Springtime in Paris

Posted on October 9, 2012 12:09 am

The 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, celebrated in the Oscar-winning movie Chariots of Fire, were a landmark event for the U.S. national soccer team. The U.S. nats had begun playing with a series of friendlies, two of them full internationals, in 1916, but it took them a few more years before they ventured into a competitive event. When they did, it was a big one. In 1924, the World Cup didn’t yet exist, and the Olympics were the pinnacle of international soccer. The United States’ entry into them produced mixed results, including a meeting with one of the classic soccer powerhouses of all time, the Uruguayan juggernaut that dominated soccer in the 1920s.

The U.S. Soccer Federation includes the United States’ games in these Olympics, and several later Olympics, in its list of full internationals, but this was an amateur selection. The original American Soccer League was in its third season by the time this team was selected, but the roster included only one ASL player, goalkeeper Jimmy Douglas of the Newark Skeeters, who also was the U.S. goalkeeper in the 1930 World Cup. There were no Archie Stark, no Jock Ferguson, no Davey Brown, no Bob Millar on this team.

The United States began Olympic play on May 25, 1924 with a game against Estonia (above) at Pershing Stadium in Paris. Despite the fact that the stadium was named for an American general who was a big hero in France at that point, the French spectators were solidly behind the Estonians, as a result of the United States’ victory over France in a highly controversial Olympic rugby final a few days before.

The Americans were coached by a Boston newspaperman, George Matthew Collins, and were dominated by Philadelphia players. Six of the 11 Americans who played against Estonia came from Philadelphia clubs, two each from Disston, Fairhill and Fleischer Yarn. One of the Fleischer players, U.S. captain Andy Straden, scored the only goal of the game on a penalty in the 10th minute. The American victory came somewhat against the run of play, as the Estonians looked stronger throughout, especially in the second half.

Four days later, the Americans took on Uruguay in a second-round game at the Bergyre Stadium. A victory in this game would have advanced the United States to the quarterfinals of the competition, but there was never really much chance of that against the dazzling South Americans. Uruguayan soccer didn’t officially adopt professionalism until 1933, but its players were far and away the class of this competition.

The United States fielded nine of the same 11 players who had faced Estonia. Uruguay made quick work of them. Center forward Pedro Petrone, one of the greatest stars of world soccer in the 1920s, scored goals in the 10th, 15th and 42nd minutes. The Americans defended well in the second half to prevent Uruguay from making the score any higher than 3-0, not a bad showing against a team that had beaten Yugoslavia by 7-0 in its previous game and beat France by 5-1 in its next game.

The elimination by Uruguay didn’t end this team’s activities. Coming home from the Olympics by a circuitous route, the Americans played full internationals against Poland and Ireland. A 3-2 victory in Warsaw, with Straden scoring two goals and Herb Wells one, was followed by a 3-1 defeat in Dublin.

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