Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Soccer returns to the Forest City: 1903-1905

Check out the history of soccer in Cleveland up to 1889in 1890, and from 1893-1901 for more on happenings before the turn of the 20th century.

Organized soccer returns to Cleveland

Momentum in Cleveland began to shift in soccer's favor from the low years of 1893-1901 as the new century entered toddlerhood. The change began in  May of 1903, when the Plain Dealer reported on the formation of a Cleveland association football team.  At that time the team was only practicing, but by December they had also reportedly hired a Mr. Loew, formerly of Preston North End, as their coach in anticipation of facing opponents after Christmas.  At the time, Preston North End were celebrating their 40th anniversary as one of the premier sides in English football.  They had won the first two seasons of play in the Football League (1888-89 and 1889-90) and earned runnerup finishes in the next three seasons.  Mr. Loew's connections to the club were not specified and are to this day unclear, but the news lent some credibility to the club at least in the eyes of the reporter.

In 1905 the Plain Dealer practically exploded with news about soccer, though the backlash against the sport began to appear.  Haverford College's victory over Harvard in the second official intercollegiate league match on April 15th was briefly noted.  Two days later, however, the PD included a brief special from one of its writers opining that "the formation of intercollegiate associations for the minor sports seems to be present college fad [sic]. The latest is an intercollegiate association for association football which Haverford is trying to organize." This attitude is in contrast to the 1899 article mentioned in my last post, which mentioned what it called the "revival" of association football by Yale, and suggests a change in attitude about soccer, and, necessarily, about college football.

Just for the record, soccer did not turn out to be a fad, and Haverford College has a team to this day.

The British are coming!

Little news of soccer appeared until the end of summer, but nearly all the articles that did appear before 1906 portrayed the game, its players, and its primary audience as British.  In September, however, the longest article that the PD had ever printed about soccer appeared (it also appeared in the LA Times, and perhaps in other US papers).  The article profiled the Pilgrims amateur soccer team that toured the US in the fall to promote the sport, with a photo of the captain, Sir Charles Sharpe Kirkpatrick, a thin, bespectacled man. of 31 with the beginnings of a widow's peak.  Described as an English baronet, "a big fellow with a genial smile," and "good at almost everything in the way of athletics" the article went on to explain where his ancestral property was located, and that his wife had an extensive social calendar to attend to during the trip. The gentility the visiting sportsmen and their English game stood in contrast off the field and on the field to college football, which critics were decrying for its brutality and supporters were praising for its character-building qualities. 

For example, in early November, in an article that also appeared in the New York Times, Cleveland readers were informed that the University of Chicago was taking up soccer, and that it was seen as an alternative to college football.  "Brutality and roughness have no place in the association game, which is strenuous enough to suit the most exacting... [and] the beneficial results of the exercise in the open air will be extended to a much larger percentage to the students."

The same month, probably motivated by the attention and excitement that surrounded the Pilgrims' tour, "no less than thirty-five Clevelanders, who played the game in Great Britain... organized the Cleveland Association Football Club" - later to become "Cleveland Soccer Football Club."  A handful had reportedly played the game in Britain.  Soon a Thanksgiving Day game was announced between two teams, one comprised primarily of English and the other of Scottish players - though an Irish team had also been proposed.  The goal was nothing short of evangelization: "it is hoped that everything will be in shape to give Americans an idea of how the game is played."

This is the last post in the series on early Cleveland soccer, which is really more of a prehistory. The face of soccer was to change again with the Corinthians visit in 1905 and the formation of a  formal - if unstable - league.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Soccer in and around Cleveland, 1893-1901

Check out the history of soccer in Cleveland up to 1889 and in 1890 for some of the references in this post.

Soccerites go underground

While there was no mention in the Plain Dealer of any more association football matches between the Globes and Wanderers - the faithful adversaries I've written about before (see the posts about soccer up to 1889 and in 1890 -  soccer did not disappear in Cleveland, though official reports were sporadic.  News of nascent leagues in northeast Ohio percolated throughout the 1890s but they either didn’t last, or, as with those in Youngstown area, were too distant from Cleveland to receive regular attention from that city's press.  What is more interesting than the sporadic attempts to (re)establish soccer is the tone of the reports towards the game.

