A change of uniform

Posted on October 23, 2012 12:06 am

Would the U.S. Soccer Federation ever take the step of asking the Los Angeles Galaxy or the Chicago Fire to take the field in place of the U.S. men’s national team for a few games? Obviously not. A ridiculous idea. But something like that has happened a few times, decades ago.

Ponta Delgada was a Portuguese-American social club in North Tiverton, R.I., whose soccer team was one of the best in American soccer in the 1940s. Kutis is a funeral home in St. Louis that sponsored a soccer team that was one of the best in the country in the 1950s. Among the things that Ponta Delgada and Kutis have in common is that they are two of the three teams ever to have won both the U.S. Open Cup and the National Amateur Cup in the same year. Ponta Delgada did it in 1947 and Kutis in 1957 (the third is German-Hungarians of Brooklyn, who did it in 1951).

Another thing that they have in common is that they are the only two clubs ever to have played, as a unit, as the U.S. national team. The USSFA sent Ponta Delgada instead of a selection to represent the United States at the first North American Championships, held in Cuba in 1947. Ten years later, it did the same thing with Kutis, using the St. Louis team in a pair of World Cup qualifiers against Canada.

It would seem easy to think that Ponta Delgada and Kutis were chosen for this role by the USSFA because of their double victories, but it wouldn’t be quite accurate, because Ponta Delgada did yet have its double. The two games that it played as the national team in 1947 were on July 13 and July 20, and it didn’t win the U.S. Open Cup until Sept. 7.

Both Ponta Delgada and Kutis fared rather badly in their two-game stints as the national team. Ponta Delgada was part of a three-team round-robin for the 1947 North American title. It lost to Mexico by 5-0 and Cuba by 5-2. Kutis was called in halfway through the United States’ 1957 qualifying series against Mexico and Canada. The United States had lost both of its games against Mexico, and its chances of advancing to the next round were hanging by a thread as it went into its two games against Canada. A penalty by Harry Keough in the 25th minute of the first game, played in Toronto, gave the Americans a lead they couldn’t hold. Canada was ahead by halftime and added three more goals in the second half for a 5-1 win. Two weeks later in St. Louis, Canada took a 3-0 lead in the first 26 minutes before the Americans narrowed the count to 3-2 by the end.

Perhaps those scores, adding up to 18-5 against in four games, are among the many reasons why the USSFA and USSF have never repeated the move. Whether all the Ponta Delgada and Kutis players were American citizens is a good question. Ponta seems definitely the more likely of the two to have had some non-citizens, because it was sponsored by an ethnic club based in an immigrant community, and because many St. Louis teams over the years have emphasized the use of native-born players. However, considering the scores, maybe it doesn’t matter much anyway.

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