Stories of what could’ve been

Two hundred and seven: That’s the number of players who have only one game for the US men’s national team. They only played once in a senior team match. Some of them 207 you’ve heard of, like former USMNT coach Bruce Arena (1973 vs. Israel), and some you haven’t, like Jimmy Ford (1916 vs. Sweden).

Incredibly, two of these one-goal players appeared at the World Cup: Walter Dick, in a 7-1 defeat of hosts Italy in 1934, while Adam Wolanin played in a 3-1 defeat of Spain in Brazil in 1950.

There are also oddities. Otto Decker scored twice in a 6-3 loss to England in 1953 and never saw the field again for the Americans. Meanwhile, Gordon Burness originally played for Canada and scored in a 6-1 rout of the USA in 1926, before switching to the USA and playing his lone game against – wait for it – Canada!

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The stories of these 207 men in the one-cap club go far and wide, and ESPN had a chance to visit a few of them.

They all offered different perspectives on the experience, but all agreed on one thing: playing at the highest level for your country was the honor of a lifetime. Since wearing the USA jersey, their lives have had twists and turns, but even though it only happened once, those moments in the history books are theirs forever.

Eddie Robinson, defender: January 19, 2008 v Sweden

A four-time MLS Cup winner with San Jose and Houston, Eddie Robinson brought a tough edge to those championship teams, but his penchant for flirting with red cards always seemed to hurt his national hopes. “What I’ve heard from both Bruce and Bob [Bradley] it was actually, ‘I can’t believe you’re not going to get kicked out.’ I understood that. That’s just how I was wired,” Robinson said.

Robinson was invited to camps in 2002 and 2006, but his USMNT debut did not come until 2008 in a 2-0 January friendly win against Sweden. A guy who almost didn’t score a goal in MLS managed to score in his only appearance for the national team, just one of 10 “single cappers” to achieve the feat.

Still, when Robinson thinks about his one and only straw, he is overcome with remorse. “I almost got offended. I’ve never been so focused. I was representing my country, man. It makes me emotional to this day. I said to myself, ‘I can be better for my club team, so why not focus so much on my club team ?'”

Tim Harris, goalkeeper: 16 June 1985 v England

Before becoming president of business operations for the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, Tim Harris was a goalkeeper at UCLA and then the LA Lazers of the Major Indoor Soccer League. In the summer of 1985, an unexpected invitation arrived.

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“They said, ‘You’re going to come in and support Arnie Mausser.’ I was lukewarm on the idea, but they said, ‘Look, you’re going to make some money,’ so I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it,'” Harris recalled.

The U.S. had just one practice before the game against England, and Harris didn’t expect to see the field … until a misunderstanding between Mauser and coach Alkis Panagoulias at halftime changed everything. “Halftime was over and I was kind of walking back to the bench and someone said, ‘You know how to play.’ And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ They said, ‘No, you’re in,'” Harris said.

Already down 2-0, Harris took three more to make it 5-0.

I was the definition of, at best, average, Harris said. “But despite how badly it went, you’re still playing for your country and you can never ignore the importance of that.”

Although he is now fully entrenched in NBA life at the executive level, Harris remains an avid soccer fan, so the arrival of European soccer stars at Staples Center sometimes creates a memory of a lifetime. “Just before Jose Mourinho took the Man United job, he came to a game. He, Kobe Bryant and I were sitting in the training room after the game. He was asking Kobe questions about the preparations, Kobe was asking him questions.

“For me, it was great just to sit and listen to those two guys.”

Curt Onalfo, defender: June 14, 1988 vs. Costa Rica

Onalfo is a very familiar name in American soccer circles, as a former MLS coach and current technical director of the New England Revolution. But as a player, Onalfo was hailed as the next big thing. In the summer of 1988, the 18-year-old Onalfo received a call-up to play for the U.S. B-Team against Costa Rica in San Antonio, Texas, where he helped the U.S. to a 1-0 victory.

“I just remember being really nervous about it and having to settle down. It took me about five minutes and then I was good,” Onalfo said.

Onalfo went on to play for the USA at the 1989 FIFA Youth World Cup and also at the 1992 Olympics, but a year later he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, dashing his hopes of playing at the 1994 World Cup. team in ’94, but then I had cancer. That was one and done. After chemo, I just wasn’t the same. I never had great pace and when I went through chemo, I lost my stride,” Onalfo said.