League rumors

Let's begin with the attempts to start leagues. In March of 1893, the Plain Dealer tantalizingly announced not just the formation of a league, but of an intercity league pitting sides from Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati against each other.  The article implied that this was a result of the growth of soccer in Cleveland which, according to the paper, then had "several association teams."  Still, organizers recognized that the game had room to grow: "The aim of the league is to elevate association football. The idea is to have championship matches in each city in the league, and the winners of a majority of the local games will meet yearly in one of the cities of the circuit to play for a challenge cup that has already been donated by Mr. John C. Meyers, president of the Western Football League of St. Louis."  The idea of the league apparently sprouted out of the established annual championship match between Chicago and St. Louis teams.

There were signs of growth elsewhere in northeast Ohio.  In October of 1893, the Plain Dealer announced the establishment of a league in Mahoning County with "four clubs, all of which have been in existence several years."  The names of the teams were not mentioned in the article, but this interest in the game presaged the later emergence of powerhouse factory teams in the area such as the Goodyears and Goodrich, which benefitted from their proximity to competition not only in Cleveland but also around Pittsburgh.

The Plain Dealer did not report subsequently on these leagues during the 19th century, if they even survived to the 20th. Throughout the rest of the 1890s, there were only scattered mentions of "association football" or football played by "association rules." Soccer continued to be an occasional holiday attraction. In connection with a running race on Thanksgiving 1895, the Plain Dealer announced that "the annual game of association football will be played between the Newburg and the West Side Athletics."  Two reports of a nascent professional league formed by baseball team owners on the East Coast appeared in 1895, and then there was the tantalizing mention of the establishment of the John Walker Cup competition in April of 1896.  At least one game was to be played in May of that year in pursuit of that cup, between the West Side Athletic club and "the Waverly team." There is no record of the result or any other matches in pursuit of the 19th century edition of the Walker Cup.

Silent waters run deep?

If the Plain Dealer reported rarely on Cleveland teams in the mid-1890s, it did not mean that soccer was dormant in northeast Ohio.  For example, in September 1896, the PD reported that the Rivers soccer team was organized in East Liverpool, having played ten games in 1895, winning nine.  In November 1897 the PD reported that a team was being organized in Akron to "play a few games this fall." In 1902, the Youngstown team arranged a game against Elwood City, PA.  In November 1902, the East Liverpool and Youngstown team were reportedly scheduled to play one another.

There were also signs in the press that soccer was not viewed yet as a "foreign" game, but rather an "old" game that had fallen out of fashion.  In announcing the annual 1895 game between Newburg and the West Side Athletics: "This old and popular game is seen now but rarely and as it has many admirers it will doubtless be a popular one." In 1899, an article about undergraduates at Yale who were organizing a soccer team were described not as "starting" a club, but as "reviving" the association game. In both instances, soccer was portrayed as something from the past, not from overseas.

At the same time, powerful baseball owners recognized early on that their investment in infrastructure - stadiums - went unused for large portions of the year. Far from demonizing the sport, these owners sought to capitalize on it. In February 1901 the PD reported that the manager of the Chicago White Sox was planning to have his team play winter soccer in order to stay in shape.  There was clearly a financial incentive as well, because Charles Comiskey was reportedly responding to a St. Louis team owner, EF Daniels, who enticed him with reports that his team drew 3,000 spectators.  Comiskey felt the Sox could draw 10,000 - a decent return for a time of the year when his team would normally earn nothing at the box office.  Cleveland team owners did not seem to be involved in this speculation, but the idea clearly was interesting to the city's sporting public.

