Four years ago, the U.S. team woke up Americans to soccer with its surprise success in the World Cup. This time, it opened with a thud.
Routed 3-0 by the Czech Republic on Monday night, the United States might have a very short World Cup stay this year.
Eager to prove they are among soccer's elite after their surprising quarterfinal finish in South Korea four years ago, the Americans brought their most-talented team ever to this year's tournament. They even got a pregame pep talk from President Bush, who called from Camp David before the game and wished them well.
But they disappointed millions of fans back home and about 5,000 who made the trek to Germany, falling to 0-8 in Europe in World Cup play.
With the loss, the Americans put themselves in an extremely difficult hole — in the last two World Cups, the only team to advance from the first round after losing its opener was Turkey in 2002.
Next up for the United States is traditional power Italy on Saturday, followed by rising Ghana on June 22.
U.S. captain Claudio Reyna came closest to scoring, hitting a post midway through the first half. But Rosicky scored on a soaring 25-yard shot in the 36th minute, and the Americans never got back into the game against the Czechs, semifinalists in the European Championship two years ago.
Rosicky hit the crossbar in the 68th and added a goal in the 76th minute, getting past the U.S. defense off a through pass from Pavel Nedved, Europe's 2003 player of the year, and beating Kasey Keller on a breakaway.
Eddie Johnson, who entered at halftime, provided some energy, missing just wide in the 70th minute and high in the 76th.
When the Americans returned to the World Cup in 1990 after a 40-year absence, they were embarrassed 5-1 by Czechoslovakia in their opener. Ever since December's draw, they said this game was an opportunity to show how much they've improved.
They're ranked fifth in the world by FIFA's much-criticized computer formula — the Czechs are second behind only Brazil — but the Americans created few dangerous scoring chances.
Four years ago, the United States broke on top in its opener against Portugal in the fourth minute. This time, it was the Americans who fell behind quickly. David Rozehnal played the ball to the right flank for Zdenek Grygera, who had plenty of space and time, and crossed the ball before an onrushing Pablo Mastroeni could get there.
The 6-foot-7 1/2-inch Koller, who returned only last month from knee surgery, already had been fouled by Oguchi Onyewu and Eddie Pope in the first two minutes. He stayed behind Onyewu, a 24-year-old who has been with the national team for less than two years, and was inside of the more experienced Pope. He easily bent his bald head to meet the cross and put the ball past Keller for his 43rd goal in 69 international appearances, a Czech record.
Reyna, who hasn't scored for the national team since 2000, nearly tied the score in the 29th, curling a 25-yard shot that got by a diving Petr Cech in goal. Reyna had a hopeful look on his face, but his expression quickly changed to disgust as the ball clanked off the far post.
Just as the United States was starting to establish some offensive rhythm, the Czechs went up 2-0. Nedved crossed and Onyewu headed the ball out. But it went to Rosicky, who settled it and sent a spectacular right-footed shot into the top corner to Keller's left, above the goalkeeper's raised right hand.
Koller injured his right leg battling Onyewu for a ball on the flank in the 43d minute, and was taken off on a stretcher, one hand behind his head, the other covering his face. He was taken to a hospital to be examined.