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A Handful of Firsts:


A Short Excerpt from U.S. Soccer vs the World

© 1983 Tony Cirino

A Handful of Firsts

One afternoon in November 1885 the first international soccer game in the United States was played on a grassy field near East Newark, New Jersey. Two thousand local spectators saw a local all-star team lose [0-1] to the Canadian national team after a rather rough display. Observers noted that "much skin was lost in the struggle" as the Americans kept the visitors to only the single goal. The New York Times reporter remarked that play had frequently disintegrated into fist fights and the referee had intervened several times to mainain order.

Despite the fact that they had never practiced together as a unit, the home team played remarkably well. Five of the American players were from the O.N.T. team, sponsored by Clark Thread Mills; three were from the Kearny Rangers, two from the Paterson Thistles, and one from Almas. There were three officials in the first American international: each team had an umpire, and a referee was provided by the home field, the O.N.T. Athletic Association.

The Canadians played 3 other games against New Jersey clubs. They beat O.N.T. [5-1] and ended their visit to the United States undefeated, with a sweep of both Almas and Kearny. The teams played with a 2-2-6 formation: two fullbacks in front of the goalie, two halfbacks, and six forwards.

First International Win, 1886

The following November the Canadians returned to Newark and were welcomed by a large delegation of representatives from the American clubs, with a band providing a spirited accompaniment. After a dinner at the Continental Hotel they drove to the playing grounds on the east bank of the Passaic River. A driving rain and strong winds had made the Kearny, New Jersey field soggy, but a shivering crowd of 2,000 watched as the U.S. all-star team beat the Canadians.

The field was in terrible condition, completely soaked, and the spectators stood in water "up to their shoetops." The Canadians, playing with a favorable wind, scored in the first half, but the Americans led off the second half on the attack. Fullback Chapman of the Kearny Rangers tied "amid much excitement" and the United States scored twice more. The Canadians found the American net again before the whistle. The final score: U.S., 3; Canada, 2. This marks the first international victory by an American national soccer team, eighteen years prior to the organization of FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, and nearly thirty years before the formation of the U.S. soccer federation.

That U.S. team was by no means a selection of the best players in the country. Since there was no national association, the all-stars was an undertaking of local associations and leagues with limited territorial boundaries. Six of the American players were from the O.N.T. team, two were from Almas, two from the New York Pilgrims, and one from the Kearny Rangers. Most of the Canadians were from the Galt and Berlin teams, affiliated with the Football Association of Ontario.

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