This column originally was posted July 24, 2015
By Michael Lewis
Yes, American soccer fans, the semifinal elimination loss to Jamaica from the Concacaf Gold Cup hurts, as it should.
It shows that millions of U.S. soccer supporters care about the 2-1 loss to the Reggae Boyz, only the second time the Americans have lost to a Caribbean side on home soil.
Way back in 1969, the first and only other time that the United Soccer national team lost to a Caribbean team had much greater ramifications than Wednesday night’s failure.
For the record, Haiti eliminated the USA from World Cup qualifying behind a 1-0 victory at San Diego Stadium in San Diego on May 11, 1969.
Guy St. Vil scored 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 goalkeeper Orest 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).
Since the Haitians had beaten the Americans in Port au Prince, Haiti April 20, the win boosted the Caribbean side into the next round.
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.
Soccer was in a much different state at that time.
The original North American Soccer League was struggling, struggling with six teams. Its league office was based the basement of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, before it moved to New York.
Two teams dropped out of the league that season, leaving it with four clubs. The Rochester Lancers and Washington Darts were enticed to jump leagues from the American Soccer League to the NASL, saving the circuit and perhaps professional soccer in America as we know it.
Imagine if the NASL went out of business then. I just wonder if we would have had the Cosmos, or a team like the Cosmos, Pele and the ensuing soccer boom that we are still enjoying today.
But that’s another story for another time.
Comparing the ramifications of the two Caribbean defeats is like comparing apples and oranges.
The 1969 result was the end of the road for the USA in its quest to reach Mexico ’70.
Wednesday night’s debacle bounced the Americans out of contention for the Gold Cup crown, but it still can book a spot to reach the 2007 FIFA Confederations Cup against the winner of the Mexico-Panama final on Sunday, in October.
As for World Cup qualifying, the USA’s run doesn’t begin its run until the CONCACAF semifinal round begins in November. If anything, the Jamaican surprise inflicted on the team will serve as a warning to coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the team on how fragile the qualifying process can be and how serious they should take every game.
The bottom line is that so many more people care today than they did in 1969 and regardless of the outcome of one game, the sport is here to stay.