When ‘No chance’ U.S. shocked the soccer world

Category: The Game of Their Lives News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: April 19, 2005 | Publication: Daily Herald | Author: Kent McDill
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When the 1950 United States World Cup soccer team traveled to Brazil, it did so with no expectations and no interest here in the states.

When that U.S. team defeated World Cup favorite England 1-0 in a first-round qualifying match, the New York Times refused to run the score, believing it was a hoax.

When the score was discovered to be correct, it was considered — without any qualification — the biggest shock in the history of football.

“The Game of Their Lives,’’ a feature film to be released Friday, tells the story of that 1950 team. It was written by Angelo Pizzo and directed by David Anspaugh, the two men who created two of the most loved sports films of all times, “Hoosiers” and “Rudy.”

Anspaugh grew up playing basketball and football, and he brought his love of those games to the two earlier films.

Neither Anspaugh nor Pizzo had any soccer experience to draw on, nor much interest in the game.

“But it was a story that both Angelo and I, not being soccer fans, were fascinated with,’’ Anspaugh said from St. Louis, the site of the film’s official premiere. “We thought ‘That is a movie I would like to go see.’ ”

The movie draws from the same emotional well as “Hoosiers” and “Rudy,’’ the one that allows us to fall in love with the underdog and celebrate his eventual triumph.

In this case, the underdogs are mostly from two groups of soccer players, those from “The Hill’’ section of St. Louis, and those from New York City.

With the use of a narrator (Patrick Stewart of “Star Trek” and “X-Men” fame), we are told the two groups had different styles of play that had to be meshed in a short period for them to have any chance of success in Brazil.

And they had no chance for success. It was not a matter of having a chance, it was a matter of avoiding embarrassment on an international stage.

Anspaugh was very aware of the pressure that exists in making a soccer film for a community of fans that has a difficult relationship with outsiders, people who don’t know the nuances of the game.

“We knew that from the beginning, that we better get this right,’’ Anspaugh said. “That was a huge obligation. So far, it has passed the test. No one who has seen it has come to me and said ‘That was wrong.’ ”

Anspaugh credits former national team player and Chicago Fire player Eric Wynalda, as well as former national team star John Harkes, with helping make the games in the movie appear authentic.

“In shooting, I never felt more vulnerable as a director, in not knowing what I was looking at,’’ Anspaugh said.

Soccer fans have already spoken out regarding detail. The film, for example, ignores the fact the U.S. team played Italy in the first of three qualifying matches and lost.

“Yeah, but we skipped the regionals in ‘Hoosiers’ too,’’ Anspaugh said. “It’s not a documentary.”

Despite budget constrictions, Anspaugh did take the movie to Brazil to shoot the England-U.S. game in Belo Horizonte, where the game actually took place.

“They wanted us to shoot in Mexico or Costa Rica, but I said ‘It ain’t Brazil and they ain’t Brazilians,’ ’’ Anspaugh said. “It would be like shooting ‘Hoosiers’ in the Czech Republic.”

The moment of triumph in “Hoosiers’’ comes when Jimmy Chitwood makes the final shot as time runs out. For “Rudy,’’ the moment comes when he runs onto the field at Notre Dame Stadium to finally play in a game for the Irish.

In “The Game of Their Lives,’’ the U.S. takes a 1-0 lead in the first half. There was a second half to play before the U.S. could claim its triumph.

“I don’t know many sports films that have been made where the winning point, shot, goal, whatever, comes in the first part of the game,’’ Anspaugh said. “It was a huge challenge to keep the suspense and drama building. That was the better part of a year in editing to get that right.”

Historical movies play against the devil of accuracy, and historical sports movies fight the reality that viewers know how the contest ends before the movie starts. The art is in the telling, and Anspaugh said he believes he and Pizzo told the story well.

“I just wanted to make the best soccer movie I could make, one that the soccer community in America would be proud of,’’ Anspaugh said. “I think we did it.”