Today in 1916, the US Soccer team played their first international football match. In the Olympic Stadium of Stockholm they beat their Swedish hosts 3 – 2.
The seed for America’s first international football game was sown four years earlier. In 1912 Thomas Cahill, secretary of the recently founded United States Football Association, went to Stockholm to ask for recognition by FIFA, which was meeting there in conjunction with the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. The USA became a member a year later. But it was a bad time for international football. Due to the outbreak of the First World War, it almost came to a total standstill.
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Official postcard from the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.
Organising neutral football in wartime
The Scandinavian countries had the same problem. They all stayed neutral in the conflict and played, as they had done for the last ten years, matches against each other. The outcome of the games was too predictable. Playing against the neutral overseas members of FIFA, Argentina, Chile or the United States was impossible because German submarines patrolled the Atlantic Ocean trying to cut off the British and French supply lines. In 1915 the Germans sank the passenger British-American ship RMS Lusitania, killing 1200 people, among which 128 Americans. Germany who tried to keep the USA out of the war realized it overstepped its mark. The country apologized and promised the USA not to target any passenger vessels.
The Swedish football Association saw a chance for a more interesting game. They invited a United States team to play against several Swedish club teams and the national squads of Sweden and Norway. The Swedes would take care of the costs.
As the American champions Bethlehem FC declined the invitation an All American team was assembled. After a sea-crossing voyage ‘without incident’ the American team arrived on the 7th of August at Kristiana (now Oslo). During their month-long stay they played five games. Three of them were won, one lost and one draw. The last was against Norway when the Americans played a great deal of the game with nine men. The most important win was against the Swedish national squad. Not only because of the victory, but also because it was the first US international game and their first international goal was scored.
It took 68 years before Sweden played the USA again. No dangerous submarines, but also no American victory. On 23 February 1984 the Scandinavians had their revenge: 4 – 0.
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