United Soccer of America – Part II

[Part I]

The midfield was the department in which Americans with the most disparate origins cohexisted. One of the most notable was Tabaré “Tab” Ramos Ricciardi; his roots are in Montevideo, although his two surnames reveal Italian and Spanish origins. He moved to the United States aged 11 with his family and he settled in Kearny, New Jersey. As he shown propensity for soccer, he was selected by the New York Cosmos in 1984, but he decided to concentrate on studying. Having participated in the futsal World Cup, he went to play in Spain. He is still remembered for being elbowed by Brazilian Leonardo who fractured his cranium during the round of 16 clash in 1994. Afterwards, he was the first player to be signed for the MLS.

While kicking a ball for the first time in Kearny, Ramos met two future team-mates, John Harkes and the aforementioned Tony Meola. Scotland-originated Harkes joined the newly-formed Premier League in the early 1990s and he was the author of the cross Colombian defender Andrés Escobar sadly deflected in his own goal, a mistake which a few days later led him to be murdered. Harkes is still the first and only American to have played and scored in a League Cup final in 1993, when Sheffield Wednesday lost to Arsenal.

Instead, Latin blood streams in the veins of Claudio Reyna, born of an Argentinian professional footballer who had emigrated in Kearny and had married an American woman with Portuguese background.

Another fundamental player was Hugo Pérez, born and raised in El Salvador, where his father and grandfather had played football at high levels. He settled in the USA in 1974 and, 10 years later, he finally got the citizenship in time for participating in the Los Angeles Games. With the help of former star Johan Cruijff, he was close to sign for Italian side Parma in 1990, but the dealing ended for he missed the 1990 World Cup due to an injury. A man of deep faith, Pérez read the Holy Bible to his team-mates during the training camp.

Mike Sorber, third element of the halfback line in the 5-3-2 module fielded by Milutinović, has German ancestors, while among the boys chased up in the colleges there was a promising player with dreadlocks dangling on his head. His name is Cobi Jones and he symbolises the most dramatic migration to the United States – the African trade.

The Starting XI’s forwards reflected odd crossbreeds between the Old and the New World, as “Bora” placed his trust in Earnest Stewart and Eric Wynalda. “Earnie” was born in the Netherlands of a homonymous father, an Afro-American who had worked in the US air force, and a Dutch mother called Annemien. Quite surprisingly, his career mainly took place in his birthplace, with the exception of a fleeting appearance in the MLS when he was about to retire.

Wynalda’s family was from the Netherlands, too. A surf addicted and skilled imitator who displayed his name on his car’s number, Wynalda was driven to soccer by his father Dave, an American football player. After the 1990 World Cup he signed for Saarbrücken in Germany, where he was nicknamed “the Big Mac on the ball”. He would turn to be a remarkable figure in the MLS history as he would score the first ever goal in this league.

The attacking tandem had three replacements, with Joe-Max Moore being the only American with English roots. Fotios “Frank” Klopas (pictured left) passed from the quietness in the Greek village of Prosimna to the chaos of Chicago, where he practised indoor soccer. But soccer, the original one, was something else and, as a typical Greek, he could resist no longer away from home. He was back in his homeland for eight years, wearing the jerseys of AEK Athens and Apollon, and he finally retired in the MLS.

An authentic cosmopolitan such as Roy Wegerle could not be off that team. Born in Pretoria when apartheid was still in force, he made a trial with Manchester United but opted for studying in American colleges. Here he practised football, differently from South Africa, where it was still considered a sport for black people. In Florida he did not manage to cherish his passion, but at least he met his future wife Marie Gargallo. The marriage provided him with the American citizenship in 1991, subsequently he flew to England to nurture his skills. His career ended in the MLS after a long wandering, too.

That national team performed more than decently. They debuted by drawing 1-1 against Switzerland at Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit, in the first ever indoor match played in a football World Cup. Afterwards, they surprisingly beat Colombia 2-1, an upset which had dramatic consequences for the South Americans, and lost 1-0 to Romania, this not preventing them to move forward into the competition.

The American dream vanished in the round of 16 as Brazil, who would lift the World Cup two weeks later, won 1-0 courtesy of their strikers Bebeto and Romário. A twist of fate, that vital match was played on 4 July and, if Team USA had won, Americans would celebrate twice in the same day.

Naturalised, Afro-Americans, immigrants, Hispanics – all of them would perceive themselves as Americans, all of them would rejoice wrapped up by the stars-and-stripes flag.

Perhpas, they might have temporarily changed their nation’s name in United Soccer of America.

(2 – the end)

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