This perspective is important because the dominant narrative about soccer in the US holds that it is and always has been viewed as something unfamiliar and even alien to Americans.  Early soccer in the US definitely did not benefit from the same infrastructure as baseball, which formalized its teams and leagues much earlier throughout most of the country. But the suggestion from scattered early reports is that soccer - or a precursor kicking game - was played widely in an unorganized fashion by children. It's likely that soccer was not viewed as a serious endeavor, like baseball, and hence did not garner adult attention like that sport. 


Next: Soccerites begin to stir again: 1903-1905

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Soccer in Cleveland in 1890

Yes, this post is just about soccer in 1890

While the first organized soccer game in Cleveland clearly happened in 1889, there were several Cleveland soccer firsts in 1890, including the first inter-state game, the first (recorded) serious injury, and the known first youth team game.

The Wanderers played three games in 1890 that were reported on in the PD, including a match against Michigan's Bay City team that was mistakenly been identified as a Sandusky team and was also misidentified as the first ever opponent of the Wanderers. The Wanderers won 5-4, though one goal was not credited to the Wanderers, reportedly because the referee did not see it. Importantly, because the match was played in Cleveland a game report was filed with the Plain Dealer, leaving a record of the game.  There probably would have been no report in the PD had the game been played in Michigan.

In the first of the two games between the Globes and Wanderers at Brotherhood Park on November 8th, the most noteworthy event in the eyes of the Plain Dealer was the injury to Joseph Smart of the Wanderers in the twentieth minute of the second half when he "fell with his leg under him and the limb was broken."  The player was taken in an ambulance for care - to his home.  The Globes had scored one goal in the first half but the game was abandoned.  A similar injury, had it occurred in the first decade of the 20th century, may have received more attention due to the fact that the violence of American college football resulted in calls by some for soccer to replace it in university athletic programs.

In the second game on November 27th 1890, the Wanderers blanked the Globes by a score of 3 to 0 on an afternoon evidently marred only by bad weather and mediocre attendance.
The teams evidently remained active, for readers of the PD learned in late November 1891 that the Globe Juniors contested a match against a team going by the name of "the Unknowns" – probably a neighborhood side lacking the organization of the two main Cleveland clubs, but perhaps coached informally by one of their players. While no remark was made about this game, it is the earliest recorded youth soccer game in Cleveland - and perhaps in all of Ohio.

Lessons learned

 What do we learn from these matches in the decade before the turn of the century? 
The first thing we learn is that the term "football" still referred to multiple games, not just American football, or what was often known then as “the collegiate game.”  Globe and Wanderer games were referred to in The Plain Dealer first and foremost as football games, with the clarification that the games were to be played by "association rules." 

The second thing these reports reveal is that while one report noted that Globe and Wanderer games were attended mainly by local English residents, the game was not described as "foreign."  At this time, there were still old-timers who had played pre-Civil War football in town squares, open fields, and city streets, a game in which the ball was mainly kicked and definitely not carried.  In other words, the kicking game was seen as no more foreign than the old timers who had played it across America in the early to mid 19th century.

The third thing we learn, though, is that unlike the boys who played the old kicking game, the two Cleveland sides now had the desire and ability to organize.  They set up at least four “official” games between the senior sides, often on holidays, and had enough players to designate senior and junior teams.  Their interest and ability to organize was undoubtedly helped by the fact that the players and fans shared cultural traditions outside of soccer, and that sports were increasingly being organized by adults. 

The games, in other words, were not one-offs or pickup games.  The Globes were organized enough to split their personnel into senior and junior sides, and the Wanderers were able to contact and organize a game with an out of state side over 250 miles away. In fact, it was not unusual at this time for teams to organize a series of one- or two-game contests on an ad hoc basis with other teams.  However, lacking a full-fledged league or cup series that would attract other teams and fans, interest in these two teams apparently faded.

Next: Soccerites go under the radar... 1893-1901

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Soccer in Cleveland from the beginning to 1889

Note: This is the start of a short series expanding on my timeline of Cleveland soccer history from 1889-1905. Look for more in the coming couple of weeks.

What game are we playing, anyways?

