A perfect 10

Lots of soccer teams over the years have won games despite playing a man short for a half or longer after someone had been sent off. Not too many have played shorthanded for the full 90 minutes and not only won but collected a trophy, too. One that did do that was the 1931 U.S. Open Cup champion, the Fall River Marksmen.

The Marksmen suffered from the additional disadvantage having a sort of identity crisis in that U.S. Open Cup. They had begun the tournament in the fall of 1930 in Fall River. On Feb. 16, 1931, owner Sam Mark moved the team, which was faring badly at the gate in Fall River, to New York, and they played the rest of the American Soccer League season as the New York Yankees. However, since they had begun the U.S.Open Cup as the Fall River Marksmen, they remained the Fall River Marksmen for the rest of the tournament in the eyes of the U.S. Football Association, which ran the tournament, even though their uniforms said New York.

So back to the question of playing with 10 men. The Marksmen/Yankees won the eastern semifinal of the U.S. Open Cup by beating the Newark Americans, 6-1, on March 22. That was their second straight six-goal outburst in this tournament, since they had beaten Galicia of New York by 6-2 in the quarterfinals on Feb. 23. Already waiting for them for the final were the Chicago Bricklayers, who had beaten Ben Millers of St. Louis in the western semifinal on March 15. The final was scheduled to be a two-leg series on April 5 and April 12. However, it was not to be settled on total goals the way so many two-leg pairings are. If neither team won both games, there would be a third to decide the issue.

The Marksman/Yankees certainly were the favorite. They were the defending champions and featured a forward line in which four of the five were future Hall of Famers, inside right Billy Gonsalves, outside right Alex McNab, inside left Werner Nilsen and center forward Bert Patenaude. Gonsalves and Patenaude had played in the World Cup the year before. The first game was played at the Polo Grounds in New York, and it was a cakewalk for the Marksmen/Yankees. They won, 6-2, getting five goals from Patenaude and one from midfielder Bill McPherson. So they went into the second leg having scored 18 goals in their last three cup games, and in the midst of a nine-game unbeaten streak in American Soccer League play. They had good reason to be confident, and thus were taken by surprise when the Bricklayers held them to a 1-1 tie in the second leg at Mills Stadium in Chicago, forcing a third leg.

The need for a third game put the Marksman/Yankees in a tight spot. They had taken only 12 players west, and one of those couldn’t play in the third game, because he had to return east for the start of baseball practice. However, they still had 11 men left and looked like they could field a full team in the third game – until McNab broke a leg the day before it.

McNab actually is listed in the lineup for that third game, played on April 19, 1931 at Sparta Stadium in Chicago. However, all that McNab, who was captain of the Marksmen, did was to hobble onto the field for the coin toss. After the toss, he hobbled back to the bench and watched his 10 teammates win the cup by beating the 11 Bricklayers, 2-0, with Patenaude and Gordon Burness scoring the goals.

A version of this article first appeared on Roger’s Big Soccer blog on Dec. 27, 2011.

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