With U.S. Soccer always looking toward the future with World Cups, Olympics and Youth World Championships on the horizon, weve created a section brought to you by the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y., that gives you, the ultimate soccer fan, the chance to pop it in reverse and look back at a interesting or enlightening part of U.S. Soccers history that you may have forgotten or possibly never knew.
When did we play our first World Cup game? Hey, that’s right! How did you…ah, wait, you just looked at the section subhead, subtracted 75 from 2005 and voila, you got 1930. Sneaky, my friend. You might have figured out the year, but what else do you know? Not much, huh? That’s what we thought. Center Circle be bringing it old school. Sit back and be learned.
It was Friday the 13th, and a foggy one at that, but any fear they might have felt was probably kept for exactly a month later.
Sixteen young men from New York, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit, and other small cities along the East Coast boarded the S.S. Munarago that Friday, June 13, 1930, in Hoboken, N.J., and set sail for Uruguay.
After 18 days, the Munarago docked at Montevideo. The first U.S. Men’s World Cup Team stepped off the ship and into a heavy downpour. They were there to test themselves against the world’s best soccer players, but at that moment they were just trying to stay dry. Twelve days later, on July 13, they would play their first match in the inaugural World Cup.
The first World Cup in 1930 in Uruguay was not the enormous spectacle it is now, 75 years later. In fact, a number of European countries declined to take part because of the length of time the players would be away from home, which would have been up to two months due to the travel there and back, plus the almost three weeks required to play the competition.
The tournament was originally scheduled to be a sudden-death format involving 16 teams, but due to the lack of teams – only 13 participated – the concept was abandoned in favor of a pool system. Four groups were set up with three groups of three and one group of four. The U.S. was drawn into one of the groups of three with Paraguay and Belgium.
With a week-and-a-half before their opening match, the U.S. players did their best to become comfortable with each other on the field. Head coach Robert Millar held strenuous practices, rain or shine, with the former being the usual as the day they arrived was the 92nd day in a row the people of Uruguay had felt raindrops.
The day before facing Belgium, the U.S. team was anxious and curious to find out how they’d fare against the rest of the world, while outside the team no one gave them much of a chance in the tournament.
That would all change after 90 minutes.
As the U.S. and Belgium took the field on the opening day of the World Cup, snow fell on Montevideo for the first time in five years. The field was a bed of wet, sticky clay and puddles of water were scattered throughout, making for a treacherous field, but one that in the end would benefit the U.S.
After a nervous first 20 minutes, the U.S. settled down and eventually took the lead when Bart McGhee pounced on Billy Gonsalves’ shot that rebounded off the crossbar, blasting a one-timer past the Belgium ‘keeper in the 40th minute. The U.S. never looked back as captain Thomas Florie scored the second before halftime and Bert Patenaude chalked up the final tally midway through the second half.
With their 3-0 victory, the U.S. was the surprise team of the tournament. But any new local supporters might have held their tongue as their next opponent was Paraguay, considered the “dark horse” for the championship as they had eliminated both Argentina and Uruguay in the South American championship a year earlier.
Four days later (July 17) in their second match, the U.S. put the favorites on their heels with two goals in the first 16 minutes, with Patenaude finishing off crosses from Andrew Auld. Patenaude wasn’t done for the day though as he buried one more goal later in the match to give him the first-ever hat trick in a World Cup.
In two matches, the Americans had gone from unknown to possible World Cup champion. The U.S. was on to the semifinals, still the farthest they’ve ever advanced in a World Cup, but standing in their way was Argentina, which was considered one of the strongest teams.
The two teams met in the newly constructed Centenario Stadium, possibly not a good omen for the U.S. The Americans were torn down by injuries and without being able to make substitutions in those days they were forced to play with 10 men, and eventually crashed out of the tournament with a 6-1 loss.
Four minutes in goalkeeper James Douglas suffered a twisted knee and had to play the rest of the game virtually on one leg. In the 19th minute, midfielder Raphael Tracy suffered a broken leg, but continued to play the rest of the first half as the injury was not detected until halftime. Down to 10 men, it got even worse in the second half when Auld endured a serious head injury and had to play the majority of the game with a rag stuffed in his mouth. As the injuries mounted, Argentina pulled away with five goals in the second half. The U.S. getting its only goal of the game from James Brown in the 89th minute.
With an impressive showing in the first World Cup, the U.S. stayed and watched the final a few days later as Uruguay defeated Argentina 4-2.
A little after 1 p.m. on August 5, the U.S. players boarded S.S. Cap Norte for their haul back north. They were no longer anxious, no longer holding any fear. They had paved the way for future generations, yet they probably didn’t even know it.
Want to get a first-hand look at the USAs 1930 World Cup jersey or other pieces of U.S. Soccer history? Visit the National Soccer Hall of Fame, located in Oneonta, N.Y., which celebrates the history, honors the heroes and preserves the legacy of soccer in the United States.