Football was a common game in the US well before the codification of different systems of rules in England, which resulted in the evolution of association football and rugby football, which later became soccer and American football respectively. Now in North America, “football” is synonymous with the game played by the NFL on Sundays, the NCAA on Saturdays, and high schools on Friday nights.  In the mid-1800s, however, a game of football usually meant a pick-up contest between kids that mostly featured kicking the ball, though often handling it was allowed in certain specific situations, such as knocking it out of the air as in hockey. Forward passing of the ball with the hands was usually not allowed, unlike in present-day gridiron.

In the mid- to late-1800s, the rules for different forms of football games were written down and standardized. In 1863 and 1871, respectively, rules for soccer and rugby were developed as the representatives of the different private schools and universities became dissatisfied with making ad hoc compromises on their own sets of rules in order to play interscholastically. This was itself made possible by improvements in communication and especially transportation (think train travel), making organization of competition and intercity travel much quicker and cheaper than before. These rules made their way across the Atlantic to the U.S., where Americans replicated and adapted the games. A generation of Americans, however, played various forms of football somewhere between soccer, rugby, and a primitive form of American football, whose first rules were only formalized by Walter Camp of Yale in 1879.


Some pigskin with your turkey?


The first local game of "association football" recorded by the Cleveland Plain Dealer was played on November 28, 1889, Thanksgiving Day.  At the time Cleveland was itself undergoing tremendous growth that started around 1860 and would extend until 1910, when it officially became the sixth largest city in the country (from whence comes the name of the AFC Cleveland supporters’ group "Sixth City Syndicate"). The city welcomed transplants from the East Coast as well as immigrants, mainly from Europe, particularly Central Europe. When the first soccer players gathered in League Park in Cleveland for a Thanksgiving Day match in 1889, they were surely Britons celebrating a new holiday in an old way.

The two teams in the match were the Globes and Wanderers, who opposed each other on 4 recorded occasions in 1889 and 1890.    The newspaper report on the first game suggests that it was a nearly all-English affair, though some Scottish-sounding names can be found on the roster.  The game was a draw, but the fans were treated to eight goals from the two sides, which lined up in 2-3-5 formations as was the standard practice in that era (and was to be repeated for each of their reported head-to-head games).

A second match was held on Christmas, December 25 1889.  The match was a 1-1 draw, though newspaper reports suggest that a last-minute goal by the Globes was nullified by the final whistle.  If you’re going to settle for a one-all draw, at least it should be spiced with controversy. 

Both games were announced in the Plain Dealer on the day they occurred, and, interestingly, were listed under the title "Football" rather than "Association Football" or "British Football" even though the second article clearly indicated that the event was an occasion for the English community of Cleveland to gather.  In the article itself, the game was described as being played under association rules.  It's important to remember that the “college game” of American football was only formalized in 1879 by Walter Camp at Yale.


Next: Soccer in Cleveland in the roaring 90s



Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In defense of Kennedy

It’s generally accepted among Fire fans that of the 3 DP signings made over the winter off-season, only one really worked out: David Accam. I want to convince you to at least question that.

The dominant narrative

When he was signed from Sweden, Accam had just started receiving call-ups to the Ghana national team, coached by former Chelsea manager Avram Grant. USMNT fans have become well-acquainted with Ghana over the past three World Cups, and many Fire fans, myself included, therefore anticipated Accam to be a quality player. The speedy winger immediately showed that his reputation was warranted - his electric runs constantly paralyzed defenders, whose only solution was to foul him. The Fire came to count on Accam not only to create opportunities from the run of play, but to win set piece opportunities, penalty kicks, and man advantages. At times this season, it seemed like our offense was Accam, and he even began to take corners after the departure of Shaun Maloney.

