The World Cup is going on now in Brazil, so perhaps there is no better time than now to talk about Frank Borghi.
Who is Frank Borghi?
Well, let’s go back to 1950. It was a World Cup year, with the tournament in Brazil then, as it is now. And Team USA was in it then, as it is now. However, this was decades before the United States was even semi-competitive in international competitions, and the team was made up entirely of amateurs or semi-pros, many of them from St. Louis, a hotbed of soccer much like it is a hotbed of baseball.
It was from St. Louis that Frank Borghi came into the picture. Borghi was the team’s goalkeeper, primarily because he lacked much leg strength to actually kick the ball well. Of course, that wasn’t his main profession- he made his living in the funeral home business, and at the time was driving a hearse as his day-job.
Not surprisingly, his relative inexperience showed early on, as he had given up 3 goals to Spain in a 3-1 loss. It wasn’t looking any easier, with England coming up and with a team made entirely of their top professional players, having already beaten Chile 2-0.
But a funny thing happened: the United States won, 1-0, on the strength of a goal in the 38th minute by Joe Gaetjen, a Haitian cook (others say he was a dishwasher or student, or possibly all three) who lived in New York and was only on the team due to the lax FIFA citizenship regulations of the time. The win wouldn’t have been possible without Borghi, who constantly stopped the English onslaught, holding them scoreless despite 20 shots on goal.
The end result was a shocker. It is said (possibly inaccurately) that many newspapers around the world, not believing the result, printed it as a 10-0 win for England, having thought there was a mistake. It probably looked even more shocking a few days later, when the USA was trounced by Chile, 5-0.
Which brings us back to Borghi. After all, he was a goalie mainly because he didn’t have much leg strength, which begs the question of how he got into soccer in the first place?
The answer is that originally he didn’t. No, his true love was baseball- soccer was initially just a hobby to stay fit during the off-season. In fact, Borghi was a good enough player that he was briefly a professional, playing catcher in the very low minors of the Cardinals system in 1946:
While in Carthage, Borghi would have likely caught for future MLB pitchers Cloyd Boyer and Bob Habenicht. Borghi, however, would never reach anywhere close to the bigs as a baseball player- according to Baseball Reference, 1946 would be his only year professionally (other sources say that he played more than that year, but it’s possible that those were in non-affiliated leagues or simply have been lost due to the haphazard score-keeping and coverage of the minors at the time). After his professional baseball career ended, he spent more of his time on soccer… which is how a washed-up catcher helped Team USA pull off one of the biggest upsets in soccer history.
Borghi still lives in St. Louis and is a member of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame and the National Soccer Hall of Fame.