Thursday, January 10, 2008

ATH: Team America History

From just after my time . . .

History: Team America, 1976

01/09/2008 10:35 AM

WASHINGTON DC (January 9, 2008) USSoccerPlayers -- Seven years before the season-long Team America experiment in Washington DC ended in tears, another line-up under the same name appeared in an international summer tournament to mark the USA’s bicentenary. The hybrid of North American Soccer League foreign pros and a handful of US players played three games and lost them all, scoring just once.

This was forgivable to some extent as the opponents could hardly have been of a higher caliber -- Brazil, Italy and England, all former World Champions, and all three of whom had appeared in a World Cup Final over the previous decade. Italy and England were free, however, because they had both failed to qualify for the final eight of that summer’s European Nations’ Cup.

Despite its name, Team America boasted just four US players, and two of them were goalkeepers, Arnie Mausser (35 US caps, but who didn’t actually play a game at the tournament) and Bob Rigby (seven US caps, but two games for Team America). The other two were defenders -- 2007 Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Smith (18 US caps, who turned out in all three games), and the Hartford Bi-Centennials’ Peter Chandler, who had already won all of his three US caps by this point, and whose pro career lasted only four years.

There were a number of naturalized US citizens in the squad too, including Julie Veee, who played later in the US World Cup qualifiers, scoring in a 2-0 win over Canada. But as preparation for that campaign, which ultimately failed, the Bicentennial Tournament was of little use. And it’s arguable that fielding the proper US National Team against such quality opponents would have done little for the team’s confidence, or have in any way prepared them for playing Canada and Mexico.

Taking the rest of its players from the NASL, Team America wasn’t short on international class. Pelé played, for starters, as did England’s 1966 World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore, not to mention the charming Giorgio Chinaglia. George Best and Rodney Marsh were slated to appear, but the irrepressible mavericks pulled out before the start, supposedly because coach Ken Furphy refused to guarantee them starting spots. It’s debatable whether they would have added much in the way of team spirit and tactical cohesiveness.

The tournament was played in league format, each side playing the other team once. Team America kicked off against Italy at RFK Stadium in DC in front of a 33,000 plus crowd. They lost 4-0 against a side featuring Dino Zoff, Marco Tardelli, Romeo Benetti and current England manager Fabio Capello. The result was as good as you might expect when a hotchpotch of players of wildly varying standards are thrown together with no time to prepare.

Against Brazil in Seattle in the side’s second game, they acquitted themselves twice as well, losing only 2-0. Pelé wasn’t picked for this one (presumably citing conflict of interest), but Liverpool and Tampa Bay henchman Tommy Smith was, doubtless as a damage limitation measure. Brazil played a young Zico (at that time, “the new Pelé”) and the explosively named striker Roberto Dinamite, though it was Gil who got the goals.

In the final game against England, played out in front of just over 16,000 fans at 102,000 capacity JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, Pelé returned to the line-up, and the team even managed to score one. By that time, however, they were already three goals down. Veteran Scot Stewart Scullion, who played for five years in the NASL at Tampa Bay and Portland, has the distinction of being this brand of Team America’s only ever scorer. A brace by Kevin Keegan and a sole strike by captain Gerry Francis accounted for England’s three goals.

Having beaten England in their opening game, Brazil sealed the tournament title by beating Italy 4-1 in a bad-tempered repeat of the 1970 World Cup final, this time in New Haven, Connecticut. There were three players sent off -- Franco Causio and Roberto Bettega of Italy, and Lula of Brazil -- and Gil again scored twice, aided by one apiece from Zico and Dinamite.

How seriously were the English taking this tournament? When they lost their opener to Brazil through a last minute goal in LA, manager Don Revie called it “the most disappointing result in 14 years [as a manager]. It was a great performance and I was proud of every one of my players.”

Against Italy in Yankee Stadium, he was happy that his side came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2, although the game turned ill-tempered in the second half and three Italians were booked. Revie saw the game as worthy preparation for the coming World Cup qualifiers against the same team, but in the end it was the Italians who made it to Argentina 78, and England stayed at home.

*Curious historical footnote, courtesy of the website England Football Online. The English Football Association classified its game against Team America as "a training game," whereas Italy and Brazil both counted their games against TA as full internationals. In 2001, FIFA retroactively declassified such games as being full internationals (only games between two FIFA members count as full internationals), including games England had previously played against Rest of the World and Rest of Europe XIs. The English FA, idiosyncratic as ever, still insists in recognizing these games as worthy of full international status.

May 23: Brazil 1 (Dinamite) England 0
Italy 4 (Capello, Pulici PK, Graziani, Rocca) Team America 0
May 28: Brazil 2 (Gil 2) Team America 0
England 3 (Channon 2, Thompson) Italy 2 (Graziani 2)
May 31: England 3 (Keegan 2, Francis) Team America 1 (Scullion)
Brazil 4 (Gil 2, Zico, Dinamite) Italy 1 (Capello)

Brazil 6pts
England 4
Italy 2
Team America 0

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