In the NCAA championship soccer match held last Saturday in St. Louis' Busch Memorial Refrigerator, Howard University's starting eleven consisted of one Ghanaian, three Jamaicans, three Trinidadians and four Nigerians. An official of Howard, a predominantly black school located in Washington, D.C., explained this situation. You see, in the look-ma-no-hands sport of soccer, the U.S. is still an underdeveloped nation. If Nigeria gets the expert advice of an American engineer, why shouldn't it return the favor by lending us an outside left? Just a simple matter of helping an emerging country emerge a little faster.
How nice for Howard that one out of every six students on its campus is a foreigner and that its soccer coach, Lincoln Abraham Phillips, is from Trinidad. How nice that while doing a little reverse Peace Corps work on the poverty-stricken soccer fields of the U.S., Howard's fancy-footed foreigners could also win an NCAA title, beating all-American, all-white St. Louis U. in four overtimes 2-1.
St. Louis U. is traditionally the collegiate soccer powerhouse in this country, mostly because Catholic boys in that city grow up playing the sport in their parishes, continue in high school and then, if they are adept enough, move on to the varsity at the Jesuit university, which does not have a football team. The team is white not because of bigotry but because soccer is essentially a Catholic sport in St. Louis and the blacks live in the poorer city parishes which cannot afford to field soccer teams. The Billikens, as they are nicknamed (a Billiken is a pixielike creature), have won 10 of the 16 NCAA tournaments, including two in a row four different times.
There was considerable grumbling in Busch Stadium when they failed once again to get that third straight title. The gist of the gripes was that it was somehow unfair for these fine boys from the local parishes to have to play a West Indies-Africa all-star team. The gripers conveniently forgot that the St. Louis U. ice hockey team was laced with Canadians and that the soccer team had fielded at least two foreigners in the past.
Howard's use of foreign soccer players became pronounced almost 30 years ago when a quarter-miler from Jamaica persuaded a coach named Ted Chambers to start a soccer club. At first, white teams would not play the Bisons, who had to settle for matches against the various Washington embassy staffs. Finally, in 1950, Bloomsburg State agreed to play and soccer went on an intercollegiate basis at Howard. To succeed him in 1971, Chambers recruited Lincoln Phillips, player-coach of the pro Washington Darts of the North American Soccer League. Since then, Howard's record is 66-3-3.
Howard beat St. Louis for the national championship in 1971, but the NCAA later vacated the title when it was claimed that two of Howard's players from Trinidad had already completed their eligibility in their home country. Howard fought the action in court but lost, and the school was ineligible for the championship tournament in 1973, the only year since Phillips arrived that the Bisons have not qualified for the final four.
Howard went into this year's NCAA semifinals with a 17-0 record, having out-scored its opponents 71-9. Phillips felt it was a much better team than his 1971 club. "Then we had two men—Keith Aqui and Alvin Henderson—who had 54 goals between them," he said. "Trouble was, if you stopped them, you stopped us. Now we have one man with 12, another with 11 and on down to six. Balance. That is why we're better."
"They're very fast," said Harry Keough, the St. Louis coach. "They have a lot of individual brilliance, quite a bit of confidence in their ability to take a man on one on one."
In the semifinals Thursday night, when the air was chilly and the AstroTurf slick, Howard met Hartwick College of Oneonta, N.Y., a team made up mostly of Americans. Howard's Michael Ian Bain, one of the three Trinidadians, played an outstanding game, the Bisons were much faster and won 2-1.
St. Louis had much more trouble in the other semi, against UCLA, the perennial West Coast representative. The Bruins used to come as the Ethiopian national team thinly disguised but have cut down on imports lately. Still, an Iranian with the marvelous name of Firooz Fowzi was their leading scorer, and even UCLA players listing California hometowns had names like Giovanni Mayorga, Sergio Velazquez and Sigi Schmid.
A pitifully small crowd of 2,921 watched St. Louis run off to a 2-0 half-time lead. UCLA got one goal back and then the Billikens' freshman goalie, Rob Vallero, slipped while taking a free kick out of the penalty area, and UCLA's Velazquez kicked the ball into an unguarded net. The game went into a second overtime and St. Louis was lucky to win. The Bruins' Joe Pronk was caught using his hands in the penalty area, and Billiken Bruce Hudson, a member of the U.S. Olympic team, booted in the penalty kick.
It was drizzly and just as cold Saturday afternoon for the finals, which drew only 3,802 hardy souls. Before the match a special truck cruised back and forth over the artificial turf sucking up gallons of water and then spewing it out in Busch Stadium's remote corners.
St. Louis passed beautifully in the first half, outrunning Howard and shielding the ball cleverly. Frustrated Howard players, getting to the center of action a little late, kept making contact with Billikens rather than the ball and drew the unusual total of 20 fouls. St. Louis was attacking Howard's goal constantly but still finished the half leading only 1-0, after Fullback Don Droege kicked the ball through a crowd past Howard Goalie Trevor Leiba. Taking proper advantage of all their thrusts, the Billikens might have been leading by as much as 4-0.
Howard played smarter in the second half, not trying to guard the Billikens tightly all over the field, but instead dropping back in a sort of zone defense, letting St. Louis have its way at midfield but clogging things up when the Howard goal was threatened. Midway through the half Ayomi Bamiro, a substitute from Nigeria, tied the score with a header, and so it remained to the end of regulation time.
For a while it seemed the teams, now playing under the lights, would challenge the NCAA record for overtimes—10. The first, second and third 15-minute periods went by with some close calls but no cigar. One Howard shot hit the crossbar, another hit the left goalpost. Finally, shortly after the start of the fourth overtime, Howard's Richard Davy worked his way in close to the St. Louis goal on the left side, crossed the ball toward the goalmouth and Striker Kenneth Ilodigwe of Nigeria kicked it in from only about four feet away. Howard had beaten St. Louis in its own backyard, and it was not likely that the NCAA would vacate the title this time.
"We can play this game," shouted one Howard player, and for at least a year no one could argue with him.