In between he traveled extensively as a professional soccer player and even spent time with clubs in New York, Philadelphia and St. Louis during the 1930s. But the small city located some 50 miles south of Boston was home, and it was that bond which was celebrated in a story published in Fall River's Herald News on Sept. 5, 1930.
A couple of days earlier, Patenaude and fellow Fall Riverite Billy Gonsalves returned from a three-month trip to South America with the U.S. national team. Their voyage entailed 35 days at sea and was punctuated by a third-place finish in the first FIFA World Cup. But the details of that historic achievement were of secondary importance, according to Herald News sports editor Frank McGrath.
“Take it from both of them, they’re mighty glad to be back,” he reported. “Not that they didn’t enjoy the trip, for they had a great time, but the happiest moment for the two youngsters since they left New York on June 13 was when they hopped from the bus here late Tuesday night.”
Patenaude and Gonsalves were so eager to get home that they took a train and then a bus from Providence rather than wait for the boat from New York. The pair “have been kept on the hop greeting their friends,” wrote McGrath, who also delved into the players’ future with the Fall River Marksmen, the local American Soccer League juggernaut that was about to embark on a European tour.
Regarding the trip south, it was noted that Patenaude called Gonsalves “the outstanding player on the United States team,” but “would say nothing concerning his own playing, outside of the fact that he did his best.”
McGrath mentioned the “hostile crowds” in South America and the “rough play of their opponents,” and lamented the injury to goalkeeper Jimmy Douglas that marred the semifinal loss to Argentina. In one post-World Cup exhibition, the U.S. put the ball in the opposition net six times, only to see a “partisan” referee rule out three. In another, a dispute following an apparent goal by Tom Florie resulted in a pitch invasion by frustrated fans who “specialize in hissing”.
Nowhere did the Herald News story reference the three World Cup goals Patenaude scored against Paraguay at Parque Central in Montevideo, where the U.S. sealed its semifinal berth. Nowhere did it mention that Patenaude, a 20-year-old American, was the first man to tally a World Cup hat trick. And nowhere did it celebrate the fact that Fall River’s native son finished as the tournament’s third-leading scorer.
“Now they are settled again, ready to take up their favorite sport where they left off,” McGrath wrote, as if the games and goals in Uruguay occurred on fields in a parallel but irrelevant universe. While the U.S. soccer authorities credited Patenaude with four goals overall, including three against Paraguay, word of his feat failed to spread. Accounts of the action differed depending on the source. FIFA agreed that Patenaude scored the first and third goals of the Americans’ 3-0 win on July 17, but Florie was credited with the second. Elsewhere, Gonsalves, Bart McGhee or even a Paraguayan defender was held responsible.
Two days later, Argentina’s Guillermo Stábile struck three times in a 6-3 defeat of Mexico, and for the next 76 years he was celebrated by FIFA as the man with the first World Cup hat trick. Following the tournament he left his native Buenos Aires for Italy, where he signed with Genoa.
Patenaude passed away in 1974 at the age of 65, a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame who won three U.S. Open Cup titles. He died on his birthday in early November, four months after the conclusion of the sixth consecutive World Cup for which the U.S. failed to qualify. He died in the middle of a long nadir for American soccer, his achievement recognized only by his surviving teammates and USSF records that were ignored by the rest of the planet. It was sadly fitting.
The following year, Uruguay was selected to host the 1930 tournament. The distant location scared off potential European entrants (not including the four British associations, which had withdrawn from FIFA) and two months before kickoff, none had committed. FIFA president Jules Rimet eventually helped persuade Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia to participate. The teams set sail from Villefranche-Sur-Mer on June 21, reached Rio de Janeiro eight days later and finally set foot in Montevideo on July 4. The Americans arrived on July 1 following an 18-day voyage and were one of four squads seeded by FIFA, despite having lost their only game of the 1928 Olympics, 11-2, to Argentina.
With only 13 teams signed up and several European powers absent, the U.S. faced an easier path to the semis.
