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Clear & Obvious: When American men were good at soccer

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“Most of history and over 37% of quotes are made up anyway” - Mark Twain

Fernand Gonder (1883 _ 1969), French pole vaulter. Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The American men’s soccer team is pretty bad at soccer relative to the rest of the world and just in general. It missed the World Cup in 2018, can’t beat Mexico in the Gold Cup, hasn’t qualified for the men’s Olympics since 2008, in seven World Cups since 1990 it’s won just five games, the manager is Gregg Berhalter - not great.

There was a time when that was not true. When the Stars and Stripes were a mighty soccer nation and nearly world champions. In fact, the US were so good at soccer that they won both the silver and bronze medals in the Olympics. The year was 1904 and historic soccer city St. Louis was hosting the Olympics. Thanks to nobody showing up because the Czar of Russia was fighting a war against Japan to try to save his crumbling empire and that it took eight months to travel to the middle of the United States from anywhere else in the country if you only got typhoid once, nobody from any countries that were good at sports showed up.

This would be a theme of the games fittingly, its motto was “The St. Louis Olympics, if traveling here didn’t kill you, the bagels and ‘pizza’ will finish the job.” Originally, the games would have been in Chicago - the nexus of America’s rail system and a charming city at the turn of the century that inspired such incredible national treasures as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and gave the world the first serial killer and anarchism. Since the basis of the Olympics is graft, a city that had the infrastructure that could hold the games and was a place that was accessible (in 1904 the main means of transportation were train or a rudimentary automobile that as I learned at Georgia Tech was powered by a spring or a bicycle with a humorously large front wheel) had the games stolen from it by an undeserving city whose main claim to fame was that Mark Twain once said, “St. Louis is a place with catfish as big as cows.”

As it was 1904, and the only way to send information was by telegraph, horseback, funny big wheel bike messenger, or owning one of five telephones in existence, there was no true national team and the only countries that participated were the United States and Canada. The US was represented by teams from a college and a church (or something?) and Canada sent a club team. As expected, Galt FC of Galt, Ontario beat both US sides by a combined score of 11-0 to take gold despite what was no doubt a valiant effort by Americans Alexander Cudmore and Cormic Cosgrove. In the bronze and silver medal game Christian Brothers College and St. Rose Parish initially played to a 0-0 draw - though there was a photographic review that led to a disallowed goal, but it took seven hours to take the photo and develop the print. Since this is America and a tie is not allowed and in the Olympics someone has to win the match was re-played with Christian Brothers winning 2-0 thanks to goals from ? ? and taking home silver.

According to the most read news source of the day, a kid standing on a street corner reading the latest headlines from the Spooner Advocate, the reason the US failed to win gold is that the nation’s best athletes are all playing more popular sports like Tug Of War and Roll a Hoop Down The Street With A Stick - what could have been...

Basically, the Olympic tournament was rigged, this is a pretty impressive accomplishment since neither FIFA, MLS, US Soccer, or Chuck Blazer had come into existence at this point. Despite the fact that the US men had two of the three teams in the tournament, it only managed to come in second and third... just goes to show, if the USMNT enters a competition with a small enough field, it too can feel the glory of standing atop a podium, but can also completely screw up a sure thing.