The best U.S. finish at the World Cup was third place back in 1930.
It’s been a while.
1930 marked the first World Cup, held in Uruguay with a 13-team field. In contrast, 32 teams made it to Brazil this year, with hundreds vying for those spots in qualifiers.
A lot has changed since 1930. The U.S. now struggles to make it through the tournament’s initial stages. Third place overall? No way.
When it advanced out of Group G on Thursday it marked the first time in history that the U.S. had moved on to the knockout stage in consecutive World Cups.
Such consistency is remarkable for the Americans in recent World Cups.
From 1990 to 2002 the U.S. performed as poorly as last place in their group with no points, and as well as a run to the quarterfinals.
The U.S. finished last with no points twice, in 1990 and 1998. The 1998 showing included only one goal for the U.S.
In 1994, however, the U.S. played host to the World Cup and maintained national pride by advancing to the round of 16, where it lost to eventual champion Brazil, 1-0.
The high point of the last 24 years came at the 2002 World Cup hosted by South Korea and Japan. The Americans finished among the top eight, making it to the quarterfinals where they lost to eventual runner-up Germany.
The U.S. finished last in its group at the 2006 World Cup, hosted by Germany. The Americans lost, 3-0, to the Czech Republic then tied eventual champion Italy, 1-1. But the U.S. failed to win a game and finished the group stage with one point.
A first-half penalty kick by Ghana officially sent the U.S. packing in their third and final group game, a 2-1 loss.
At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the U.S. survived the group stage with one win in three games. The Stars and Stripes tied England, 1-1, and tied Slovenia, 2-2, before finally securing a 1-0 win over Algeria.
Their reward for advancing? Facing Ghana again, this time in the knockout round.
A 1-1 draw in regulation sent the teams to extra time. Asamoah Gyan scored the difference-maker for Ghana, which eliminated the U.S. for the second Cup in a row — and, coincidentally, by the same score, 2-1.
This year the U.S. managed to flip that score early and ensure that their elimination would not come directly at the hands of Ghana. The U.S. defeated Ghana, 2-1, in the teams' opening game on an 86th-minute goal by John Brooks.
How far the U.S. will go at this World Cup remains to be seen. The Americans made it out of the group stage despite a loss to Germany. So already the U.S. has outdone the 1990, 1998 and 2006 teams.
Recent history says the U.S. won’t advance past the first knockout round. The performance of the 2002 team says anything could happen.