Contributed by Steven Torres
Photo credit USSF
Soccer Long Island Magazine takes a historical look back at the first-ever meeting between United States and Mexico which also doubled as a qualifying match for the 1934 FIFA World Cup in Italy.
For the first and only time in history, a qualifier took place three days before the start of a World Cup, and that is when forward Aldo Donelli scored four times to lead the U.S. to a 4:2 victory against Mexico on May 24, 1934, in Rome, Italy. The win gave the Stars & Stripes the last berth in the field of 16 teams.
The playoff encounter concluded the inaugural qualifying tournament in the North American region to the FIFA World Cup.
Mexico and U.S. had previously competed as the North American region representatives (Concacaf was not formed until 1961) in the 1928 Olympic Games in the Netherlands and 1930 World Cup in Uruguay. However, the two sides had never faced each other, until the match in Rome with both traveling different roads in reaching the playoff qualifier.
Under the helm of Rafael Garza Gutierrez, Mexico hosted and won all three of its matches against Cuba during the second round of North American qualifying held in Mexico City from March 4-18 (Mar. 4 - 3:2, Mar. 11 - 5:0, Mar. 18 - 4:1). The Cubans had eliminated Haiti in a three-match series in the opening round earlier in the year.
Meanwhile, the U.S., a third-place finisher at the 1930 World Cup, submitted its FIFA Application late to compete in the North American qualifying series. FIFA arranged for the Stars & Stripes to face El Tricolor in a playoff at Rome's Nazionale de PNF Stadium just 72 hours before the start of the second World Cup.
Photo credit USSF.
In that match, played before a crowd of 10,000, Mexico took a 23rd minute lead through forward Manuel Alonso.
Nicknamed “Buff,” Donelli would strike for two goals (28th, 30th), giving the U.S. a lead that in would never relinquish.
In the second half, things didn't get any better for El Tri as they were reduced to 10 players following the 52nd minute ejection of defender Antonio Azpiri by the Egyptian Referee, Yossouf Mohamed.
Fourteen minutes later, Donelli missed a chance to score when he failed to convert a penalty kick. However, he didn't let that miss unsettle him, making it 3:1 in the 74th minute with his third goal of the match.
After Mexican forward Dionisio Mejia (75th) cut the lead to 3:2, Donelli netted his fourth with three minutes remaining.
"We were beaten 4:2, and we lost without any excuses," Mexican goalkeeper Rafael Navarro remembered in Carlos F. Ramirez' book - Selección Nacional.
Donelli, who was added to the line-up at the last minute on the insistence of midfielder Billy Gonsalves, became the second U.S. player (and first since 1925) to score four goals in a match. The Pittsburgh, Pa. native also set a record in most goals in a North American qualifying match.
"Mexico had a team that was pretty equal to ours, but they were not very quick," Donelli commented in Tony Cirino's Book - US Soccer vs. The World. "They had a very deliberate style of attack. “There was not a whole lot of imagination; it was a very predictable and if you did anything, if you moved a bit, it would put them off balance. I was just able to go around the man very easily."
The U.S. competed at 1934 World Cup with Donelli, their newest scoring sensation, and four veterans from the ‘30 squad (Thomas Florie, James Gallager, Billy Gonsalves and George Moorhouse). They had the misfortune of meeting hosts Italy in the opener and were crushed 7:1, exiting the competition after one game.
The crowd of 30,000 at Nazionale de PNF Stadium saw the home side jump out to a 3:0 halftime lead, before Donelli scored the Stars & Stripes’ only goal in the 57th minute with a shot from just outside the penalty area that screamed into the corner of the net.
"I was maybe a step inside the twenty-yard line," Donelli remembered in US Soccer vs. The World. "There was a mix-up in their play and the ball just came loose. I was in back of the play and instead of dribbling it up, which normally almost everybody would have done, take another step to the right and then take a shot, I didn't take any steps. I just took a shot there and I put it up in the far-left corner."
That was the only bright spot for the Stars & Stripes as the Italians went on to score four unanswered goals in the final 27 minutes. Italy went on to win the ‘34 World Cup with a 2:1 extra time victory over Czechoslovakia in the final, played in Rome on June 10.
The five goals Donelli scored in Italy would be the only ones of his international career.
Upon his return to the U.S., Donelli became an American football coach at his alma-mater Duquesne University (1939-42) before taking similar positions in Boston University (1947-56), Columbia University (1957-67), as well as with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1941) and Cleveland Rams (1944) of the National Football League.
Donelli, who passed away in 1994, was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1954.
FIFA World Cup Italy 1934 - Qualifying Group 11 (North America) Playoff
05.24.1934: Rome, ITALY; Nazionale del PNF Stadium (A: 10000)
USA – MEXICO 4:2 (2:1)
Aldo DONELLI 28’, 32’, 74’, 87’ – Manuel ALONSO 23’; Dionisio MEJIA 75’
USA: Julius Julián – Edward Czerkiewicz, George Moorhouse-C, William Lehman, Billy Gonsalves, Peter Pietras, James Gallagher, Werner Nielsen, Aldo Donelli, Thomas Florie, Bill McLean.
Coach: David GOULD
MEX: Rafael Navarro - Antonio Azpiri, Lorenzo Camarena, Guillermo Ortega-C, Ignacio Avila, Felipe Rosas, Vicente García, Manuel Alonso, Dionisio Mejía, Juan Carreño, José Rubalcaba. Sent offs: Azpiri 52’
Coach: Rafael GARZA GUTIERREZ
R: Yossouf MOHAMED (EGY)
Written by Steven Torres