With the United States and Mexico looking ahead to for their international friendly in Nashville, Tenn. Sept. 11, FrontRowSoccer.com is looking back at some of the most memorable matches between these two archrivals. Today, we journey way back to 1934 when the two regional powers met for the first time.
It was a most unusual place and time to hold a World Cup qualifier between the United States and Mexico — Rome — as in Rome, Italy — only days before the kickoff of the tournament (which was the second World Cup).
But there was no other recourse. The U.S. submitted its qualifying application to FIFA late. The world’s governing soccer body agreed to allow the Americans in with the stipulation they would have to play a qualifier against the North American qualifying winner. That happened to be Mexico (the Mexicans defeated Cuba, which had beaten Haiti).
So, at Stadio PNF in Rome, the U.S. took on Mexico on May 24, 1934.
The U.S. prevailed, 4-2.
This was before Mexico became a CONCACAF power (this was only the ninth international it had played) and the Americans took advantage of one advantage after a Mexico dismissal in the second half.
Aldo “Buff” Donelli found the back of the net four times that day in front of 10,000 spectators.
Donelli, who reportedly was an 11th-hour addition the lineup on the insistence of star Billy Gonsalves, according to the book, The United States Tackles The World Cup (by Roger Allaway and Colin Jose), connected off a long pass from defender Edward Czerkiewicz (who had intercepted the ball) in the 15th minute. After Mexico equalized seven minutes later, Donelli broke a 1-1 deadlock with a goal in the 30th minute off a William McLean feed.
A Mexican player was given him marching orders in the 59th minute for trying to stop Donelli with his hands as the American striker moved toward the goal, according to Tony Cirino’s 1983 book, “U.S. Soccer vs. The World.”
The U.S. and Donelli took advantage of the man advantage in the 73rd minute as his third goal, a breakaway after a pass from Werner Nilsen. After the Mexicans moved within 3-2, Donelli was at it again in the 87th minute. This time he took a pass from Tom Florie and fired a sudden shot between a pair of defenders.
“Mexico had a team that was pretty equal to ours,” Donelli was quoted in Tony Cirino’s 1983 book, “U.S. Soccer Vs. The World. “But they were not very quick. They had a very, very deliberate style of attack. There was not a whole lot of imagination; it was a predictable attack. And if you did anything. If you moved a wee bit, it would put them off balance. I was just able to go around the man very easily.”
As for getting an opportunity to play, Donelli said, “There was a clique among the New England and St. Louis players and they wanted me out of the lineup. 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.’ ”
One interesting side note to the match: The Americans arrived by boat some 10 days prior to the game. Their first practice was a baseball, not a soccer game.
The Americans’ gift for besting Mexico? A quarterfinal-round encounter with eventual World Cup champion Italy, which was the opening game of the tournament. The Italians vanquished the U.S. in a 7-1 rout but that is another story for another time.
Incidentally, Donelli played in only one other international for the U.S. — that Italian affair and he scored the lone goal. Donelli, incidentally, went on to become a successful football player and coach. He guided Duquesne University, Boston University and Columbia University. At the pro level, he coached the Pittsburgh Steelers for part of the 1941 NFL season and the Cleveland Rams.
No one realized it at the time, but the U.S.-Mexico confrontation kicked off a derby that eventually turned into one of the world’s great international rivalries. It also would be the last time the U.S. defeated the Mexicans until a relatively meaningless World Cup qualifier, a 2-1 win in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on Nov. 23, 1980. But that is another story for another time.