When the US National team captured the attention of American viewers with a thrilling performance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the question was raised: who is he greatest US player of all time?
The typical names thrown about were those of Landon Donovan, Cobi Jones, Eric Wynalda and Alexei Lalas, among others. While it’s tough to argue against such great players, it came to my attention that, by and large, fans were overlooking the most successful period in US soccer history.
The stars and bars reached the semi-final of the first World Cup in 1930 hosted by Uruguay, and one of the major catalysts of that success was Fall River, Massachusetts product Bert Patenaude.
Patenaude was one of the most prolific goal scorers in the old American Soccer League, tallying 114 goals in 158 matches between 1928-31. Along with fellow legend Billy Gonsalves, Patenaude was one of the premier soccer products of Fall River, a city known for it’s dominance in that area at the time.
You may have heard his name mentioned in South Africa, as Landon Donovan supplanted him as the US all-time World Cup goals leader during the extra-time loss to Ghana.
Believe it or not, Patenaude is the first person to ever record a hat-trick at the World Cup, accomplishing the feat against Paraguay during a 3-0 US win in Montevideo. Interestingly enough, it took 76 years for the record to be confirmed, as conflicting match reports had erroneously credited one of Patenaude’s strikes as a Paraguay own goal. In 2006, the following message appeared on FIFA’s website: “Credit where credit is due: thanks to evidence from various historians and football fans, as well as lengthy research and confirmation from the US Soccer Federation, American Bert Patenaude has been retrospectively entered in FIFA’s records as the first player to score a hat trick in FIFA World Cup history by virtue of his three goals in the USA’s 3-0 win over Paraguay in Montevideo (Uruguay) on 17 July 1930.”
While the stars of the United States’ current squads are growing increasingly visible and the game itself is growing here, it is important that fans realize that we have a lengthy soccer tradition in this country, and stars of yesteryear such as Patenaude should be revered alongside modern players.
Is Patenaude the greatest American soccer player? How should I know, I never saw him play? What I do know is this: if we are going to have that conversation, Patenaude belongs right in the middle of it.