There were Charlie Colombo, central defender and office clerk; Frank (Pee-Wee) Wallace (whose surname had been changed from Valicenti), right winger and liquor truck driver; Gino Pariani, inside right and cannery worker; and, in goal, Frank Borghi, who worked in a brickyard.
The closest any of the St. Louis players got to being professional, Keough said, was a $50 Christmas bonus and maybe a turkey. All the same, when the Simpkins played Keough's team, which they did once every three weeks at Sportsman's Park, the old St. Louis baseball stadium, the game might draw 10,000 fans. "Hell, we weren't that bad a team," Keough said.
The other Americans who would play at Belo Horizonte were from the East Coast, from the ethnic leagues that flourished from Boston to Washington, D.C. There the game was more organized and more sophisticated than it was farther west. Walter Bahr, a Philadelphia school-teacher, was a defensive halfback good enough to be approached by Manchester United of the English first division. Another easterner, Ed McIlvenny, was originally from Scotland and had been let go two seasons earlier by a British third division club. After the Belo Horizonte game, he returned to Great Britain to play, and then vanished. (A couple of years ago, an author placed ads in British newspapers to try to locate McIlvenny. There was no response from Ed, but three women who claimed to be Mrs. Ed McIlvenny called to say that they, too, were interested in his whereabouts.)
Then there was Joe Maca, who was born in Belgium but lived in Lynbrook, New York. And there were the two Souzas, John and Eddie, Portuguese-Americans from Fall River, Mass., who were unrelated.
Finally, there was star-crossed Joe Gaetjens, center forward, a player as cosmopolitan as the game itself. Gaetjens was of Belgian-Haitian descent and had come to New York by way of Port-au-Prince. He had won a scholarship to Columbia, played weekends for a team called Brookhattan and worked as a dishwasher at a Manhattan restaurant.
Once assembled, the U.S. team was frankly, even humbly, willing to concede that it was in for a soccer lesson in Brazil. Qualifying for the World Cup was different then—in the aftermath of World War II, few countries had the means or the interest to sponsor teams. The U.S. qualified after losing twice to Mexico and tying and beating Cuba. There was no time for serious training. A club team from Istanbul shut out the Americans 5-0 five weeks before the U.S. team left for Brazil, and in New York City, on the eve of their departure, the Americans lost again, 1-0, to the English third squad, which had spent the previous night on a train from Windsor, Ontario.
What followed was no joy, either. The trip to Rio took the U.S. team 40 hours, with a 12-hour stopover in Puerto Rico while the engines of the prop-driven DC-4 were repaired. All the same, as Bahr recollected, the players made it fun.
"We had good chemistry," he said, "and no big egos, no finger-pointers, no complainers. Everybody liked their beer, except for Harry, who was and is a teetotaler. In Brazil we went out at night and enjoyed ourselves. Sang on the bus—When You Wore a Tulip and I Wore a Big Red Rose, In the Good Old Summer Time, Take Me Back to Chicago, I Belong to Glasgow."
The opening 3-1 loss to Spain wasn't as bad as it might sound. The U.S. had led 1-0 until eight minutes before the end. "We had a better team than people think," Bahr said.
And so it came to Belo Horizonte, not to the magnificent stadium that stands there today, but to its predecessor—concrete stands, a bumpy field and, for a dressing room, a shed so primitive and cucaracha-ridden that the English re-fused to use it, changing instead at a nearby hotel. The field didn't faze the Americans, though. "Hey, it had grass," Keough said. It beat the cinders that many of them were used to playing on.