Despite cancer ending his international career, Onalfo fondly remembers his lone performance and now tries to pass on wisdom to his players whenever they get their first call-up.

“I think the best advice I’ve found is to tell them: play to win, not to impress. If you play to win, you cut through the gauntlet and play your best.”

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Mac Cozier, Forward: October 16, 1996 vs. Peru

October 1996 was an interesting time for American football. A month before qualifying for the 1998 World Cup in France, the main group of men’s national team players were on strike. A friendly against Peru in Lima was on the list, so a group of USMNT players who would not have otherwise been invited were invited to the camp. Columbus Crew rookie Mac Cozier was one of them, but he was a bit confused when he showed up to camp.

“I thought, ‘Where’s Eric Wynalda? Where’s Tab Ramos?’ We really didn’t hear everything that was going on at the time,” said Cozier, who is now a high school math teacher in Jacksonville, Florida.

Upon arriving in Peru, Cozier was exposed to a completely new football atmosphere. “When you’re in college, you just get on the bus and nobody knows who you are, but here in this atmosphere, you’re with the police, they’ve got the lights on, and everybody’s yelling at you in the stadium,” Cozier said.

Cozier replaced Jean Harbor in the first half and quickly made an impact, chipping in Dario Brose’s equalizer to make it 1-1 at halftime. However, reality set in during the second half and Peru cruised to a 4-1 victory.

“It opened some doors for me that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I got to play in Chile for a year and experience that culture. That’s when I started learning more about what it means to play soccer and play for the national team. that door for me,” Cozier said.

David Cayemitte, winger: 2 December 1984 v Ecuador

The US national team has a long history of players with Haitian roots on the team, such as 1950 World Cup hero Joe Gaetjens and two-time World Cup player Jozy Altidore. Haitian-born David Cayemitte’s time with the USMNT ended somewhere in the middle, playing in a 2-2 draw with Ecuador at the Orange Bowl in Miami.

“It’s a great feeling to be a part of that history. It’s great to see how the national team accepts that wherever you come from you have a chance. After my children were born, the national team is my third blissful memory,” said Cayemitte.

Growing up on Long Island, Cayemitte became one of the top high school players in the area and played at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. A representative opportunity presented itself there. “The national team was going around and one of the practices was held at Hofstra University. I’m not sure how it happened, but my coach, Bob Montgomery, knocked on my door and said, ‘You have to go try out.’ ‘ I said, ‘For what?’ He said: ‘For the national team.’ I thought he was joking,” Cayemitte said.

Weeks later in Miami, at right back, Cayemitte came off the bench to stop Ecuador’s attack.

“I came in and focused on anticipating any passing ball. I knew I had the speed to catch their left wing. I didn’t want to reach for the ball, so he had to keep cutting back to the center. I came in and did my job,” said a beaming Cayemitte.

A miscommunication about the timing of two practices quickly ended Cayemitte’s time with the national team. It’s hard for him not to look back on those mistakes and think what could have been.

“It was my doing, but looking at the players who were there at the time, I know I could have been a right-back or an assistant right-back for that ’86 team… Is that a regret? Yes. But do I blame anyone? No . It was my responsibility. It was a wonderful moment, though.”

Romain Gall, defender: 20 November 2018 against Italy

While the dream of returning to the USMNT is long gone for the aforementioned players, hope remains alive for Romain Gallo. To date, the right winger’s only national team game came in a 1-0 friendly loss to Italy during the Dave Sarachan era, a transition period after the USA failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

“The first match against Italy, just being on the field, you have unlimited energy because you are in such a positive space. The whole camp is something I will surely remember for the rest of my life. It was an honor for me,” said Gall.

Gall was subsequently invited to the camp in January 2019, but Malmo’s Europa League round of 16 tie with Chelsea prevented him from attending. Gall had an initial conversation with then-new coach Gregg Berhalter, but hasn’t heard back since. Since his contract expires at the end of the year in Malmo, Gall is leaning towards staying in Europe, and one of the primary motives is to return to the American national team.

“I’m a competitor, I’m a dreamer, so getting back into the national team is always in the back of my mind and hopefully that day will come whenever it does,” Gall said.

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