before Fernando Clavijo’s finish crowned Milutinovic and his men champions.