Meanwhile, Kennedy Igboananike languished, the ugly DP stepchild next to rising star Accam and Shaun “He Came From The Premier League” Maloney. Igboananike is, like Accam, a West African in the prime of his career, signed from Sweden, and with a reputation as an attacker who was on the radar of big European clubs. He lacked national team reps, and, on camera at least, he lacked the charisma and affability of Accam. Who else watched Jeff Crandall’s interview with Igboananike and cringed as he looked like a deer in the headlights when Jeff announced that they would be playing a birthday quiz? I’ve never seen a player look more terrified than that. And then there’s his name, which terrifies and perplexes announcers throughout the league as they shed more syllables getting to the end than Accam sheds defenders on his way to the goal line. And, of course, he never played in the Premier League.

Unfortunately, early in the season, there was little reason for them to use his name.  Earning time in dribs and drabs (in his first seven games, he saw 72, 31, 23, 66, 16, 13, and 32 minutes), he failed to impress as fans, media, and technical staff waited for the goals that they were promised. March and April passed, and May was in its dying days before he finally found the scoreboard with a goal and an assist in a 3-0 drubbing of Montreal. On June 6, he scored again. July was a drought, but then, in mid-August, he seemed to find his form.

The accepted wisdom is that Accam succeeded and Igboananike, while surging, does not merit DP status. Look at the stats: Accam has 8 goals and 2 assists in 1485 minutes, while dealing with injuries and national team duty; Igboananike has 7 goals and 3 assists in 1712 minutes. Plus he hasn’t offered us an easy nickname – why can’t he just put “Kennedy” on the back of his jersey, or better yet, just “Ken”? (That’s sarcasm, FYI).

This prompted me to look at the stats a little more closely to see if we could find any more nuance in the numbers than the full season stats reveal. What I found was interesting.

Looking at the numbers

Let’s start with the season stats for Accam and Igboananike, comparing per-game averages in games where each player saw playing time. The columns represent minutes, goals, assists, shots, shots on goal, fouls committed, fouls suffered, and yellow and red cards.

Mins
Goals
Assists
Shots
SOG
FC
FS
Y
R
Accam 2015
78.16
0.48
0.12
3.39
1.82
1.58
2.42
0.12
0.06
Igbo 2015
61.14
0.37
0.16
3.36
1.10
1.79
2.58
0.21
0.00

There were two things here that I didn’t anticipate: one was that Igboananike earned far fewer minutes per game when he actually saw the field than Accam, and the second was that he was fouled more often, on average, than the Ghanaian. His goals-per-game was lower than Accam’s as we all know. It’s also important to note that Accam has been steadily accumulating points since joining the Fire – his season, according to the statistics, has been much more consistent when he’s been on the field. One of my assumptions, then, is that Accam adjusted more rapidly to the team and the league than Igboananike did.

After looking at the season as a whole, I wanted to find a tipping point when Igboananike started to score points. Obviously, May 30th marked his first goal and first assist, so I looked at his stats from May 30th through the end of the season.

Mins
Goals
Assists
Shots
SOG
FC
FS
Y
R
Igbo 5/30 on
68.84
0.48
0.21
3.51
1.24
2.13
2.75
0.21
0.00

As it turns out, his stats go up across the board. His goals-per-game average now equals David Accam’s across the entire season (a goal every other 90 minute game), in part because he started to earn more minutes per game on average than he did throughout March, April, and the beginning of May. 

I still felt that we weren’t giving him the full benefit of the doubt. What if we looked at his stats since he really started to find the net in mid-August? I didn’t want to put my finger on the scale too much, so I looked at his season from the beginning of August through 9/19.

Mins
Goals
Assists
Shots
SOG
FC
FS
Y
R
Igbo 8/02 on
71.89
0.70
0.28
4.03
1.25
2.36
2.64
0.28
0.00

Once again his minutes per game went up – though he only earned 46 minutes in the first two games of August – and his goals-per-game and shots-per game increased significantly. His fouls committed also increased, suggesting that he was becoming more aggressive on the field.

What surprised me in doing this analysis was not that his figures were better since mid-August – duh! – but how much better his stats were from the end of May through the end of the season. I was also surprised by how often he was fouled. Accam is credited with being a foul magnet, but Igboananike is also earning opportunities for the Fire. With a GPG average equal to Accam and more fouls per game as well, Igboananike’s influence starts to look very different when we filter out his mediocre early season record.

