Two-hundred and seven: That’s the number of players who have just one solitary cap with the U.S. men’s national team. Only once did they play in a senior team game. Some of the 207 you have heard of, like former USMNT coach Bruce Arena (1973 vs. Israel), and some you haven’t, like Jimmy Ford (1916 vs. Sweden).
There are oddities, too. Otto Decker scored a brace 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 loss to the U.S. in 1926, before switching to the U.S. and playing his lone game against — wait for it — Canada!
The stories of these 207 men in the one-cap club reach far and wide, and ESPN had the opportunity to visit with several of them. They all offered different perspectives on the experience, but they all agreed on one thing: playing at the highest level for their country was the honor of a lifetime. Their lives have each taken twists and turns since wearing the U.S. shirt, but even though it only happened once, these moments in the history books is forever theirs.
Eddie Robinson, defender: Jan. 19, 2008 vs. Sweden
A four-time MLS Cup winner with San Jose and Houston, Eddie Robinson brought a hard edge to those championship teams, but his propensity to flirt with the red card always seemed to damage his national team hopes. “What I heard from both Bruce and Bob [Bradley] was basically, ‘I can’t trust you to not get sent off.’ I understood that. That was just how I was wired,” said Robinson.
Robinson got called to camps in 2002 and 2006, but his USMNT appearance did not come until 2008 in a 2-0 January friendly win against Sweden. A guy who hardly ever scored in MLS managed to get a goal in his lone national team appearance, just one of 10 “single cappers” to achieve that feat.
Yet when Robinson reflects on his sole cap, a feeling of remorse washes over him. “I almost offended myself. I had never focused so hard. 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 don’t I focus so hard for my club team?'”
Tim Harris, goalkeeper: June 16, 1985 vs. England
Before he became President of Business Operations for the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, Tim Harris was a goalkeeper at UCLA and then for the LA Lazers in the Major Indoor Soccer League. In the summer of 1985, an unexpected call-up came.
“They said, ‘You’re going come in and back up Arnie Mausser.’ I was lukewarm to the idea, but they said, ‘Look, you get to make a little bit of money,’ so I said, ‘OK, I’ll do that,'” recalled Harris.
The U.S. had just one practice before the game against England and Harris wasn’t expecting to see the field… until a halftime disagreement between Mauser and coach Alkis Panagoulias changed everything. “Halftime is ending and I’m sort of strolling back over to the bench and somebody says, ‘You know that you’re playing.’ And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ They said, ‘No, you’re in,’ ” said Harris.
Already down 2-0, Harris conceded another three for a 5-0 final score.
“I was the definition of, at best, average,” said Harris. “But despite how poorly it turned out, you’re still playing for your country and you can never discount the importance of that.”
While now fully ingrained into NBA life at the executive level, Harris remains an avid soccer fan, such that the attendance of European soccer stars to Staples Center sometimes produces the memory of a lifetime. “Right before Jose Mourinho took the Man United job, he came through for a game. He, Kobe Bryant and I sat in a trainer’s room after the game. He was asking Kobe questions about preparation, Kobe was asking him questions.
“For me, it was just cool to just sit and listen to those two guys.”
Curt Onalfo, defender: June 14, 1988 vs. Costa Rica
Onalfo is a very familiar name in U.S. soccer circles, as a former MLS coach and current technical director of the New England Revolution. But as a player, Onalfo was hyped as a next big thing. In the summer of 1988, the 18-year-old Onalfo got a call to play for an American B-team against Costa Rica in San Antonio, Texas, where he helped the U.S. pick up a 1-0 victory.
“I just remember being extremely nervous about it and needing to get settled in. It took me about five minutes and then I was good,” said Onalfo.
Onalfo went on to feature for the U.S. at the 1989 FIFA World Youth Championship and also the 1992 Olympics, however a year later he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease, derailing hopes to play in the 1994 World Cup. “I was a candidate to compete for the ’94 team, but then I had cancer. It was one and done. After chemo, I just wasn’t the same. I never had exceptional pace and when I went through chemo, I lost a step,” said Onalfo.
