New England Soccer Today

Ex-Oceaneer Mausser Reflects on Last U.S. Playoff Tilt


Nearly four decades removed from their last playoff match, the U.S. will play its next winner-take-all affair against Mexico on Saturday for the right to represent CONCACAF at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.

Recently, caught up with former Rhode Island Oceaneers and Hartford Bicentennials goalkeeper Arnie Mausser, who was a central figure in the largely-forgotten Dec. 22, 1976 one-off playoff clash between the U.S. and Canada. The winner the match joined Mexico as North American Zone representatives to the following year’s CONCACAF Championship (now the Hexagonal).

The U.S. harbored high hopes for the chance to qualify for the 1978 World Cup, but Canada was simply too mighty on that occasion, beating their southern neighbors 3-0 in front of 32,869 at the Estadio Sylvio Cator in Haiti, which was selected by CONCACAF as a neutral site for the single-match showdown.

“Nothing clicked for us that day,” Mausser said. “We went into that game confident, but whatever happened, nothing went right for us. Balls banging off of people, falling just right for Canada – it was a nightmare – from my aspect I didn’t have a good game. I’d been playing well the whole series, but that game I just had a nightmare, and that didn’t help things.”

Mausser, who helped the Oceaneers claim the 1974 ASL title, entered the game as one of the squad’s rising stars. At 22, he’d already played three seasons as a pro, and was ready to make his name at the National Team level.

But Mausser knew that playing Canada wasn’t going to be easy. They’d just taken a 0-0 draw from Mexico in Mexico City, and were brimming with confidence.

“The best teams in the world go down to Mexico and lose, so when we saw they tied Canada, we couldn’t believe it at the time,” said Mausser.

The U.S. spent three weeks in Port-au-Prince to prepare for the high-stakes affair a month before the match. They played three friendlies against the Haitian National Team, and all them ended in 0-0 draws. It should have been a good omen for the young U.S. goalkeeper.

Or not. Once match day arrived, Mausser found himself staring down a foe that had no intentions of playing a low-scoring affair. Canada went up early when Brian Budd opened the scoring in the 21st minute, giving his side the advantage going into halftime.

Undeterred, the U.S. pushed numbers forward in search of the equalizer. That search effectively ended in the 80th minute when Bob Lenarduzzi blasted a shot from distance and beat Mausser.

“It was a save I’d usually have no trouble making,” Mausser said. “I went down for it on my side and it just went under me.”

Robert Bolitho capped the scoring in the 87th minute to end any lingering hopes of a comeback. For the sixth straight occasion, the U.S. would not be going to the World Cup.

The U.S. eventually ended its World Cup drought in 1990, and have qualified for every tournament since.

Mausser, who went on to collect 35 caps before his National Team career ended in 1985, said he’ll be rooting for this crop of National Teamers once the opening whistle blows on Saturday – some 39 years after he and his 1976 U.S. teammates participated in the program’s last playoff tilt.

“I have to say, I’m a bit envious of the players today,” Mausser said. “There’s so much more interest, and with that a lot more goes into the games. I think they’re capable of doing it against Mexico. I would tell them to play confidently and remember who they’re representing. Any team that does that is going to be successful.”

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