Something more struck me as I looked over the numbers, though – Igboananike earned no points in games where he was on the pitch for fewer than 70 minutes. I wanted to dig into this a bit more, so I looked at all the games where he spent 60+ minutes on the pitch – about when a coach might sub out a tired attacker - and compared that to David Accam. The following table accounts for the full season, including March – May.

Mins
Goals
Assists
Shots
SOG
FC
FS
Y
R
Accam 60+
86.19
0.52
0.13
3.59
1.89
1.57
2.28
0.07
0.07
Igbo 60+
82.06
0.45
0.19
3.48
1.16
2.00
2.39
0.19
0.00

Again, Igboananike’s GPG numbers look much better - .45 per game, not dissimilar from Accam’s season-average .48 and not far off his 60+ season-average of .52.

What about after May 30th and after August 1st in games where Igboananike played 60+ minutes?

Mins
Goals
Assists
Shots
SOG
FC
FS
Y
R
Igbo 5/30 on, 60+
85.08
0.57
0.24
3.58
1.38
2.36
2.52
0.24
0.00
Igbo 8/02 on, 60+
85.86
0.75
0.30
3.74
1.35
2.40
2.55
0.30
0.00

The first thing that jumps out at me is his GPG average, which shoots up to .75. That comes from filtering out 46 minutes at the beginning of August where he subbed on at the end of the Dallas and Portland matches. What we also see in comparing these stats to Accam’s is that Igboananike’s numbers for all points are significantly better than David Accam’s across the season.

What does it mean?

Well, first of all, his name is still hard for most North Americans to pronounce. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

If you can get over that, then let me point first to the obvious: there is evidence that what we knew all along was right – Igboananike got better as the season went on. Furthermore, I’d like to suggest that if you accept that Igboananike needed to get used to the team and the league, you need to look at his numbers starting at the earliest from the end of May through the end of the season in considering whether he’s a good value for the Fire.

Based on that form, if Igboananike avoids injury next season and sees significant playing time throughout, he could put up some very respectable numbers. Let’s say we take his form from May 30th in games where he played more than 60 minutes and extend it across the season and assume he’ll earn a total of 2000 minutes. That’s 13 goals and 5 assists, making him a top 10 MLS goalscorer in any season so far this decade and put his season goals total among the best in Fire history. If we take his form from the beginning of August in games where he played over 60 minutes, that’s 17 goals and 7 assists. That would make him a top 5 MLS goalscorer in any season so far this decade and the second-most effective single-season scorer in Fire history after Ante Razov in 2000.

It also seems that, like it or not, Igboananike is the type of player who may take a full game to find his opportunities. I haven’t heard a lot of talk about his intelligence on the field, but maybe he is the type of player who needs some time to test the defense over the course of a game to find its weaknesses.  That kind of graft and guile is not as electric to watch as Accam’s shredding explosiveness, but if it produces goals, we should applaud it. Or maybe he needs to know that he’s going to get significant time to have the confidence to create on the field.


One last thought. Maybe we’re asking the wrong question in asking whether Igboananike or Accam is worth DP money. Maybe the right question was whether Igboananike could play effectively in a lineup that included Shaun Maloney, or whether the removal of one was necessary to the success of the other?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Baltimore Pompei and the 1958 National Challenge Cup: National Final

National final - Baltimore Pompei vs Los Angeles Kickers

Before Pompei could focus on the final, the issue of the location of the game had to be settled.

The USSFA was internally divided over where the match should be played. Gene Ringsdorf, a Baltimore native and second vice-president of the USSF, stated early and often that the final should
be played in his hometown if Pompei qualified. The main hurdle was the school board, which rejected Pompei's request in the fall of 1957 to play their ASL league games at the school system's Kirk Field stadium. A one-time permit was more likely to be approved, but other parties in the USSF lined up to lobby for other locations, notably Los Angeles and New York.

