What’s your favorite pass of all time? The Athletic’s North American soccer staff weighs in

Identifying a big goal is easy. The same goes for a great rescue. A large happen, although? It’s a bit more difficult – not because there are so few competitors, but because there are so many.

In that sense, we are the athlete‘s North American soccer team, are submitting our nominations for Best Passports We’ve Ever Seen, about a week after our UK counterparts did the same. Our only rule was that we couldn’t repeat any of their picks, and as you might expect, our list is a bit more US-centric than theirs. But nonetheless, these are the services that have captured our imaginations.

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 United States rarely produced in the ’80s and ’90s: technical, highly talented with his feet, and gifted with exceptional passing ability and vision. In 1994, in front of the entire United States, Ramos linked with Earnie Stewart to spur the USMNT to an unlikely, memorable win over Colombia.

That game is best remembered for the USMNT’s other record in the game – an Andres Escobar own goal that led to tragedy days later. But Ramos’ service here is stunning, a perfectly weighted, chipped through ball that hits Stewart in the crotch. It couldn’t be the most beautiful Pass I’ve seen but it was certainly the most meaningful and helped take root in the United States football which is still going strong to this day.

Paul Maurer

Trinity Rodman – to Ashley Hatch, Washington Spirit vs. Racing Louisville FC, NWSL Regular Season, October 9, 2021

There’s no more famous pass in American women’s soccer than the ball that left Megan Rapinoe’s left foot that found Abby Wambach’s head in 2011 against Brazil, although I’d argue that Heather O’Reilly’s assist at the 2012 Olympics could also be a contender should. In terms of a pass you just want to repeat and yell around for a few days? Look no further than 2021 NWSL Rookie of the Year, Trinity Rodman.

There’s nothing special about this match, just that it came midway through the Spirits’ run to their first NWSL championship last season, amid a contentious ownership battle and many other off-field issues. However, for all the discussion surrounding the ghost, Rodman has simply done what she does best: ball out. It’s a perfect example that while the stories surrounding the sport are challenging, at the heart of the game is pure, breathtaking talent that will have you pointing at your screen in disbelief.

Meg Linehan

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

Like Meg, I’m fighting the urge to highlight the most famous pass in American football history (Rapinoe to Wambach). I am also forced to leave mine out favourite Pass all time, that’s when Minnesota United midfielder Ibson sent a back pass in the defensive third directly into the step of Bayern-bound Alphonso Davies.

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 championships equally as an appointment, had my face painted before the 1999 final, and woke up in the early hours with my brother to watch the United States quarterfinals in 2002. That was it It wasn’t until ESPN started airing the Champions League final that I really got into club football – and no player captured my fledgling imagination quite like Ronaldinho. His gaze was so unique that I was immediately drawn to him. With his attacking ability, his dribbling skills and his out-of-this-world passing game, I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love with a player like this – well, apart from his successor.

Many passes from his greatest hits compilation could be selected as the “best” and not laughed out of the hall. I will hear arguments for his back kick assist against Osasuna in the same 2005/06 La Liga season. No matter where you look, no player before or since has had the ability and courage to routinely play such passes quite like Ronaldinho.

Jeff Ruter

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

Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama’s stoppage-time assist for the late Freddy Rincón at Italia ’90 is considered one of the great moments in World Cup history. Valderrama sliced ​​through West Germany’s world champion defense while Colombia’s World Cup hopes were at stake. Colombia needed a draw to advance to the knockout stages for the first time in the country’s history. El Pibe’s cunning and determination and his ability to see Rincón out of the corner of his eye were remarkable.

Valderrama described that moment in an interview with the athlete last summer.

“It happened very quickly,” said Valderrama. “Freddy and I got along very well. But the game happened so fast. You can’t think at this moment. That was the most important game for us back then. So in the end it will be remembered as a historic assist.”

Felipe Cardenas

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

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

Picking is less about the pass and more about the entire game itself. Keep the context in mind: with the regular season still raging for months to come, DC United’s miserable start to 2018 meant that August game ended against a terrible team Orlando was essentially a must. Rooney, who was only in his sixth game for the club, almost single-handedly snatched a win from the jaws of defeat.

With the game tied 2-2 in the sixth and final minute of added time, DC threw their entire team — including goalie David Ousted — into the Orlando box for a corner kick. Central defender Kofi Opare deflected a header on goal that was cleared off the line by Orlando midfielder Uri Rosell, who slammed the ball deep down the left flank. Orlando’s Will Johnson ran towards it near midfield and seemed to have a clear path to an open goal, but Rooney, who had lingered near the top of the box during the corner kick, had other ideas.

He followed up a 70-yard dead dash with a perfect slide tackle on Johnson, who was attempting to make a pass to a teammate for a tap-in winner. Rooney then got up, took three touches down the right touchline and shot a high, arcing, beautiful ball towards Acosta at the back post. The 5ft 3 Argentine somehow rose above the taller Chris Mueller and drove home to complete a hat trick and give DC an incredible win. He jumped onto the billboards and into the supporters area to celebrate and created the best moment in Audi Field history. Rooney, completely gassed, writhed in exhaustion near the touchline.

“It was weird,” Rooney said afterwards. “We went from losing game to winning in five seconds. It is great. They are the best football games to win.”

Sam Stejskal

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

“Distribution, brilliant.”

Everyone in American football knows Ian Darke’s gushing “Go, go USA” comment after Landon Donovan’s tournament save against Algeria. This blurb is about what happened seconds ago, told by those two simple words Darke said with palpable anticipation.

The distribution was brilliant. In one move, Howard took out eight Algerian defenders and put the ball perfectly into the crotch of Donovan, the United States’ most feared counterattack, in a 4v2 situation with a crucial score down the line. The effectiveness of the throw is perhaps equaled only by the ineffectiveness of the broadcast in capturing the feat; The world feed cut short before Howard’s end and rejoined the action as Donovan sped away. To date, the best and most accessible footage of the throw comes from this and other fan videos, as noted in Matt Pentz’s great oral lore of the goal a few years ago:

Some will say this game doesn’t belong on this list because throwing the ball is a fundamentally different skill than playing with your feet, head, chest, etc. Some may call me a clueless American and praise a skill that the rust more closely resembles football and baseball than football. You will have a legitimate point and I don’t care. I love threaded lazers and loft perfection; Throws like Howard’s require vision, accuracy, timing and composure like each of them. That it was perhaps the most indelible moment in US men’s soccer that has ever happened made it immediately come to mind for this practice.

Alexander Abnos

(Photo: Ross Kinnaird/EMPICS via Getty Images)

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