What’s your all-time favorite pass? Athletic’s North American soccer staff step in

Identifying a big goal is easy. The same goes for a nice backup. A big pass, but? It’s a little more difficult, not because there are so few suitors, but because there are so many.

It is in this spirit that we, Athleticismfrom the North American football staff, submit our nominations for the best assists we’ve ever seen, about a week after our counterparts in the UK did the same. Our only rule was that we couldn’t repeat any of their picks, and our roster, as you’d expect, is a bit more USA-centric than theirs. But still, it was the services that caught our imagination.

Let us know your nominations for your favorite pass ever played in the comments below…


Tab Ramos – to Earnie Stewart, USA v Colombia, 1994 World Cup, June 22, 1994

Tab Ramos was the kind of player America rarely produced in the 80s and 90s: technical, very skilled with his feet, and gifted with exceptional passing ability and vision. In 1994, with the entire United States watching, Ramos connected with Earnie Stewart to spur the USMNT to an unlikely and memorable win over Colombia.

This game is best remembered for the USMNT’s other tally in the game – an Andres Escobar own goal that days later led to tragedy. But Ramos’ serve here is stunning, a perfectly weighted, chipped ball that hits Stewart in stride. It may not be the the most beautiful pass I’ve ever seen, but it certainly ended up being the most significant, helping football take a firm foothold in the United States, one that remains strong to this day.

Pablo Maurer

Trinity Rodman – at Ashley Hatch, Washington Spirit vs Racing Louisville FC, NWSL regular season, October 9, 2021

There’s no pass more famous in American women’s soccer than the ball that left Megan Rapinoe’s left foot that found Abby Wambach’s header in 2011 against Brazil, although I would say the assist Heather O’Reilly’s 2012 Olympics is also expected to be a contender. In terms of passes that you just want to loop and scream for a few days? Look no further than 2021 NWSL Rookie of the Year, Trinity Rodman.

There’s nothing particularly special about this match, just that it was in the middle of Spirit’s run to their first NWSL championship last season, amid a contentious ownership battle and numerous other out-of-the-box issues. ground. Despite all the talk about the Spirit, Rodman just did what she does best: get started. It’s a perfect example of how even though the stories around the sport are tough, at the heart of the game is sheer, jaw-dropping talent that just makes you want to point at your screen in disbelief.

Meg Linehan

Ronaldinho – to Henrik Larsson, Barcelona v Celta Vigo, December 20, 2005

Like Meg, I struggle with the urge to point out the most famous pass in American football history (Rapinoe to Wambach). I am also obliged to leave aside my prefer all-time pass, that is, when the Minnesota United midfielder Ibson sent a backpass in the defensive third directly on the heels of Alphonso Davies, linked to Bayern.

It’s not an Americana choice, but it does have sentimental value. I grew up in Saint Cloud, Minnesota – not exactly a bastion of world football. However, my family treated the Men’s and Women’s World Cups as a date, painting my face before the 1999 final and waking up in the early hours of the morning with my brother to watch the United States quarter-final in 2002. It wasn’t until ESPN started airing the Champions League final that I really got into club football – and no player has captured my young imagination quite like Ronaldinho. His gaze was so unique that I was immediately drawn to him. With his otherworldly handling ability, dribbling and passing, I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love with a player in quite the same way – well, other than his successor.

You could single out several passages from his greatest hits compilation as the “best” and you wouldn’t be laughed at. I will hear arguments for his assist against Osasuna in the same 2005-06 La Liga season. No matter where you lean, no player before or since has combined the ability and the audacity to consistently make passes like this quite like Ronaldinho.

Jeff Rueter

Carlos Valderrama – at Freddy Rincón, Colombia v West Germany, 1990 World Cup group stage, June 1990

Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama’s assist to the late Freddy Rincón in Italia ’90 is one of the great moments in World Cup history. Valderrama opened up the defense for world champion West Germany with Colombia’s World Cup hopes on the line. Colombia needed a draw to advance to the knockout stages for the first time in the country’s history. The cunning and determination that El Pibe displayed, and his ability to see Rincón out of the corner of his eye, was remarkable.

Valderrama described this moment during an interview with Athleticism last summer.

“It happened very quickly,” Valderrama said. “Freddy and I understood each other very well. But that game happened so fast. You can’t think of that moment. It was the most important match for us at that moment. So in the end, we remember that as a historic assist.

Philippe Cardenas

Wayne Rooney – to Lucho Acosta, DC United vs. Orlando City, MLS, August 12, 2018

I confined myself to the world of American and Canadian soccer for this exercise, which… didn’t really make things easier. While there are plenty of worthy contenders (I have particular soft spots for that Victor Vazquez ball from the 2017 MLS Cup and Howard’s shot against Algeria), I kept coming back to Wayne’s famous delivery Rooney to Lucho Acosta against Orlando in 2018.

The choice is less about the pass than about the whole game itself. Remember the context: although there were months left in the regular season, DC United’s miserable start to 2018 meant that that August game against a terrible Orlando side was essentially a must win. Rooney, playing in only his sixth game for the club, almost single-handedly snatched a win from the jaws of defeat.

With the game tied at 2-2 going into the sixth and final minute of stoppage time, DC threw their entire team – including goalkeeper David Ousted – into the Orlando box for a corner kick. Central defender Kofi Opare headed in the goal which was cleared off the line by Orlando midfielder Uri Rosell, who stole the ball deep down the left flank. Orlando’s Will Johnson ran over it near midfield and appeared to have a clear path to an open goal, but Rooney, who had lingered near the top of the penalty area during the corner, had other ideas.

It followed a dead sprint from 70 yards with a perfect sliding tackle on Johnson, who was trying to pass to a teammate for what would have been a winner. Rooney then got up, took three touches on the right touchline and launched a high, arching and beautiful ball towards Acosta at the back post. The 5-foot-3 Argentine somehow rose above the taller Chris Mueller and headed home to complete a hat-trick and hand DC an incredible win. He jumped onto billboards and into the fan section to celebrate, creating what remains the greatest moment in Audi Field history. Rooney, completely gassed, doubled over in exhaustion near the touchline.

“It was weird,” Rooney said afterwards. “We went from defeat to victory in the space of five seconds. It’s good. These are the best football matches to win.

Sam Stejskal

Tim Howard – to Landon Donovan, USA Men’s National Team v Algeria, World Cup, June 23, 2010

“Cast, awesome.”

Everyone in American football knows Ian Darke’s enthusiastic “Go, go USA” comment after Landon Donovan’s tournament-saving goal against Algeria. This blurb is about what happened seconds before, told by those two simple words that Darke spoke with palpable anticipation.

The distribution been awesome. In one move, Howard took eight Algerian defenders out of play, putting the ball perfectly in the wake of Donovan, America’s most feared counter-attacking player, in a 4-2 situation with a crucial result. in play. The effectiveness of the throw is perhaps matched only by the ineffectiveness of the broadcast in capturing the feat; the world feed was discontinued before Howard’s liquidation and returned to action once Donovan walked away. To date, the best and most accessible footage of the throw comes from this video and other fan videos, as mentioned in Matt Pentz’s terrific oral history a few years ago:

Some would argue that this game doesn’t belong on this list because throwing the ball is a fundamentally different skill than playing with the feet, head, chest, etc. Some may call me a clueless American, praising a skill closer to gridiron football and baseball than football. They’ll have a legitimate point, and I don’t care. I love threaded lazers and lofted perfection; throws like Howard’s require vision, precision, timing and composure like any of them. The fact that he created perhaps the most indelible American men’s soccer moment of all time immediately made me think of this exercise.

Alexander Abnos

(Photo: Ross Kinnaird/EMPICS via Getty Images)

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