U.S. At World Cup- Last Glitter In 1930
The “Beautiful Game” turned ugly for the U.S. as a stunning loss to Trinidad & Tobago at the qualifiers sent the Americans packing without a ticket to this year’s World Cup.
But America’s absence from soccer’s premier international tournament shouldn’t raise quick eyebrows. Since the quadrennial championships got going 87 years ago, the national team made the cut in just 10 of the 20 events, or only half.
What changed in the past decade are the higher expectations placed on the national squad and the wave of soccer’s growing popularity at home. The U.S. has made the trip to the Cup without interruption since 1990 and during this period the sport’s fan base has surged.
But all the red, white and blue cheers aside, American soccer on the global stage actually had its last shining moment at the inaugural games in 1930. With no qualification required at the time, the country was one of thirteen national groups who made the voyage to Uruguay, host and sponsor of the first World Cup.
The yanks (photo above) outplayed Belgium and Paraguay in the initial round and advanced to the semi-finals to face Argentina. They were crushed 6-1, but then took third place at the tournament after defeating Yugoslavia.
Adding to the team’s admirable finish was the first hat trick in Cup history, executed by American forward Bertrand Patenaude who scored all three winning shots against Paraguay. The feat wasn’t recognized by FIFA until 2006, or 76 years later, due to conflicting information regarding who scored the second point.
With 4 goals overall at the tournament, the Massachusetts native remains the leading American scorer in a World Cup. Landon Donovan is second with 3 at the 2010 competition.
At the 1950 Cup in Brazil, the U.S. drew jarring reactions after their 1-0 victory over England. Europe’s best footballers at the time, the “Kings of Football” were tossed off the field after arriving as favorites.
The game went down as the “Miracle on Grass”, with the only goal scored by Haitian-born Joe Gaetjens who played for his newly-adopted country. Despite the euphoria, the U.S. subsequently lost to Chile and couldn’t advance past the group stage.
For the next 40 years, American soccer languished in the dark ages and failed to deliver talent and continuity, or even spark a meaningful following in the sport. It wasn’t until 1990 when the national team finally secured a berth at the World Cup.
On the club level, the game showed greater potential as part of the North American Soccer League (NASL). The New York Cosmos even signed up foreign icons like Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto to build audiences. But the NASL struggled financially and eventually folded in 1984.
One of the turning points was the Cup’s arrival to the U.S. in 1994. Average match attendance was nearly 69,000, the highest in Cup history. By the end of the month-long extravaganza, 3.6 million game-goers had filled stadium seats.
But growth in the sport’s popularity, on the pitch and in the stands, didn’t necessarily translate to more goals at the World Cup. Next to their semi-final run in 1930, the furthest Americans have gone is the quarter-finals in 2002 where they were taken out by Germany.
Not a bad finish, but still a long way to go.