Gene Ringsdorf
On May 19th, the Baltimore school board gave Pompei permission to use Kirk Field for the match, and the Sun announced on the 20th that the game would be played that Sunday, May 25th.  On the 21st, however, the Sun announced “Pompei Title Game in Air” and explained that the Kickers had scheduled an LA league game for the 25th, while Pompei was busy preparing for the final on the same day. The Sun went on to reveal that the two men responsible for the scheduling decision were the USSFA president, Walter Rechsteiner, and the executive secretary Joe Barriskill – who were from L.A. and New York, respectively.  Ringsdorf was livid, having already announced that the game would be in Baltimore. “It’s an insult to the city of Baltimore,” he fumed. “I notified them when the Pompei-Beadling series was scheduled that, if Pompei won, it wanted the title game in Baltimore May 25th." To add another wrinkle, the president of the LA Kickers, Albert Ebert, was going to request that the game be played on June 8th in New York. He apparently followed through, and it took several days to sort through the confusion.

Finally, on May 23rd, Joe Barriskill telegraphed confirming that the match would be played on June 8th in Baltimore. A $3500 guarantee by Pompei probably didn’t hurt matters. It has to be remembered that the USSFA had very few sources of income at this time, and depended heavily on the Open Cup box office earnings for its year-round annual budget. Choosing the final location was not just a matter of sporting justice for the USSFA, but of maximizing the gate to ensure its survival.

Having settled the question of the field location, Pompei could focus on its competition. The Kickers were a German club that was frequently overshadowed at the time by its local rival, the LA Danes. The Kickers had beaten two other SoCal teams, St Stephen’s and Hollywood SC (both 3-1) before besting the Danes 2-0 in the Western semifinal. Beating the Danes was not the end of the Open Cup journey for the Kickers, however. LA was the hottest soccer area on the West Coast, but Western qualification at the time was also contested by teams from the midwest soccer hotbeds of St. Louis and Chicago. Indeed, in 1957 Kutis of St. Louis had taken both the 1957 Open Cup and Amateur Cup, a remarkable feat. While the Kickers defeated the Danes, the other 1958 Western semifinal saw the Chicago Lions dispatched Kutis. The Kickers then won the Western final handily over the Lions by a score of 3-0.

Al Zerhusen in 1960.
The most dangerous player on the Kickers was one that some of Pompei’s players knew well. Al Zerhusen, scorer of 19 goals with the US Olympic team that toured the Far East the year before, was an Army man from Brooklyn who spent a year at Ft. Meade. While there he played for the Baltimore Rockets during their 1956 season before moving on to Cincinnati and then LA. A deadly scorer, Zerhusen earned frequent call-ups to the national team during his long career which spanned the darkest days of US soccer history. He had netted 31 goals that season, his first with the Kickers. Besides Zerhusen, all Baltimore fans knew about the visiting LA team was that they had a crafty winger named Willie Carson and that they had beaten the Danes again the week before to take the LA league championship for 1958.

Pompei was on a slight high going into the match. They had sustained a significant unbeaten run in league and cup play until their loss in the first Eastern final leg against Beadling, and held third place in the ASL with an 11-3-3 record. Furthermore, Cyril Hannaby, Larry Surock, and John Pacciocco had recently been recommended by a DC/Maryland panel to try out for a US select team set to tour Asian that summer. The Pompei squad was declared fit by trainer Jimmy Benson, except for Bill Bryant, who had fluid in his knee, and Tom Quaranta, who was suffering from shin splints. No mention was made in the Sun of the head injuries suffered by Hannaby and Jojo Defonso in the semifinal match against Eintracht.  Larry Surock’s scoring streak seemed to have gone cold, though, which may have secretly worried Granny Kraft, though nothing was mentioned about it in the media.