Despite cancer cutting short his national team career, Onalfo fondly remembers his lone appearance and now tries to impart wisdom to his players any time they receive 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 essence and you play to your best ability.”
Mac Cozier, forward: Oct. 16, 1996 vs. Peru
October 1996 was an interesting time for U.S. Soccer. A month before World Cup qualifying for France 1998, the core group of men’s national team players were on strike. A friendly against Peru in Lima was on the docket, so a group of USMNT players who ordinarily would not have been called got invited to camp. Columbus Crew rookie Mac Cozier was one of them, but he was a bit confused when he showed up at camp.
“I was like, ‘Where’s Eric Wynalda? Where’s Tab Ramos?’ We really didn’t hear all that was going on at the time,” said Cozier, who is now a math teacher at a high school in Jacksonville, Florida.
Upon arriving in Peru, Cozier was exposed to a completely new soccer atmosphere. “When you’re in college, you just go on the bus and nobody knows who you are, but here in this atmosphere, you’re with the police, they have their lights on and in the stadium everybody is yelling at you,” said Cozier.
Cozier replaced Jean Harbor in the first half and quickly made an impact, having a hand in Dario Brose’s equalizer for a 1-1 halftime score. Reality set in duringthe second half, though, and Peru came away with a 4-1 win.
“It opened some doors for me that otherwise I would not have had. I got to go 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 playing for the national team opened that door for me,” said Cozier.
David Cayemitte, winger: Dec. 2, 1984 vs. Ecuador
The U.S. national team has a long history of players with Haitian roots on the team, like 1950 World Cup hero Joe Gaetjens and two-time World Cup player Jozy Altidore. Haiti-born David Cayemitte’s time with the USMNT came sandwiched somewhere in the middle, featuring in a 2-2 draw with Ecuador at Miami’s Orange Bowl.
“It feels great to be a part of that history. It’s great to see the national team’s acceptance that wherever you come from, you have a chance. After my children being born, the national team is my third blessed 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. It was there that the national team opportunity arose. “The national team was going around and one of the trainings took place at Hofstra University. I’m not sure how it happened, but my coach, Bob Montgomery, knocked on my door and he said, ‘You have to go try out.’ I said, ‘For what?’ He said, ‘For the national team.’ I thought he was kidding,” said Cayemitte.
Weeks later in Miami, slotted in at right-back, Cayemitte came off the bench and put a halt to the Ecuador attack.
“I went in and focused on anticipating any of the through-balls. I knew I had the speed to catch their left winger. I wouldn’t reach for the ball, so he had to keep cutting back into the center. I went in and did my job,” said a beaming Cayemitte.
Miscommunication on the timing of two practice sessions quickly ended Cayemitte’s time with the national team. It’s hard not for him to look back on those mistakes and think what could have been.
“It was my own doing, but looking at the players who were there at the time, I know I could have been the right-back or the supporting right-back for that ’86 team… Is it a regret? Yes. But do I blame anybody? No. It was my responsibility. That said, it was a wonderful moment.”
Romain Gall, defender: Nov. 20, 2018 vs. Italy
While the dream of a USMNT return is long gone for the aforementioned players, hope remains alive for Romain Gall. To date, the right winger’s only national team game came in a 1-0 friendly loss to Italy during the Dave Sarachan era, which was a transitional period after the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
“Getting my first cap against Italy, just being on the field, you have unlimited energy because you’re in such a positive space. The whole camp is something that I’ll definitely remember for the rest of my life. It was an honoring moment,” said Gall.
Gall received a subsequent call-up for the January 2019 camp, but Malmo’s Europa League Round of 32 tie with Chelsea prevented him from attending. Gall had an initial conversation with then new coach Gregg Berhalter, but since has not heard anything. With his contract up at the end of the year at Malmo, Gall is leaning toward staying in Europe, with one of the primary motivations being a U.S. national team return.
“I’m a competitor, I’m a dreamer, so getting back to the national team is always in the back of my mind and I’m hoping for that day to come again whenever that is,” said Gall.
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