thumbnail Hello,

Aldo "Buff" Donelli has been deceased for over a decade, but his story rings again with relevance after Sacha Kljestan nearly matched the heroic effort the player put in years ago for the U.S. versus Mexico.

By Andrea Canales

Sacha Kljestan opened up his U.S. scoring account in impressive fashion, notching three goals in one game, which was better than any U.S. player in history has ever done for their first goals internationally - except for one.

Aldo "Buff" Donelli scored his first four goals for the U.S. in one remarkable game against Mexico in 1934.

Kljestan's hat trick, of course, comes right before the U.S. is due to face the squad in a World Cup qualifying match on February 11.

The Spanish-language press has dubbed the two teams "eternal rivals". A look back at Donelli's game makes it clear the history between the teams is indeed long and hard-fought.

The match in which Donelli played was a World Cup qualifier, though the game was played in Rome, Italy. The winner of the match would represent North America in the ensuing World Cup tournament.

The match remains, to this day, the one World Cup qualifier in which the U.S. has managed so many goals versus Mexico.

But perhaps the game also foreshadowed what still remains a problem for U.S. soccer today. The talented Donelli was one of the few amateurs to make the U.S. squad, and many of the pro players from St. Louis and New York didn't take to the young upstart. One, however, advocated for Donelli strongly. In fact, Portuguese-American Adelino "Billy" Gonsalves reportedly told the U.S. coach that he would not play if Donelli was not  given the chance to start.

Gonsalves was considered one of the most technical and gifted American midfielders of his time. His clout was considerable. Donelli started the match.

After the win against Mexico, the U.S. advanced to the World Cup tournament proper, playing host Italy. Because the tournament at the time was single elimination, the loss to the Italians booted the U.S. from the competition. Donelli was able to notch one lone goal, a consolation tally and point of pride for the Americans, who were not shut out against their powerful rivals. Italy then went on to win its first World Cup.

Coincidentally, the U.S. plays Italy this year as well, in another important tournament, the Confederations Cup.

That goal against Italy was the last one that Donelli ever scored for the U.S. The talented athlete had all along played American football as well as soccer. Upon his return from the World Cup, he concentrated on that sport.

Donelli would go on to coach the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Rams and college football teams at Duquesne, Boston University and Columbia. He won an Ivy League championship while at Columbia. He also served in the Navy during World War II. Donelli died at 87 in September of 1994, shortly after the U.S. itself had hosted a successful World Cup tournament.

Donelli was a prime example of how the American game of football gained ground in the 1930s at the expense of soccer, which would fade in popularity. After 1934, the U.S. only qualified for one World Cup until 1990, when the team once again suffered early elimination in Italy.

However, since 1990, the U.S. has qualified for every single World Cup tournament, plotting a steadier course of more consistent results.

An example of how talented athletes are now remaining in the sport was on display against Sweden. Marvell Wynne, the son of a professional baseball player, was using his speed to continually stifle Sweden's chances.

More American players are also performing abroad, and Kljestan is likely to be the latest member of that club. Whether or not Celtic antes up the money for him, Kljestan's continued good performances will probably draw a host of other suitors in the summer transfer window.

Though Kljestan himself had never heard of Donelli before his feat nearly matched that of the soccer pioneer, Donelli's story could serve as an extra bit of inspiration in future matches versus Mexico and the U.S. Perhaps it will also remind the coaches and established players of the team that new blood can offer a strong injection of spirit and energy and should be given a chance to make a difference.

Andrea Canales is chief editor of Goal.com USA