“If everybody had been there, I can’t imagine the U.S. would be finishing third,” says Roger Allaway, a retired journalist and the author of several books on the history of American soccer. “It was not just England and Scotland who weren’t there. Austria, Hungary and the Czechs were big powers in that day and Italy won the World Cup four years later.”
But the U.S. was buoyed by the growth of the ASL. Colin Jose, a colleague of Allaway who lives in London, Ont., and has written extensively on the sport in North America, says that the circuit included “maybe four or five teams that were good enough to play in the Scottish first division … A lot of young American and Canadian players played in the league and benefited playing alongside experienced professionals. At one time I counted 50 European professionals playing in the ASL. Nothing like that happened again until the NASL, 50 years later.”
Coach Bob Millar, a Scot who moved to the U.S. in his early 20s, selected 16 players for the trip to Uruguay, including 12 from the ASL. The most experienced was 32-year-old goalkeeper Jimmy Douglas, who starred for the New York Nationals and already had five international caps. The youngest were midfielders Gonsalves and Jim Brown, each 21, and Patenaude, who was 20.
Patenaude had just helped Fall River win its third Open Cup crown but likely owed his World Cup invitation—or at least his playing time—to the absence of Archie Stark, 32, the great center forward from Bethlehem Steel.
“Stark was, to my mind, the biggest star of pre-World war II American soccer,” Allaway says. “He was still pretty good and he scored 32 goals in the American Soccer League that season. But Bethlehem Steel folded at the end of the 1929-30 season and he didn’t know whether he was going to be able to make a living in soccer or not. He was starting an auto repair business in Kearney, N.J., which is where he lived most of his life. That sort of gives you the sense that the World Cup wasn’t as big a deal back then. Today the idea of somebody passing up the World Cup would be horrifying.”
Says Jose, “Archie would have been first choice on that team.”
American soccer was in flux. The stock market had crashed a few months earlier and the Great Depression beckoned. The ASL was having financial problems of its own because of a dispute with the U.S. Soccer Federation (then called the United States Football Association) that led to the governing body’s sanctioning of a rival league. Meanwhile, not a single player who appeared at the 1928 Olympics made the trip to Paraguay.
When the U.S. kicked off the 1930 World Cup against Belgium on July 13, it had not played an official international match in more than two years.
That game was one of two scheduled on the competition’s opening day. In a report issued following the trip, U.S. manager Wilfred Cummings wrote, “The day was sultry and dreary, the field being a bed of wet sticky clay with pools of water too numerous to count. It was nevertheless to our liking and as we had a couple of week’s jump on the four European teams the conditions were really ‘made to order’ so to speak.”
After a rough opening 20-30 minutes, which Cummings described as “like hours of anguish,” the Americans found their legs. McGhee opened the scoring in the 23rd.
“We seemed to immediately snap out of it and from then on the team was positively unbeatable,” Cummings reported.
Florie, the captain from Harrison, N.J.—now the home of Red Bull Arena—doubled the lead just before halftime. Patenaude then offered a glimpse of heroics to come in the 69th as he received a lobbed pass from Brown. The young forward then “chalked up number three and marked one of the most brilliant plays in the entire tournament,” Cummings wrote.
The 3-0 win put the U.S. in pole position in its three-team group. A good result four days later against Paraguay, the 1929 Copa América runner-up, would send the Americans to the semis.
Millar stuck with the starting 11 that beat Belgium (a significant decision since substitutions weren’t permitted at a World Cup until 1970) and deployed his team in the standard 2-3-2-3 formation, with Patenaude leading the line.
Cummings was succinct:
“Our team was indeed flashy and after gathering three markers which Patenaude crashed against the rigging from wing centers we rested on our oars to sort of save ourselves for the semifinals.”
The goals came in the 10th, 15th and 50th minutes. That night, the triumphant Americans attended a parade in Montevideo. Uruguay was celebrating the centennial of its first constitution.
“The electric lighting effects were magnificent and not even surpassed in our country,” according to Cummings.
News of Patenaude’s feat didn’t get much traction in the U.S. George Brown, the son of Jim Brown and himself a National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee, says, “Nobody cared. It was a non-event in this country.”
No U.S. journalists were on the scene. “Some American newspapers didn’t even refer to it as the World Championship,” Allaway says. “A lot of them referred to this as the U.S. team’s tour of South America.”
On July 26, nine days after the win over Paraguay, the Americans were blasted, 6-1, by Argentina in the first World Cup semifinal. The game took place at the new Estadio Centenario on a pitch 138 yards long and 100 yards wide. George Brown says he remembers his father telling him that the heavy leather ball made it difficult to reach the middle of the massive field with a cross.
The U.S. held its own, however, and trailed only 1-0 at the half. But Douglas’ injured knee reduced his mobility, and defender Raphael Tracey was forced to leave the game with a broken leg.
“It was fairly rough on the field,” George Brown says. “My father said that when he played in the semifinal against Argentina, the opposing fullback during the game was throwing dirt in his eyes and spitting on him. He admired their skill but he said, ‘They were fighting for their lives. We were down there to play a game.’”
Argentina scored five goals inside 30 minutes and led, 6-0, when Jim Brown pulled one back in the 89th. Two years later, he signed with Manchester United.
The hosts beat Argentina in the final and the U.S. stuck around to play exhibitions against local clubs Nacional and Peñarol (both losses) before moving on to Brazil. Cummings wrote that he ignored a request from the Marksmen to send Patenaude and Gonsalves to Budapest so they could join the club on tour.
“I failed to comply because of the otherwise crippled condition of my team and the pressing demand for Gonsalves … and Patenaude in Sao Paulo and Rio. I don’t know what [we] would have done with these two boys who played in every game on the trip,” he explained.
After several more friendlies, the Americans finally left for home on Aug. 20, more than a month after Patenaude’s hat trick. If the Herald News story was any indication, his accomplishment at best was considered a footnote. But elsewhere, it wasn’t considered at all, and it didn’t really dawn on anyone involved with the U.S. effort that the rest of the world didn’t believe it happened.
“It came up in conversation, but never in the sense that it was questioned,” George Brown says. “In our household and in our time, it just simply wasn’t questioned. Unfortunately, [Patenaude] was dead by the time it came up as a major issue. But when my father spoke of it, there was simply no question about Patenaude having scored all three goals.”
“I went down to Oneonta [the former site of the Hall of Fame] and I hear people talking about Patenaude scoring three and I said, ‘That’s nonsense! That didn’t happen.’ But as time went by, I heard more people talking about it, particularly people who were there. I thought, maybe there’s something to it.”
Shortly before he died in 1993, U.S. forward Arnie Oliver told the story of Patenaude’s hat trick at a soccer history symposium. Oliver was from New Bedford, Mass., about 15 miles east of Fall River.
“Arnie said to me one day, ‘My old friend Bert Patenaude scored a hat trick in 1930,’ and I thought, ‘Well, yeah, maybe he did, but no book or no record says that,’” Jose said.
Allaway cited Where the Legend Began, a Uruguayan book by Rony Almeida that revealed just how deep seated the confusion was. A survey of four competing Uruguayan newspapers revealed that Patenaude, Gonsalves and Florie all were thought to have scored the second goal in the 3-0 win over Paraguay. Others thought it might have been an own goal and inexplicably, the Asociación Uruguaya de Fútbol didn’t think Patenaude scored at all. It credited Florie with one goal and McGhee with a pair.
“Quite often people get scorers wrong,” Jose said. There were no jersey numbers at the 1930 World Cup.
Jose visited the University of Massachusetts, which keeps Latin American newspapers on microfilm, to search for details. The stakes were higher now. The sport had found its footing in the U.S., and laying claim to a piece of history like the first World Cup hat trick might be significant for a nation still searching for its soccer soul.
“I don’t think people really started worrying about it until the U.S. started emerging as more than a minnow in soccer,” says Allaway, who lives outside Philadelphia.
In Amherst, Jose found what he was looking for.
The July 19, 1930 edition of O Estádio de São Paulo reported that Patenaude—spelled Patenande or Petenande—scored three times.
“Five minutes [after the opening goal], the defender Morhouse [sic] and the midfielder Tracy [sic] frustrated a Paraguayan advance,” the story said.”The ball went back to the South Americans’ part of the field and Brown passed to the striker Petenande who, realizing that the goalkeeper Denis was displaced, had no difficulty scoring the second goal.”
La Prensa of Buenos Aires went one better, providing crude diagrams of the three U.S. goals. The scan Jose provided to SI.com contains no clear description of the second goal. But the drawing directly underneath the headshots of Patenaude and Florie is unmistakable. It depicts the captain sending a pass from the left that Patenaude receives and deposits back to the goalkeeper’s right.
Armed with those reports and buttressed by the certainty of the men who were there, Jose took the case to soccer’s overlords.
“I sent the diagrams to FIFA and said, ‘Maybe you should look into this,’ and they said, ‘We’ll have a team look into it.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, sure,’” Jose recalled. “Then, to my surprise, all of a sudden they said, ‘We checked into it and that’s correct. Bert Patenaude did score the three goals.’ I don’t know who checked on it or what was checked. Maybe they had someone look in South America or Argentina. They confirmed what was in the paper.”
On Nov. 10, 2006—76 years after the fact—FIFA announced that Patenaude, not Stábile, had scored the first World Cup hat trick. It cited “evidence from various historians and football fans, as well as lengthy research and confirmation from the U.S. Soccer Federation,” as drivers of the decision.
“I couldn’t believe it. Just to think it took that long to figure it all out,” Patenaude’s son, Bert Patenaude Jr., told ESPN Boston in 2010. He maintained that in his father’s “mind and in his heart, he believed that he’d scored three goals.” But he added, “I do think [FIFA’s decision] would have given him peace of mind.”
Whether Brown or Florie set up the once-disputed goal may remain a mystery.
Patenaude continued to score goals. The Marksmen relocated to New York City in 1931 and Patenaude proved equal to the spotlight, netting five in a 6-2 demolition of the Chicago Bricklayers in the first game of the 1931 Open Cup finals (three games were played). He then moved west to St. Louis after the ASL collapsed in 1933. Soccer was slipping without a stable national league and the Depression had taken root. There was no tournament at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles and the U.S. didn’t play another full international match until 1934. The exploits in Uruguay didn’t mean much to a country where times were tight, baseball was king and war was on the way.
“There was no work in this country,” says Brown, who was capped once and starred as a player for the New York German-Hungarians. “I think that total trip [to South America] was about three months and [my father] still laughed about the fact that he got a suit of clothes and I believe a total of $300 for the three months they were gone. Lord knows what happened to the clothes.”
The sport disappeared for decades, and the U.S. has been playing catch-up ever since. Even now, as the national team prepares for a seventh consecutive World Cup and as MLS carries on with its 19th season, some struggle to take American soccer seriously. They can point to a lack of maturity, history, primacy or authenticity. There are those who maintain that it’s a foreign sport. Others look abroad for validation.
For those reasons, events that had almost no impact at the time they occurred are worth celebrating so many years later. The U.S. finished third at a World Cup and an American-born and bred player netted the first World Cup hat trick. Check the record books in case there’s any doubt. It’s now possible to peer back to the origins of the global game and find red, white and blue fingerprints—proof that soccer has roots in the U.S.
That second goal at Parque Central, which was neither the game winner nor the strike that completed Patenaude’s hat trick, belongs on a list of the most important scored by a U.S. player because it inspired the likes of Jose and Allaway to extend those roots. It belongs because the uncertainty and intrigue that surrounded it raises questions that only someone like George Brown could answer. In so doing, he keeps history alive and reminds us that soccer can be considered an American game.
Patenaude was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971 and was his country’s all-time leading World Cup scorer for 80 years. Landon Donovan surpassed him, tallying the fifth of his career in the round-of-16 loss to Ghana in 2010.
No one else will ever score the first World Cup hat trick, however. When fans or journalists from the game’s great powers call up the official list, they’ll see an American on top.
Evan Glasier, Thiago Moreira, Keegan Pierce and Diego Pinzon assisted with translation of foreign newspaper articles.