The U.S. World Cup Upset No One in America Knew About

In the summer of 1950, the World Cup resumed after a twelve-year hiatus due to the Second World War. The United States sent a rag-tag bunch to tournament; a team made mostly of semi-pros who, by day, were milkmen and mail carriers. They were set to face the English national team, considered co-favorites to win the Cup, along with host country Brazil. The Americans, on the other hand, went into Cup play having lost seven consecutive matches by a cumulative score of 45-2. That’s not a typo.  Forty-five to two.  But in the 37th minute of the match versus England, American captain William Bahr (a schoolteacher!) took a shot from twenty-five feet out. Teammate Joe Gaetjens headed it into the net, scoring the game’s only goal. The Americans pulled off a historic upset, 1-0.

The world was abuzz, with newspaper around the globe covering the upset on their front pages. But amazingly, only one major American newspaper covered the story the next day.  Indeed, Bahr — whose errant shot lead to the goal — later told CNN, “I don’t think I did a single interview about the World Cup until 25 years later.”

How could this happen?   To be blunt, it was simply a case of soccer not being very popular stateside.  Not a single American newspaper sent a reporter to the match, given the lack of interest.  The only story came via Dent McSkinning, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  McSkinning took time off and, on his own dime, attended the Cup match. He was the only American journalist at the match, and his report of the game was the only one in any major U.S. paper.  Hindsight is 20/20, but foresight was nearly blind.

Bonus factNo one knows exactly what happened to Joe Gaetjens, the goal scorer, twenty years out. A Haitian by birth, Gaetjens returned to Haiti later in life. Reportedly, he was taken as a political prisoner and shot sometime in the 1960s or 70s, but understandably, there are no available records either way.

Related: “The Beckham Experiment: How the World’s Most Famous Athlete Tried to Conquer America” by Grant Wahl. Four stars on 31 reviews. Available on Kindle.

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