1995 and in preparation for the World Cup in America the following summer, the USA hosted a four-nation competition with England, Brazil and Germany invited. Five stadiums would be used for the six games as the US had the opportunity to give the world a glimpse of what was to come twelve months later.
The first game was held at the Yale Bowl, New Haven as Brazil beat USA 2-0, with Careca on the scoresheet. Three days later England took the field against the hosts at the Foxboro Stadium, Boston, home of New England Patriots.
USA hadn’t competed in a World Cup since their famous win over England in Brazil 1950, until they played in Italia ’90 losing all three matches. FIFA saw the States as the great unexplored frontier where football was concerned. The potential market was huge and this is mainly how they were awarded the World Cup in the first place. At the time few of the Americans were known to the English audience, but they would soon become etched on their memory. John Harkes played for Sheffield Wednesday and Roy Wegerle for Coventry and this game was also the springboard for several other players who moved to Europe on the back of this tournament.
Gascoigne didn’t make the trip as his club, Lazio, withdrew him so Taylor took the opportunity to experiment using Liverpool’s Nigel Clough in a role now known as “the number ten”. Twenty-two clubs in the Premier League at that time yet Taylor couldn’t find another defender to partner Pallister at the back so for reasons best known to himself, he threw Carlton Palmer in there. Many an England fan wished he wasn’t used in midfield but they didn’t consider an alternative position in the team as a reasonable option. Similarly, he couldn’t find a recognised striker to partner Les Ferdinand up front so he chose John Barnes. Paul Ince earned the honour of becoming England’s first black captain in a midfield with Clough, David Batty and Lee Sharpe.
Foxboro Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, was the venue as England’s best chance came early when Nigel Clough followed the script and arrived late in the box to slice a kick horribly wide when hitting the target would likely have been a goal. But the home side rapidly grew in confidence and belief as Wynalda and Agoos went close. Wegerle started to pull the strings in midfield and England began to look shaky. Three minutes before the break and the home fans got what their team deserved. An overhit cross from the left was turned back into the six-yard area by Ramos and Tom Dooley headed in unchallenged.
In the second half, Tony Meola in the US goal made some crucial saves to keep his side in the lead with England becoming more and more frantic. On the break Stewart could’ve ended the game but for a last ditch tackle from Dorigo. By now Taylor had seen sense and brought on Des Walker for Palmer but England needed goals at the other end. The resulting corner saw the first scorer, Dooley’s replacement, the oddly characterised Alexi Lalas, rise above the English defence to head home and finish the game off as a contest. The final nail in the coffin was the sight of one of English footballs finest goal scorers, Ian Wright, put clean through with just Meola to beat, and inexplicably he just hit the ball straight at the keeper.
After the Polish disappointment and the Norway defeat things could hardly get worse, or so we thought but this was a new low. If you were to summarise Taylor’s reign for England in just a couple of matches then this one would sit in pride of place. The fall-out was spectacular and unbelievably bitter. The Sun ran a headline “Yanks 2, Planks 0”, the Mirror suggested “We Can’t Get Any Lower”, whereas the Express went further by trying to make comparisons with cricket’s Ashes.
“English football died of shame last night – and the coffin could be draped with the Stars and Stripes”, accusing England’s stars of being beaten by “a collection of college boys and second-rate professionals”.
The Mirror mocked up an Old West-style flier with the title “Wanted Dead or Alive: Graham Taylor – the outlaw of English football”, and Today maintained “Flops Reach All-Time Low”.
This could certainly be identified as Taylor’s nadir and he would never recover from such a level, despite some decent performances to come. In the eyes and words of the press he was a dead man walking.
Four days later at Washington Redskins stadium, Taylor made five changes including Tim Flowers in goal and Aston Villa’s Earl Barrett who joined the increasingly lost list of Taylor selections for whom years later people look back and ask, “who?”. They were up against Brazil who’d let a 3-0 lead slip against the Germans to draw 3-3 in their first match.
Early in the second half some of the despair from earlier in the week had been forgotten as David Platt headed England into the lead. Ultimately England drew the match when Marcio Santos headed in a corner as the five England players stood and admired it. But Brazil were experimenting even more than England were so perhaps this wasn’t as good a result as we needed, no matter how good it looked on paper.
England ended the tournament without a win as Germany beat them 1-2 in the Silverdome with Platt again on the scoresheet. Germany were the winners of the US Cup although the home side had come out with the most kudos, not only for their win against England but they also gave the Germans a scare scoring twice in the last twenty minutes after trailing 1-4.