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
Imagine traveling 4,000 miles to play an elimination game before the start of the tournament, losing and having to turn around and go home the next day. That’s what happened to Mexico as the U.S., behind Buff Donelli’s four goals, registered a 4-2 triumph in Rome.
The U.S. had not put in its entry until after the qualifying groups had been drawn up. So, it was decided that the Americans would play the winner of Group 1 – Mexico (which prevailed over Cuba and Haiti). That type of behavior would not be tolerated by FIFA today.
As it turned out, it would be the last time the U.S. would defeat Mexico in World Cup qualifying competition for 46 years, or until a 2-1 triumph in Fort Lauderdale, Fla, on Nov. 23, 1980, which, broke a 15-game winless streak.
And as it turned out, politics reared its ugly head on the U.S. squad, as the New England and St. Louis players had wanted to keep Donelli out of the lineup. Bill Gonsalves went to coach Elmer Schroeder and said, “If you don’t play Donelli, I’m not playing,” Donelli was quoted in U.S. Soccer vs. The World.
“There was a clique among the New England and St. Louis players, and they wanted me out of the lineup,” Donelli was quoted in US Soccer vs. the World. “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.’ “
Donelli played, putting on a one-man show before 10,000 spectators and Italian leader Benito Mussolini. He connected off a long pass after defender Edward Czerkiewicz’s interception in the 15th minute. After Mexico tied it seven minutes later, Donelli broke the deadlock with a goal on the half hour off a William McLean feed.
Mexican Lorenzo Camarena was ejected in the 59th minute for trying to stop Donelli with his hands as the American striker raced toward the goal.
The Americans Donelli took advantage of extra player 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, taking a pass from Thomas Florie and fired a shot between two defenders. Donelli could have had five goals, but he missed a penalty kick (an interesting aside: The New York Times credited Florie with a hat-trick and Nilsen with another goal).
“Mexico had a team that was pretty equal to ours,” Donelli was quoted in the book. “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.”
But like Mexico, U.S.’s stay was too short and bittersweet as the Italians, heavily favored to win the World Cup, rolled to a 7-1 victory in the single-elimination first-round. Monti, who scored the first goal for Argentina in the 1930 semis, came back to haunt the U.S. on the Italian side, limiting Donelli to a goal.
“Monti! I can still see him, he was on top of me,” Donelli said in U.S. Soccer vs. The World. “You know, because I scored four goals against Mexico, Monti would not let me alone.”
For the record, the Italians rolled to a 3-0 lead before Donelli found the net in 57th minute behind Angelo Schiavio (18th and 29th minutes) and Raimundo Orsi (20th minute). It was more of the same in the second half. Giovanni Ferrari found the net (63rd minute), Schiavio finished off his hat-trick (64th minute), Orsi connected for his brace (69th minute) and Giuseppe Meazza put an exclamation point on the triumph in the 90th minute.
Donelli, incidentally, forged a career in another type of football – the American gridiron variety.
In fact, when he attended Duquesne University, Donelli made news.
“Soccer Develops Duquesne Star Into Greatest Kicker In Football,” a headline in the Oct. 16, 1929 edition of The Evening Standard in Uniontown, Pa. Some newspapers gave him an alliterative nickname: ‘Booting Buff’. There also were reports that he wore a football shoe on his left foot and a soccer one on his right, although they could not be confirmed.
Duquesne coach Elmer Layden, the star fullback of Notre’s Dame’s famed “Four Horsemen,” embraced Donelli’s unique kicking ability.
“Two footed kickers have greater value than the spectator believes,” Layden told the Altoona (Pennsylvania) Mirror. “Recall the occasions you have been a safety man trying to catch left-footed punts. The difficulty of handling left-footed spirals comes from the fact that most men are better right-side runners. They catch ordinary spirals with the ball drafting into them, giving them a start. With the left-footed spirals the ball slides away from the natural running position, almost invariably demanding that the catcher stop and then start again before running the ball back.”
Donelli eventually was named Duquesne head coach, guiding the college side to unbeaten seasons in 1939 (8-0-1) and 1941 (8-0-0). The Dukes finished in the top 10 in the Associated Press poll twice.
He even made more history, directing the Pittsburgh Steelers and Duquesne at the same time. College ball was on Saturday, the NFL on Sunday.
“It was exhausting, but when you’re young , you can do a lot of things,” Donelli told the Pittsburgh Press in 1989. “I’d coach the Steelers in the morning at St. Vincent. … I would finish with them about 12 or 12.30, jump in the car, have a bite to eat and drive to Duquesne. I would get my athletic duties out of the [way] from one to three and then go to football practice.
“I would finish with them around six, jump in my car and go back [home].”
Note: This story was adapted from Michael Lewis’ 2006 book: World Cup Soccer.