June 29, 2014
By Michael Lewis
LOOKING WAY BACK
When the USA beat Belgium in the very 1st World Cup in 1930
SAO PAULO, Brazil -- The headline in the July 21, 1930 edition of The New York Times said it all: "U.S. Favorite to Win World's Soccer Title."
That was no misprint. Thanks to its two opening round victories, the Americans had qualified for the semifinals and had been given a fighting chance to take home the Jules Rimet Trophy. They didn't, dropping a 6-1 decision to Argentina, and, as it turned out, that was the closest they have come to winning the competition.
Because the first World Cup was essentially an open tournament -- only 13 teams made it to Uruguay thanks to the large distances to negotiate the Atlantic Ocean from Europe and South America -- the Americans had their best chance to win the cup.
In what started an ill-advised tradition that unfortunately had been followed for too many years to mention, the U.S. picked its squad through three tryouts. By the time the team was ready to board the S.S. Munargo for a 14-day voyage to parts south, coach Robert Millar had assembled his team that included 11 players from the northeastern U.S. -- New York (goalkeeper Jimmy Douglas, defender George Moorhouse, midfielder James Gallagher, forward James Brown, Providence, R.I. (midfielder Andrew Auld), New Bedford, Mass. (forwards Thomas Florie and Arnie Oliver), Fall River, Mass. (forwards Bert Patenaude and Bill Gonsalves) and Philadelphia (James Gentle) and two from St. Louis (Frank Vaughn and midfielder Raphael Tracey), Cleveland (Michael Bookie) and Detroit (defender Alexander Wood).
The team, nicknamed the "Shotputters" by the French because of the large size of several players, left for Uruguay without having played together (another ill-advised tradition that was to be followed through some lean years).
Perhaps the worst part of the experience was the journey -- a 14-day boat ride from Hoboken, N.J. to South America on the S.S. Munargo -- because many team members succumbed to seasickness.
The team arrived in Montevideo on July 1, 12 days before their first match, so the players had plenty of time to acclimate to the less-than-favorable weather conditions. It had rained virtually daily for three months and there was a touch of snow the day of the opening match. The U.S. team marched into Estadio Parque Central , home of Nacional F.C. singing the "Stein Song," the theme song of entertainer Rudy Vallee, who might be best known for his rendition of "Westminster Cathedral."
Now, that pre-game ritual should have been followed through the years because the U.S. recorded a 3-0 victory over Belgium as McGhee, Florie and Patenaude scored on a field that had countless pools of water before an encouraging crowd of 18,346.
It was almost more of the same in the second contest, a 3-0 triumph over Paraguay that clinched the Group 4 title before 18,306 back on the same field on July 17. Patenaude, a 21-year-old French-Canadian born in Massachusetts, originally was credited with two goals -- Paraguayan Aurelio Gonzalez first was awarded an own goal, although teammates claimed he had three, which would have been the first World Cup hat-trick. FIFA eventually credited him for the hat-trick. For the record, Patenaude tallied in the 10th, 15th and 50th minutes.
That also meant the Americans had qualified for the semifinals and a chance to take on Argentina. It never was a match as the Argentines used a short-passing game to defeat the Americans, who were better suited to the air and long-ball strategy in a 6-1 win before 80,000 at Centenary Stadium.
Actually, the U.S. had made a game of it in the opening 45 minutes, winding up with a 1-0 halftime deficit on a goal by Luis Monti. But there were problems, major problems. Although he did not realize it at the time, Tracey had broken his leg 10 minutes into the match. Douglas came up lame in the nets, and just about everything collapsed in the second half.
"We played 10 players against 11," said Hall of Famer Oliver, who passed away in October, 1993. "That's like the Red Sox playing without a shortstop or center fielder."
Also not helping matters was the huge field -- 100 by 138 yards. "We never played on such a wide field before," said Brown, the last surviving member of the 1930 team who passed away in 1994. "It affected our game. We couldn't play our style of wing-to-wing passes and our crosses from the wing to the center kept falling short."