1958 National Open Cup final program.
The championship match was the biggest soccer event in Baltimore since the Baltimore Soccer Club, under the leadership of Ferd Doyle, had clashed with Chicago Sparta-Falstaff in a two-leg Open Cup championship series that was abandoned with no winner in 1940.  All regular league games were cancelled on the day of the match, which organizers predicted would attract 5,000 fans the double-header at Kirk Field. Before the national championship, a Junior National Cup match would be played between Umberto Nobile, sometimes referred to as a feeder club for Pompei, and the May Club of Philadelphia.

All eyes were on the star scorers Surock and Zerhusen, who between them had netted nearly 60 goals that season. Would the game be a duel between the two aces? Would one of them take control of the match with a dominating performance to all but write his name on the Asian tour roster?

While both stars played in the match, and a total of 69 shots were recorded for both sides, neither of the star forwards took control.  Tom Quaranta successfully stifled Zerhusen in front of the Pompei net, while Werner Staacke and Eberhardt Herz shepherded Surock who was played on the wing by Kraft. LA’s Carson stepped into the limelight in Zerhusen’s place, popping up in the 8th minute behind the Pompei defense. Hannaby rushed out of his goal to meet the challenge, but Carson cleverly jinked the keeper to slot the ball home. He was not done for the day, but Pompei found their response in the 16th minute. Bob Swinski put the ball to Ray Surock, whose cross found Jojo Defonso in the center. Charles C. Atwater, writing the next day for the Sun, wrote that DeFonso “registered with a boot over his head with his back to the  goal.” The term “bicycle kick” was not in common use at the time, certainly not among mainstream sportswriters who would rarely have even seen a soccer game, much less a bicycle kick. Would the 4,500 fans in attendance even realize what an exceptional feat this was? For DeFonso, it must have been an incredible experience to score such a goal in a national final.

Jojo DeFonso and John Paccioco attack the
ball for Pompei while Heinz Weizenbacher
defends the Kickers' goal.
Pompei’s quick response boded well for the home side. Quaranta was doing his job, while Joe Speca showed class in the midfield and Dave Roles shined in a substitute forward role. Bill Bryant did his best in a substitute position at center forward and at fullback. The second half saw more attacking soccer by Pompei, including a shot by Larry Surock from distance that was curling into the far post before LA’s Heinz Weizenbacher snatched it out of the air. Another shot by Surock later in the half resulted in a rebound that fell to Bryant, but his driving shot was blocked by LA fullback Friedel Scheerer.

The half was not without chances for LA, however, as Zerhusen found himself free behind the Pompei backline and looked to repeat Carson’s success against Hannaby. This time, however, Hannaby rose to the occasion and smothered the ball as Zerhusen tried to round him for an easy shot.
The teams ended regulation time tied 1-1. Overtime saw one chance for Pompei, a driving shot by Swinski that Weizenbacher bobbled briefly. On the other end, though, Carson emerged as the hero, pounding a shot at Hannaby that the keeper managed to parry, but into the path of the onrushing LA player who finished the rebound.

For Pompei, the game must have been a great advertisement, even though LA had the better of the game. The visitors registered 41 shots to Pompei’s 28, and forced 20 saves from Hannaby compared to Weizenbacher’s 17.  At the very least, the game must have entertained the fans that showed up. The question was whether they would continue to show up as Pompei pushed for the ASL title in 1958 and sought to repeat their Cup success in 1959.

Epilogue

The 1958 Cup final was the high water mark for the club, however. Just six months later, in a US Open Cup match against St. Gerard’s to kick off their national campaign, Pompei drew exactly 37 paying fans, and business manager Joe Bonvenga complained that “we need about 400 paid admissions to break even, and we haven’t been getting near that this year. If attendance doesn’t improve, we will have to fold.” What’s more, Larry Surock had been appointed player-manager, and this caused some dissension in the team. Bob Swinski left the field with ten minutes remaining against St. Gerard’s to protest a direction given by Surock. The team continued on for a few more years, including at least one season under the leadership of Cyril Hannaby, but they never recaptured the magic that took them to within minutes of a national championship.

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