By Michael Lewis
While American soccer fans like to revel in what is considered by many to be the greatest upset in World Cup history, they tend to forget what it meant to the rest of the world.
“There was so much involved with this upset,” Alain Maca said. “It made the world so happy.”
Alain Maca is the son of Joe Maca, a starter of the U.S. team that stunned England, 1-0, in the 1950 World Cup, relayed this story. Today, Alain Maca is best known as being the very first draft pick in American soccer — with the old North American Soccer League in 1972.
Joe Maca passed away in at the age of 61 on July 13, 1982.
The 1950 World Cup was the first competition since the end of the Second World War and the first in 12 years. The World Cup was still in its infancy — it had only been held three times prior — and England had refused to play in such an event.
“For Belgium to be at that level in a World Cup to beat England, you have to understand how arrogant England was in those days. Not that it’s changed, so to speak,” Maca said. “To beat some of the legendary players — Stan Mortensen, Tom Finney — these are legendary names.”
One day Maca was sitting at work at JFK Airport and he received a call from the manager of Sam Adams publicity. He was told he was he soccer player in his office.
“Maybe you’ve heard of him — Jimmy Johnstone — a famous soccer player,” Alain relayed the story.
“Jimmy Johnstone? Sure I’ll be right down. We started talking,” he related.
Not surprisingly, they talked about their favorite sport.
“Jim, you’ll appreciate this,” Alain said. “My dad played in the 1950 game when we beat England.”
“He went nuts,” Alain said. “He said, ‘My two favorite moments was when we beat England at Wembley and when I heard the U.S. beat England and I could stick it in their face.’ And this is one of the greatest soccer players of all-time out of Scotland.”
Joe Maca truly never had an opportunity to play during his soccer prime as Germany occupied his native Belgium between the years of 19 and 25. He had performed for Royal Cercle Sportif La Forestoise of Brussels in the Belgian Third Division. He served a year in the Belgian Army, where he played on the Army team, earning a medal for his role in the resistance.
“My father, he wasn’t even a citizen when he played for the U.S. team,” Alain said.
Switzerland sponsored Maca when he came to the U.S. and wound up played for a Swiss club in the old American Soccer League.
“They recognized right away he was a special player,” Alain said. “They threw him on the U.S. team, met the guys. Off to Brazil they went.”
Alain said his father wound up playing at left fullback, although that wasn’t his position. He should have been playing midfield. That’s where he belongs. But’s the way the [the team] was set up.”
It was right after World War II. The World Cup was still in its infancy — it had only been held three times prior — and England had refused to participate in such an event.
Despite the great upset — Joe converted a penalty kick in a loss to Chile — the U.S. team was eliminated after the opening round. The three games were the only three Maca had played in a USA uniform.
When Joe Maca returned home to Belgium, he received a hero’s welcome.
“For Belgium to be at that level in a World Cup to beat England, you have to understand how arrogant England was in those days. Not that it’s changed, so to speak,” Maca said. “To beat some of the legendary players — Stan Mortensen, Tom Finney — these are legendary names. When he went back to Belgium, he was a hero.”
Maca wound up playing two years with Royal White Star Athletic Club in the Belgian First Division from 1950-51 before he returned to the U.S.
“That’s why I was born in Belgium,” he said. “I was actually made in America and delivered in Belgium.”
But Alain Maca grew up in the United States — in Massapequa, N.Y. — which turned out to be one of the hotbeds of soccer — youth and amateur — in the country.
Joe brought his 19-year-old son, Alain, back to Belgium, for the first time in 1971.
“The next day, the whole back page of Le Soir, which is the biggest paper in Belgium — was Joe Maca,” Alain said.
The back page featured six pictures of Maca and a story.
“Joe Maca is back,” the headlines read.
When he was in Belgium, Alain trained with Anderlecht with the likes of Paul Van Himst and Francois Van der Elst.
“The feedback my father got was, ‘If the kid comes here for a year or two and works his ass off, maybe,’ ” he said. “Don’t forget, I’m already 19-years-old. They already see you as a little old. I was far behind the other kids.”
Alain admitted he was a different type of player than his dad, of which he was very proud.
“When Joe Maca walked into the stadium, a lot of people would walk over to him,” he said. “I was the son of Joe. I’ll tell you, I couldn’t be more proud. Everybody used to laugh; ‘Hey Joe, he doesn’t play like you.’ ”
Alain then laughed.
“I was a different kind of a player than my father,” he added. “At that level I was playing stopper. I was a hard player. I was really good in the air and strong on the tackle. My father was an unbelievable soccer player. He was strong on the ball. He could do everything.”
Including what many soccer observers some 70 years ago thought was impossible — shake the world and pull off what was considered impossible at the team — beat England in the World Cup.
Here are two related stories: