By Michael Lewis
The U.S. national team enters Thursday’s World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago in Commerce City, Colo. armed with the knowledge that it has lost only once on American soil to a Caribbean side in the competition.
That occurred 48 years ago to Haiti and the man in the middle of both U.S. losses was Guy St. Vil, then a 26-year-old forward who already made his mark on history by becoming the first player to score in a National Professional Soccer League game. That league, the forerunner of the North American Soccer League, helped kick off the modern soccer era in the USA.
As it turned out, St. Vil helped kick out the U.S. from the 1970 World Cup qualifying competition.
First, a little background. Born Oct. 21, 1942, St. Vil was a rising Haitian star who combined his speed, skill and savvy to confound defenses and goalkeepers. He played for Etoile Haïtienne (1961-62) and Racing CH (1962-67) in his native country before taking the plunge in a league that was just getting off the ground.
St. Vil joined the Baltimore Bays a little more than a week prior to the start of the NPSL inaugural season in 1967. So, he did not have much time to mesh with his new teammates. As it turned out, the Bays’ first game was televised on CBS against the Atlanta Chiefs and was the very first match in NPSL history.
The Bay prevailed, 1-0, on a goal by St. Vil, who came on as a halftime substitute. Asher Welch sent in a corner kick that was cleared to St. Vil, who connecting on a diving shot from close range in the 50th minute to score the first professional goal. That sparked the first pro celebration as the Haitian forward rolled on the ground as teammates jumped on his back.
“I remember a cross from Asher Welch one of our two Jamaican twins,” said former Cosmos president Clive Toye, who was the Bays’ general manager at the time. “Art was an outside right and Asher was outside left and I remember a cross from Asher Welch from Guy St. Vil from Haiti and got in the back of the net and that was our goal. I don’t remember much about it. There was so much work, so much chaos. I remember that Asher welch crossing to Guy St. Vil to score the goal. I do remember that. It is fixed firmly in my mind.”
Two years later, St. Vil was involved in two goals that helped show the Americans the exit from World Cup qualifying.
The first goal was scored April 20, 1969 as he and Joseph Obas tallied for Haiti in a 2-0 triumph in Port Au Price, Haiti.
With the game only eight minutes old, Obas split two defenders and beat goalkeeper Orest Banach from 15 yards. St. Vil, who had an earlier goal called back due to offside, gave the hosts some breathing room, scoring on a breakaway in the 54th minute.
The result left Haiti in position where it needed a tie or a win in the second leg at San Diego Stadium in San Diego May 11.
St. Vil made sure of that, connecting from six yards at 40:40 (yes, that’s how soccer time was told in those stone-age days of the game, in minutes and seconds), according to a United Press International report. St. Vil, who was playing inside left (a forward on the left side), scored off a scramble in front of the net into the lower right corner past Banach.
A 183-word story on the game (via UPI) appeared in the San Bernardino County Sun on May 12 with the headline:
Haiti Eliminates U.S. in
World Cup Soccer Tourney
(Other stories appeared throughout the country, but none had more than 200 words).
A few other things about that match:
In the second half, the Haitians went into a defensive shell. Certainly no surprise there. The U.S. missed several shots, including one attempt by Sigi Stritzl (he played for B.W. Gottschee and the Cosmos) that hit the crossbar in the opening five minutes, the Associated Press reported. It also was the fifth consecutive time that the USA had missed qualifying for the greatest show on earth, and it continued that undesired tradition through the 1990 qualifying round for Italia ’90.
And one other interesting item: a meager crowd of 6,546 witnessed the match as not many people really cared at that point about the game in particular and the game in general in the United States.
Born Oct. 21, 1942, St. Vil and Haiti did not qualify for Mexico 1970, but were fortunate and talented enough to book a spot for the 1974 World Cup in Germany.
According to FIFA.com, St. Vil played in 16 games at FIFA tournaments, scoring five goals. Haiti forged a an 11-4-1 mark in those matches. He made two appearances at Germany ’74, a pair of losses.
After playing for the Bays in 1967-68, St. Vil returned home. He joined the Baltimore Comets for the 1975 season. His younger brother, Roger St. Vil (born Dec. 8, 1947), also played for the Bays (1967-68) and Comets (1975) who also appeared at the 1974 World Cup.
Not much is known about St. Vil’s career after his time in the NASL and the 1974 World Cup.
But this is known: he definitely was a thorn and a half in the Americans’ side in denying them a spot in the World Cup and making some history as well.