On May 24, 1934, the U.S. and Mexico met for the first time, igniting what has gone on to become one of the most heated rivalries in international soccer. The match wasn’t played in Columbus, Ohio’s MAPFRE Stadium or at Mexico’s vaunted Estadio Azteca – of course neither venue had been built yet.
Instead, it took place at Stadio PNF (named for the ruling National Fascist Party) in Rome with the right to face the World Cup host Italy three days later. While it was the first match between the neighboring nations, it was also the USA's first-ever World Cup qualifier – a far cry from the 16-match, two-year marathon both teams find themselves in the middle of currently.
Trying to return to the World Cup after a semifinal finish at the inaugural tournament four years earlier in Uruguay, the USA had four holdover players from the 1930 team: defenders James Gallagher and George Moorhouse, midfielder Billy Gonsalves and forward Thomas Florie.
From left: Thomas Florie, Aldo "Buff" Donelli and Joe Martinelli in training for the USA in 1934.
However, it was newcomer Aldo “Buff” Donelli – an American football player turned coach at Duquesne University – that would write the earliest history of the MNT’s rivalry with Mexico. Having been invited to join the team just a month earlier following a trial of three club matches, Donelli scored all four goals in the Americans’ 4-2 defeat of Mexico in front of a crowd of 10,000 that included Italian leader Benito Mussolini.
The kicker? Donelli wasn’t originally supposed to play in the game.
According to Tony Cirino’s book U.S. Soccer vs the World, an alliance between the New England and St. Louis factions of the team made Donelli, who was from Pittsburgh, an outsider in the squad.
“Only later I was told that Bill Gonsalves went to [coach Elmer] Schroeder and told him, ‘If you don’t play Donelli, I’m not playing,’” Donelli said in the book.
Donelli’s four-goal output wasn’t just a product of a good half. He sustained his scoring over the course of the match, opening the scoring in the 15th minute, putting the U.S. back ahead 2-1 in the 30th, earning his hat trick in the 73rd and icing El Tri with an 87th minute strike.
With the win, the U.S. earned the right to face Italy in the opening round of the 1934 World Cup. In a change from 1930, the tournament was set up as a single-elimination knockout and the Azzuri overwhelmed the Americans in a 7-1 defeat. Donelli tallied his fifth and final goal in the match to bring the score to 3-1 in the 57th minute. Despite impressing enough to earn offers to play in Italy after the tournament, the loss to the Italians was his final international game.
Instead, Donelli returned to coaching American football at Duquesne University before going on to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Rams, Boston University and Columbia University.
Aldo "Buff" Donelli
Donelli’s four-goal performance was the second in MNT history after the legendary Archie Stark previously accomplished the feat in 6-1 win against Canada in 1925. Only Joe-Max Moore (1993 vs. El Salvador) and Landon Donovan (2003 vs. Cuba) have equaled the feat for the U.S. Men’s National Team.
As for the MNT’s series with Mexico, the first win would be the last for 46 years as El Tri proceeded to earn a 24-match unbeaten run that was finally broken when the U.S. earned a 2-1 victory in a World Cup Qualifying match on Nov. 23, 1980 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
While Mexico still leads the all-time series (34-18-14), things have evened up a great deal of late. Since the turn of the century, the U.S. holds a 13-7-5 advantage.
On Feb. 9, 2013, the U.S. Women’s National Team kicked off the new year with a 4-1 victory against Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida. Christen Press, then 24-years-old, was responsible for two goals that day, scoring in the 13th minute and adding another in the 32nd to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The early goal was Press’ first for the USA, coming in a match that was also her first cap.
Becky Sauerbrunn hugs Christen Press in the aftermath of Press scoring on her WNT debut.
Earning that first cap is special for any player, but a debut and a goal in the same game? That’s a rare feat. In the 30+ year history of the U.S. WNT 21 players have scored in their first caps.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Press’ path to that first game three years ago was an interesting one. In early 2012, she made the decision to move to Sweden after U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer folded. Press thought leaving the country might negatively impact her hopeful National Team career, but little did she know, it was only just beginning.
“I think just because I always thought that the National Teams would be watching the American league, I thought that going abroad was kind of like saying goodbye to my dream of playing for the National Team,” recalled Press. “I left around this time, in February, and I thought I would not get a call, I sort of thought that I would fall out of U.S. Soccer’s radar.”
As it turns out, head coach Pia Sundhage kept tabs on players in Europe, especially in her native land of Sweden. Press got off to a hot start with her new club, and it wasn’t long before she was on her way back home.
Press returned to the U.S. and joined the WNT in Florida in April during the final stretch of what had been an intense fitness camp. She kept to herself and tried to quickly learn as much as possible despite only being there for five days.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It was my first camp, it was warm and I was so happy. I don’t think I spoke to anybody. I was not nervous, I was just happy to be in Florida and my dream was coming true. I’m always quiet when I don’t know my surroundings, so I just kept to myself trying to learn the rules, how to behave; it was all so quick.”
That short stint turned out to be the only one for Press before she was named an Olympic alternate in 2012. The following February, Tom Sermanni took over as WNT head coach, and it was then Press learned she would start against Scotland. Her chance had arrived.
“I went on the field, the crowd was so much bigger than I’d ever played in front of, and for me it was so much bigger than life,” said Press. “But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m confident, I’m a good player and I believe in myself.’”
Years and multiple goals later, plus one Women’s World Cup title to her name, the dream is alive and well for Press.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup