Miro Rhys with Chicago Sting. Photo courtesy of nasljerseys.com
Miro Rys with Chicago Sting. Photo courtesy of nasljerseys.com

When Julian Green played several games for the United States last year, including one at the World Cup, he became the latest in a substantial list of teenagers who have been capped by the United States in recent years. There have been quite a few of them in the last 15 years, such as Landon Donovan, Bobby Convey, DaMarcus Beasley, Eddie Gaven, Jonathan Spector, Freddy Adu, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo. There also have been many teenagers on MLS fields.

It would be easy to believe that this trend is something new in American soccer, that it is a result of the growth of the sport and the fact that more young Americans are taking an interest in soccer than ever before. While that growth and that interest are real, American soccer prodigies are not a new phenomenon.

Appearances by teenagers in the U.S. men’s national team go back at least as far as the now-obscure Miro Rys, who once was considered the bright young hope of American soccer. Rys broke into the national team on Oct. 20, 1976, in a World Cup qualifier against Canada in Seattle, when he was 19 years and three months old, and he scored a goal in that game. Six months earlier, he had made his NASL debut for the Chicago Sting, who signed him out of high school.

On Sept. 15, 1977, less than a year after Rys’ national-team debut, Ricky Davis, then 18 years and nine months old, played for the United States in a friendly against El Salvador. Like Rys, he also scored in his debut. Davis joined the New York Cosmos the following year and was captain of the U.S. men’s national team for much of the 1980s. Maybe Davis and Rys would have made a great tandem, but three days before Davis made his national-team debut, Rys was killed in an automobile accident in Germany, where he was about to become the first American ever to play in the Bundesliga.

Rys and Davis may have been the first two teenagers to play in the U.S. national team, but they certainly weren’t the first teenage players to make their mark on American soccer. Probably the distinction of being the first in that category goes to Archie Stark, who went on from his early accomplishments to become the most prolific goalscorer American soccer has ever seen. Stark first attracted notice when he scored the winning goal for the Kearny (N.J.) Scots-Americans in the American Football Association Cup final in 1915. He was 17 years and three months old at the time.

Three more major stars of decades ago who made particularly young debuts are Billy Gonsalves, Bert Patenaude, and Walter Bahr. Gonsalves, who was the biggest star on the first two U.S. World Cup teams, was 19 plus a few months when he broke in with the Boston Wonder Workers of the American Soccer League in the fall of 1927. Patenaude, who scored the first hat trick in World Cup history in 1930, was 18 years and 11 months old when he broke in with Philadelphia FC of the American Soccer League in 1928. Bahr, who played as an amateur in his earliest ASL seasons and thus kept his college and Olympic eligibility, made his debut with the Philadelphia Nationals of the ASL on Dec. 5, 1943, when he was 16 years and eight months old.

There have been plenty of other American soccer prodigies. Among them:

  • Jackie Hynes was 17 when he played for St. Mary’s Celtic of Brooklyn in the 1938 U.S. Open Cup final.
  • Ringo Cantillo was 16 when he won the first of his three ASL most valuable player awards in 1972.
  • Hugo Perez was 18 when he made his debut for the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL in 1982.
  • Tab Ramos was 17 when he was drafted by the New York Cosmos of the NASL in 1984.
  • Kasey Keller was 19 when he won the 1989 most valuable player award in the Western Soccer League.
  • Chris Henderson was 19 when he was a member of the U.S. team at the 1990 World Cup.
  • Claudio Reyna was 18 when he was a member of the U.S. team that won the 1991 Pan-American Games title.

A version of this article was originally posted on the BigSoccer.com website in November 2010

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