1930. A brave new world of football, with the first ever World Cup commencing. And the footballing powerhouses attending would be Argentina, Uruguay, and, of course, the USA.
Wait, the USA?
Soccer has a much longer history in the US than generally recognized, and the American Soccer League was a big part of that early history. Teams such as Fall River FC, Bethlehem Steel, and New Bedford had decent followings, quality teams with both local players and players spirited away from England and principally Scotland. This was a time when a player could and occasionally would quit Celtic to go play in the US. And the US’s national team reflected that quality. Though contrary to some (mildly revisionist) history, the US team’s players were born in the States. Billy Gonsavles, probably the best player of the era who wasn’t playing in Argentina or Uruguay, was from Rhode Island; Bert Patenaude, scorer of the first hat trick in World Cup history, was from Massachusetts.
Patenaude grabbed that hat trick in a 3-0 whitewash of Paraguay, a result that today would likely be greeted by fans of the USMNT as an incredibly major result. For the 1930 US Team, it was the second 3-0 put up in the group stages, the first coming convincingly against Belgium.
Of course, the US’s tournament ended in a bit of ignominy by getting thrashed 6-1 by Argentina in the semi-finals. This was a time before substitutions, and the US goalkeeper, Jimmy Douglas, broke an ankle early in the first half. So, in fairness, losing 6-1 when playing without a functional goalkeeper isn’t that bad.
In any case, long story wrapped up hastily, US Soccer isn’t something new. In fact, if the Depression had never happened and virtually wiped out all pro sports other than baseball, soccer could have cemented the place it was fighting for as the US’s winter sport of choice. And if that had happened, who knows…but, given attendances, maybe the MLS will show us what the US looks like with soccer as the 3rd major sport.