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11 Most Heartbreaking Losses in USA Sports History

by: Esteban On  Wednesday, July 2, 2014

most heartbreaking losses usa sports history

American sports fans are pretty bummed today after watching the USA got eliminated by Belgium yesterday  at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. (In retrospect, those hype videos kind of make things worse, don’t they?) However, this is hardly the first time we’ve had our hearts ripped on the international stage. It’s happened before, and it will happen again—probably at the next World Cup.

So where does yesterday’s loss rank amongst all the others? That is the topic of today’s list. So go grab another cup of coffee, sit back, and take a look. Then wipe away your red, white, and blue tears and get on with your life.


11. USMNT, 1994 World Cup

The USMNT really had no chance of beating Brazil in the Round of 16 at the 1994 World Cup. They only made it out of the group stage because they were able to capitalize on an own goal by the heavily favored Colombians. Brazil was a juggernaut. The USA was appearing in only their second World Cup since 1950.

The thing is, most of the 10 million Americans watching on July 4, 1990, didn’t realize that because they were kind of new to soccer, and this was America, dammit. Then, when Brazil went down a man after Leonardo dealt Tab Ramos a vicious elbow that fractured his skull, it seemed like the USA was totally going to pull off a huge Independence Day win.

But no. Brazil went and spat in everyone’s 4th of July apple pie by scoring a goal in the 72nd minute and winning the damn game 1-0.


10. USA Basketball, 2004 Summer Olympics

usa basketball 2004 athens - heartbreaking usa sports losses

Heading into the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, the USA Men’s National Basketball Team had 12 gold medals and only two losses. Ever. Then they lost to Puerto Rico 92-73 in the first game of the tournament.

Puerto. Rico. By 19 points!

Given the level of talent on the roster —LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Carmelo Anthony—it was basically the most humiliating performance in American Olympic history. And the team would go on to lose to Lithuania and Argentina, too, before saving a little face and beating Lithuania in the bronze medal game.

Since 1992, USA Basketball’s record in all competitions is 117-7, and three of those losses came in Athens in 2004.


9. U.S. Women’s Softball, 2008 Summer Olympics

usa softball 1998 - heartbreaking usa sports losses

In 1996, the USA Softball Team went 8-1 at the Olympics and won the gold medal. In 2000, they went 7-3 and won the gold medal. And in 2004, they went 9-0 and won the gold medal.

But in 2008? In 2008 they went 7-0 in the group stage, then beat Japan for the second time in the semifinals. However, because the tournament format gave Japan a second chance, the USA had to face Japan a third time in the gold medal game. And they lost, 3-1.

So the USA went 8-1 in all and 2-1 against Japan, while Japan went 7-2 and 1-2 against the USA. But Japan got told and USA got silver.

Make sense, right?


8. USA Golf, 2012 Ryder Cup

2012 ryder cup - miracle at medina - heartbreaking usa sports losses

Okay, so American sports fans don’t get quite as pumped up about the Ryder Cup as they do about the World Cup. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that 10% or less of the general population even knows what the Ryder Cup is.

But in golf, the Ryder Cup (i.e., the biennial team competition between the USA and Europe) is a big deal. And in 2012, Team USA had a huge 10-6 lead going into the final day of the competition,   only to lose in stunning, heartbreaking fashion.

I’m not going to bore you with the specifics about how the scoring works in the Ryders Cup (if you’re interested, you can do that here), but basically the USA needed just 4.5 points to win while Europe needed 8.5 points to win. That’s why they call this one “The Miracle at Medinah.”

Making the loss all the more bitter? The fact that it was the USA’s fifth in the last six Ryder Cups.


7. USMNT, 2014 World Cup

usa belgium 2014 world cup - heartbreaking usa sports losses

At #7 we have the heartbreaking loss to Belgium in the Round of 16 at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Now normally, a loss to a heavily favored team that dominated play for the majority of the game wouldn’t be considered “heartbreaking.” However, this one has extenuating circumstances.

First and foremost is the historic and heroic performance of USMNT goalie Tim Howard. He made a World Cup record 16 saves against Belgium and single-handedly got his team to overtime.  Seeing that performance result in a loss is just sad.

Second, and more importantly, after the U.S. went down 2-0 in overtime and everyone thought it was all over, they came storming back. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann put 19-year-old phenom Julian Green into the game and he immediately scored a goal with 15 minutes remaining. Then, in those last 15 minutes, the USA managed to find another gear and furiously attack the Belgium net, nearly scoring the equalizer on several occasions, only to fall short and lose the game 2-1.

So this one was heartbreaking precisely because the USMNT showed so much heart.

Poetic, isn’t it?


6. USMNT, 2010 World Cup

2010 world cup usa ghana - heartbreaking usa sports losses

The USMNT’s elimination from the 2014 FIFA World Cup was hard to swallow, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as their elimination from the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

The difference? Unlike 2014, in 2010 the U.S. were not heavy underdogs. They had a slight edge in possession and the teams were equal in shots attempted (14) and shots on goal (6). However, much like against Belgium, in 2010 the USMNT conceded a goal early in extra time to make the score 2-1. Then they failed to capitalize on numerous chances before time expires.

It was a golden opportunity missed. Ghana took Uruguay to penalties in the Quarterfinals, and Uruguay wound up finishing in 4th place.


5. USA Basketball, 1988 Summer Olympics

usa basketball 1988 olympics david robinson - heartbreaking usa sports losses

Heading into the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, the USA had won nine of 11 goals medals, and only other teams to ever win gold had serious asterisks by their accomplishments. So it was a real shock when the USSR, in their last ever Olympics, defeated Team USA in the semifinals.

This, actually, was the loss that prompted FIBA to allow NBA players to play in the Olympics in 1992. Until then, only amateurs and professionals from other leagues were allowed to play, and for a long time U.S. college players were still better than any other pros in the world. However, by the late 80s the rest of the world had caught up, so FIBA had to allow the USA to bring their best players to the Games.


4. USWNT, 2011 Women’s World Cup

2011 women's world cup finals usa japan penalty kicks - heartbreaking usa sports losses

The USWNT went down 2-1 early in overtime against a slightly favored Brazilian squad in the quarterfinals. However, a miraculous last-second goal by Abby Wambach tied the game, and the USA went on to win on penalties.

From there it was supposed to be the team of destiny. They had to win. And after knocking France out 3-1 in the semis to set up a Final against Japan, it looked like they were gonna.

But then they didn’t. After taking a 2-1 lead 11 minted left in extra time, Japan tied it up 2-2 with only three minutes left. Then they won on penalties, giving the USWNT a taste of their own terrible, terrible medicine.


3. USA Men’s Hockey, 2010 Winter Olympics

2010 olympic hockey usa canada - heartbreaking usa sports losses

Everyone remembers this heartbreaker, right?

Team USA made it to the finals of the men’s hockey tournament at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Then they fell behind the heavily favored Canadians 2-0 midway through the second period. However, in the third period the USA got a goal from Ryan Kessler with less than eight minutes to play before Zach Parise tied the game with only 25 seconds left on the clock.

Team USA could not be stopped! They were the team of Destiny set to perform a minor miracle 30 years after the Miracle on Ice!

But then stupid jerk face Sidney Crosby went and ruined everything by scoring seven and a half minutes into overtime, giving Canada the gold medal and the USA silver.

Sudden damn painful death.


2. USA Basketball, 1972 Summer Olympics

In 1972, the USA suffered their first loss in Olympic basketball in the most controversial basketball game of all time. With the USA up 50-49, incompetent officiating gave the Soviets three tries at an in-bound play with only three seconds remaining, and on the third time they successfully scored to win 51-50.

Was the win fair? That obviously depends where you’re from. And since I’m from America, HELL NO IT WASN’T FAIR!

Seriously, though, it’s a fascinating story. If you’ve got 20 minutes to spare, here’s a longer look at it:



1. USA Women’s Hockey, 2014 Winter Olympics

women's hockey usa canada 2014 winter olymics - heartbreaking usa sports losses

The Canadian Women’s Hockey Team had won there straight Olympic gold medals heading into the gold medal game against the USA in Sochi. However, the Americans outplayed the Canadians through two and a half periods of that gold medal game, and as a result they had a solid 2-0 lead with under five minted to play. They were finally going to beat the Canucks!

Of course, you see where this is going.

Canada scored a goal with 3:26 left to make it 2-1. Then, with just over a minute left in the game, the USA shot the puck the length of the ice on an empty net, and this happened:

A few seconds later, Canada scored to tie the game, and in overtime they won it on the power play.

Now that was a heartbreaking loss.