With the start of the 2022 World Cup just a week away, FrontRowSoccer.com will start a multi-part series looking at how the U.S. men’s national team has fared in previous world championships.

Today, we will feature the 1930 and 1934 World Cups in separate stories.

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

The headline in the July 21, 1930 edition of The New York Times said it all: “U.S. Favorite to Win World’s Soccer Title.”

That was no misprint.

Due to a pair of opening round victories, the Americans had qualified for the semifinals and had been given a fighting chance to take home the Jules Rimet Trophy in the very first World Cup in Uruguay. They didn’t, dropping a 6-1 decision to Argentina in the semifinals. As it turned out, was the closest they had come to winning the competition in the 10 times they have reached the tournament.

Because the first World Cup was essentially an open tournament – only 13 teams made it to Uruguay because of the large distances to negotiate the Atlantic Ocean from Europe and South America – the Americans had their best chance to win the cup.

In what started an ill-advised tradition that unfortunately had been followed for too many years to mention, the U.S. picked its squad through three tryouts. By the time the team was ready to board the S.S. Munargo for a 14-day voyage to parts south, head coach Robert Millar had assembled his team that included 11 players from the northeastern U.S.

That included New York (goalkeeper Jimmy Douglas, defender George Moorhouse, midfielder James Gallagher, forward James Brown, Providence, R.I. (midfielder Andrew Auld), New Bedford, Mass. (forwards Thomas Florie and Arnie Oliver), Fall River, Mass. (forwards Bert Patenaude and Bill Gonsalves) and Philadelphia (James Gentle) and two from St. Louis (Frank Vaughn and midfielder Raphael Tracey), Cleveland (Michael Bookie) and Detroit (defender Alexander Wood).

The squad, dubbed the “Shot-putters” by the French because of the large size of several players, left for Uruguay without having played together, another ill-advised tradition that was followed through some lean years.

Perhaps the worst part of the experience was the journey – a 14-day boat ride from Hoboken, N.J. to South America on the S.S. Munargo – because many team members succumbed to seasickness.

The team arrived in Montevideo on July 1, 12 days before its first match, so the players had plenty of time to acclimate to the less-than-favorable weather conditions. It had rained just about daily for three months and there was a touch of snow the day of the opening match.

The U.S. team marched into Parque Central, home of Nacional F.C. singing the “Stein Song,” the theme song of entertainer Rudy Vallee, who might be best known for his rendition of “Westminster Cathedral.”

That pre-game ritual should have been followed through the years because the U.S. recorded a 3-0 victory over Belgium as McGhee, Florie and Patenaude scored on a field that had countless pools of water before an encouraging crowd of 18,346.

It was almost more of the same in the second contest, a 3-0 triumph over Paraguay that clinched the Group 4 title before 18,306 spectators on July 17. Patenaude, a 21-year-old French-Canadian born in Massachusetts, was credited with two goals, although teammates claimed he had three, which would have been the first World Cup hat-trick.

For the record, Patenaude converted a cross from Andy Auld past goalkeeper Modesto Denis in the …. minute. With the USA controlling the pace, he struck again only five minutes later, latching onto a long pass from Raphael Tracey for a two-goal advantage. Patenaude finished off his memorable match in the 50th minute. After a left-wing run, Auld crossed the ball for Patenaude, who buried it for a 3-0 advantage.

For decades, Argentinian Guillermo Stabile was credited as being the first player to connect for a World Cup hat-trick, in a 6-3 win against Mexico two days later on July 19, 1930.

“Later at the Hall, I also saw a recorded interview of Oliver along with Jim Brown, who played in 1930, and they were also talking about Patenaude’s three goals,” former U.S. Soccer historian Colin told The Guardian in 2015. “I didn’t give it another thought until [sometime after chatting with Oliver] I found the official report on 1930 by the U.S. manager, Wilfred Cummings, who recorded that Patenaude hit the net three times against Paraguay. I began to wonder how I might find out if this was correct.”

In 2006, FIFA recognized Patenaude’s three goals as a hat-trick.

The win also meant the Americans had qualified for the semifinals and a chance to take on Argentina. It never was a match as the Argentines used a short-passing game to defeat the Americans, who were better suited to the long ball, in a 6-1 win before 80,000 at Centenary Stadium. Actually, the U.S. had made a game of it in the opening 45 minutes, winding up with a 1-0 halftime deficit on a goal by Luis Monti.

But there were problems, major problems. Although he did not realize it at the time, Tracey had broken his leg 10 minutes into the match. Douglas came up lame in the nets, and just about everything collapsed in the second half.

Argentina pulled away with five second-half goals, tallied by three players. Alejandro Scopelli doubled thhe lead in the 56th minute. Guillermo Stabile (69th and 87th minutes) and Carlos Peucelle (80th and 85th minutes) added braces within minutes of each other.

Brown’s 89th-minute score averted a shutout.

“We played 10 players against 11,” said Oliver, who passed away in October 1993. “That’s like the Red Sox paying without a shortstop or centerfielder.”

Also not helping matters was the huge field – 100 by 138 yards.

“We never played on such a wide field before,” Brown said years ago. “It affected our game. We couldn’t play our style of wing-to-wing passes and our crosses from the wing to the center kept falling short.”

Note: This story was adapted, edited and updated from Michael Lewis’ 2006 book: World Cup Soccer.

Next: 1934