Ticos weren’t as high a hurdle in ’84

Image courtesy of 1970s Soccer USA.

As part of the Los Angeles Olympic Games, the United States played Costa Rica at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif., on July 29, 1984. The United States won, 3-0. Both were allowed under that year’s Olympic rules to field their full national teams, but the game is not counted as a full international. That’s too bad, because it was another 21 years before the United States beat Costa Rica by three goals again.

In retrospect, this game seems a rather odd occasion. It was a tremendous outpouring of support for the U.S. national team, with a crowd of 78,265, but it took place less than two months before the final game of the NASL. The Golden Bay Earthquakes, playing a few miles away in San Jose, topped 15,000 only once in 13 home games that season. Adding to the strangeness is the fact that the United States scored a smashing victory in front of a wildly enthusiastic crowd less than a year before it was eliminated from the World Cup by the same opponent in a game that was barely noticed by Americans.

The crowd at Stanford Stadium on this day was then the largest ever to see a soccer game in the United States, breaking the record of 77,691 set at a New York Cosmos game in 1977. However, the new record lasted only 10 days, and today this game ranks only 68th among the highest soccer attendances ever in the United States. It should be noted that this was as much an Olympic crowd as a soccer crowd, and maybe more so. The Los Angeles Olympics soccer competition drew tremendous attendance, which was a significant factor in convincing FIFA to give the 1994 World Cup to the United States.

The soccer eligibility rules at the 1984 Olympics allowed CONCACAF nations, such as the two in this game, to use their full national teams, including pros. One of those pros, Ricky Davis of the New York Cosmos and the indoor St. Louis Steamers, contributed two goals to this United States victory. In the 24th minute, he hooked a free kick from just outside the penalty area on the left barely inside the far post. Three minutes before the end of the game, he dribbled around the Costa Rican goalkeeper for a point-blank shot. Jean Willrich scored the other goal after being on the receiving end of a pass into the goalmouth from Chico Borja.

The referee of this game was the same man, Joel Quiniou of France, who refereed the United States-Brazil game on this same field in the 1994 World Cup.

At the time of this game, the United States had played Costa Rica in a full international only once, in a tournament in Mexico in 1975, but Costa Rica has since become one of the United States’ most heated rivals. Since 1984, the two have played 41 full internationals, 19 of them World Cup qualifiers. However, the one-sidedness of this game did not provide a preview of the way that the rivalry would go. Those 41 games since 1984 have included 18 wins for the United States and 17 wins for Costa Rica.

A version of this post originally appeared at Roger’s Big Soccer blog on June 2, 2011.

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