Celestial visitors? Almost

For more than 100 years, visits from touring European and South American teams have been a major factor in sustaining American soccer. These teams have ranged from the Pilgrims of 1905 to Hakoah of the 1920s, Santos of the 1960s and recent teams like Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona. So who was the best of all the touring teams? The answer may be "none of the above," because of an Uruguayan team that played 13 games in the United States in the spring of 1927. The reason why I refer to them in vague fashion as "an Uruguayan team" rather than by their name is that that name has been surrounded by a fog of misinformation ever since 1927.

In American newspaper reports at the time, and in most American accounts of the tour since, the Uruguayans are referred to as the Uruguayan national team. This is an impressive title, because three years earlier, Uruguay had dazzled Europe with its skill in sweeping to the Olympic championship in Paris. The Uruguayan national team of those years, which won the Olympic title again in 1928 and then won the first World Cup in 1930, is considered one of the classic teams in the history of soccer. But in truth, the team that toured the United States in 1927 was not the Uruguayan national team. It was a first-division club, Nacional, of Montevideo. Whether this inaccuracy was an intentional bit of deception on the part of promoters or merely a result of some poor translation from Spanish to English is unclear.

It would have been an easy mistake to make. While Nacional may not have been the national team, it was a very powerful team that did resemble the national team, because of its name and because it included many of the same players. Nacional brought a roster of 18 players on its American tour in 1927. Eleven of those 18 played for Uruguay in either the 1924 Olympics or the 1928 Olympics (or both). That roster included five of the 11 men who played for Uruguay in the 1930 World Cup final against Argentina. It included most of the Uruguayan national team's biggest stars: Pedro Cea, Hector Scarone, Hector Castro, Pedro Petrone, Jose Leonardo Andrade (above) and Lorenzo Fernandez. One major Nacional star, national team captain Jose Nasazzi, was missing from the tour, but in Scarone and Petrone this Nacional squad had the two biggest stars in Uruguayan soccer, two of the best players in the world at the time.

Andrade, the midfield general of the team, was the first black professional soccer player ever to play in the United States, and one of the first black professional athletes in this country in any team sport.

At the time of Uruguay's first Olympic victory in the summer of 1924, Nacional dominated Uruguayan soccer, having won the Uruguayan first-division title in eight of the previous 10 seasons. In 1925, there was no Uruguayan first-division championship held, as Nacional spent five months of the year on a 38-game tour through nine European countries. It followed that with its American tour in 1927.

The 1927 tour was most noted at the time for games in Newark and Boston that ended in on-the-field riots and were never completed. Those games, which both ended with the Uruguayans a goal down, were two of the three games the tourists lost en route to a 9-3-1 record. The tour included five games in New York, two in Chicago and one each in Newark, Boston, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis and Philadelphia. The Uruguayans began in crushing fashion with a 6-1 victory over Indiana Flooring of the American Soccer League on March 20 at the Polo Grounds in New York, but that was their widest margin of the tour, which ended in New York on May 30 with a 2-1 win over Brooklyn Wanderers.

The Uruguayan team that toured the United States in 1927 wasn't really the world champion it was touted as. American soccer would have to wait until 1979 for that sort of visitor. Still, it may have been the greatest team ever to make an American tour.