Whoever designs those United Nations Christmas cards stressing international brotherhood—African and Asian children skipping along hand in hand, and things like that—is missing a bet by not featuring the University of San Francisco soccer squad. One forward is a Hungarian refugee. Another is the son of a former Venezuelan consul in San Francisco. The team's left halfback and the goalie were born in Russia, the right fullback in Poland, the center forward in Peru, the inside left in Guatemala. The left wing went from Germany to South America to the U.S. The outside right is a Dutchman from Indonesia. There are Catholics and Jews, light skins and dark and even an American-born player or two. Their coach is not U Thant but a Greek Orthodox Rumanian named Steve Negoesco, who teaches biology in a junior high school. A onetime USF All-America, he now handles two teams in the spring and, in the regular fall season, coaches teen-agers on Fridays, a Police Athletic League team on Saturdays, an AAU team on Sundays and the USF Dons the rest of the time. Negoesco thinks, talks and dreams soccer, and no doubt would eat soccer if his Guatemalan wife could figure out a way to make the ball digestible.
At least once a week the coach herds his international cast down to the beach and makes it run seven miles or more in the sand and play a 40-minute game with only seagulls for an audience. Any kind of practice session is bleak for the portion of the squad that must try to score on Russian goalie Mike Ivanow. Through the regular season he allowed only five goals, and two of those were on penalty kicks. Peruvian Eduardo Rangel led the offense with 21 goals.
It is nothing new for USF to have foreign stars, but the Dons up to this season had never made the semifinals of the NCAA tournament, which started in 1959. Usually they were knocked out early by St. Louis University, the elite school in collegiate soccer. They started this year with seven solid wins but ended with some matches scary enough to add another ulcer to Negoesco's lifetime record of eight. They barely beat San Jose State in two overtimes, came from behind to tie California and, in an NCAA regional playoff, came from behind again to beat San Jose State in the rain 2-1. Then it was off to Missouri for a rain-soaked second-round match with defending champion St. Louis, a match that was complicated by the fact that Left Halfback Jerry Katzeff, from Russia, did not have his dog along on the trip and therefore could not sleep. Despite Katzeff "s wakeful night, USF won 2-1 in overtime and at last was in the semifinals. Last week the nation's four surviving teams—Army, Long Island, Michigan State and USF—got together and Negoesco's innards were under little strain, for his U.N. All-Stars twice won convincingly to give USF its first NCAA title since the basketball-glory days of Bill Russell and K. C. Jones.
The victory site was Berkeley's Memorial Stadium, nestled cozily against steep, wooded hills on the University of California campus, far above the turmoil of chanting, placard-carrying demonstrators down at Sproul Hall. (To the soccer nuts in the stands, Mario Savio probably would have been identified as an Italian center half from East Stroudsburg State.) The pastoral setting was marred during Thursday's semifinals by a rain that kept going away and then returning with intensities that varied from a leaky-faucet drip to neo-Noah's Flood. To make things worse, the California-Stanford football game had been played in the stadium during a driving rain two weeks earlier, resulting in large patches of Okefenokee Swamp at midfield and just inside both sidelines.
Michigan State, the undefeated, once-tied tournament favorite, met once-beaten Long Island University in the first match. The Spartans had reached the finals in 1964 and 1965 and lost both times 1-0. Last year's loss to St. Louis was on a penalty kick. This time St. Louis was out of the running, and Spartan Coach Gene Kenney had his team well-stocked with St. Louis-grown boys of his own (seven of them started). The Spartans seemed confident.
The Long Island Blackbirds were confident, too, and mad. At a reception Wednesday night 23-year-old Coach Joe Machnik got the impression the press was letting him sit in a corner while all the attention was being lavished on the other three coaches. He went back to the hotel and told his team he had been snubbed. Next day the two scoreboards, which had LIU in smaller letters than Michigan State, infuriated the players still more.
Back East in Brooklyn, LIU students gathered in the school gymnasium, which used to be a movie house, to listen to the match over a telephone-loudspeaker hookup. Never before had their school advanced so far in any kind of NCAA competition. LIU played tough defense and scored first on a goal by Italian-born Carlo Tramontozzi, with an assist by another Italian, Marcello Launi. In the second quarter Dov Markus kicked his 62nd goal in two years, and LIU left at half time with a 2-0 lead. In the second half the Blackbirds hardly tried to score, sometimes keeping eight men back on their end of the field, daring Michigan State to kick the ball through all those bodies. Which is just about what the Spartans did—twice—and at the end of the fourth 22-minute quarter it was a 2-2 tie. Overtime.
The rain returned after a brief respite, and the gooey patches on the field doubled in size and sloppiness. For two five-minute sudden-death overtimes there was no score. Nor could the match be decided on corner kicks, since both teams had five (a team is awarded a corner kick when the opponent causes the ball to go out of bounds behind its own goal). Finally, in the third overtime period, Michigan State's Nick Wirs forgot himself for a moment and kicked the ball out of bounds near his own goal when it probably would have rolled out by itself. Long Island won on corner kicks 6-5, and the New York players went gleefully sliding through the Okefenokee, as if they had not soiled their navy-blue uniforms enough in the match. "LIU is a good ball club," said the Michigan State coach, "but to win on corners you have to be lucky."
The rain let up a bit for the start of USF's semifinal match with Army, but a dismal mist had descended to the rim of the stadium, threatening to envelop the players in fog as well as mud. And soon the rain returned, more torrential than ever. It was a sad match for West Point Coach Joe Palone. The Army right wing was his son, Mike, a junior and one of the finest ice-hockey players in the East. Twice in the third quarter Mike had beautiful, close-range shots at the goal. The first time he slipped in the muck and completely missed the ball. The second time he made contact with the ball, all right, but missed the goal by 10 feet. Another Army shot came much closer, hitting the crossbar and bouncing away. Hungarian Sandor Hites and Guatemalan Luis Sagastume made second-half goals to give the Dons a 2-0 victory, their third straight in the wet. Mike Ivanow had another shutout.
That night seven college soccer coaches attending the tournament picked USF to win the title on Saturday, but at least one Army player disagreed. "LIU's going to win," he said. "No doubt about it. LIU's going to be national champs. They won't miss scoring opportunities like we did today."
The weatherman predicted more rain through the weekend, but when USF Halfback Jerry Katzeff woke up from a good night's sleep (his dog was on his bed), the Saturday sky outside his window was bright and clear. The weather stayed cool and dry all day, but the two teams still wallowed around in the mud. On the scoreboards the same size letters were used for LIU and USF.
Blackbird Coach Joe Machnik had his men using the same strategy as against Michigan State—suck the opponents down into your territory and then try to get a long pass out to a fast man who can catch the goalie all alone, as in basketball's fast break. At least twice it almost worked for LIU. Marcello Launi had the best chance, with only the goalie in front of him, but his kick was wide to the right. Sandor Hites scored first for USF, dribbling cleverly past two men and gently pushing the ball into the left corner of the net. Hites also set up the second Don goal with a fine pass to Rudolphus Dekkers, the Dutchman, and scored again himself to give San Francisco a 3-0 lead.
Ivanow made a rare error in the second quarter. He usually is an expert at coming far from his station without cost, but this time he was faked out and Launi got in behind him and could not have missed with a blindfold on. USF led at the half 3-1. LIU brought it to 3-2 when Launi again got behind Ivanow, but Hites and Lothar Ospiander put the game away, 5-2, with goals in the third period. USF's five goals were the most scored in the NCAA finals since 1959. Hites, who was playing with a sore right knee, was named the outstanding forward, and LIU's Reinhold Jabusch was named the outstanding defender.
Jabusch, Launi, Dov Markus, Tramontozzi. Come to think of it, LIU wouldn't make a bad Christmas card either.