Soccer will eventually make it big in the U.S.," said one fan to another at the NCAA championships in Edwardsville, Ill. last week. "But it would happen a whole lot faster if it weren't for one thing."
"Like what?" asked the other.
"The players' names," said the first. "Howard University is the defending champion, right? Look at their roster: Tunde Balogun, Yomi Bamiro, Sunday Izeubigie.... Kids have to identify with players before they can really get into any sport. Whoever heard of a father telling his son to drink his milk so he can grow up to be like Sunday Izeubigie?"
Foreign-born players, who so dominate collegiate soccer, could always oblige by changing their names to Biff Magee, or at least taking two-syllable tags, like Pelé. For the next year, however, that won't be necessary, because the new NCAA champion is a school whose roster includes its share of odd names—an Andy Atuegbu here and a Kjell Tvedt there—but at least, by gosh, the Dons of San Francisco University have a leader they call plain old Paul Korn. Captain Korn, if you please, from San Francisco by the Bay. On Saturday the Dons edged Brown 2-1 in the semifinal and on Sunday scored a mighty upset by beating Southern Illinois 4-0 in the final. And Captain Korn even took his team to church on Saturday night.
Going into the semifinals, Howard was favored to repeat as champion, mostly because it had eliminated Clemson, ranked No. 1 in the nation at the end of the season by the Intercollegiate Soccer Association of America, in regional playoffs a week earlier. In the NCAA's Southern region, however, No. 5-ranked Howard had been seeded above Clemson by the NCAA's regional selection committee, a decision that particularly incensed Clemson's coach, Ibrahim Ibrahim, who as rating chairman of the ISAA was responsible for ranking college teams. The seeding meant that when Clemson met Howard in the regional playoffs, the game was played on Howard's humpy field in Washington, D.C., and the Bisons won 3-1.
SIU had earned its spot among the final four by beating its neighbor and nemesis—and 1972 and 1973 national champion—St. Louis 2-1. Brown got there by beating No. 3-ranked Cornell 3-0, which was especially gratifying for the Bruins because they had lost their regular-season game to Cornell, and had backed into a tie for the Ivy League championship when the Big Red blew its last two league games. San Francisco had the best record of any team at Edwardsville. The Dons' only loss in 22 games had come at the feet of rugged Philadelphia Textile the day after San Francisco had smashed St. Louis in the season opener 5-2.
Captain Korn had accurately predicted that the Dons would beat Brown in the semifinals by 2-1, but he never thought it would require three overtimes. San Francisco used a fierce, icy wind to good advantage in controlling the first half—the Dons took 12 shots and allowed the Bruins only three—yet neither team could score. Each registered once in the second half and then struggled scorelessly through the first two overtime periods. After 127 minutes of play, the Dons' Greg McKeown faced Brown's goalkeeper, Dave Flaschen, one-on-one. McKeown looked Flaschen in the eye, dared him, drew him out, did a stutter-step, then flipped the ball to forward Mal Roche, who put San Francisco in the finals by slamming it into the net.
The second semi was not quite as tame, and its star, SIU freshman Greg Villa, succinctly summed it up, "Howard came out hittin' and we were ready for 'em." For confirmation, Villa displayed a fat lip. In all, the Cougars and the Bisons drew 43 fouls and eight yellow caution cards, a formal warning for a serious foul—two of them and you're out. Three players were ejected from the game.
Villa, a 6', 190-pound striker, shot 14 times and set up SIU's first goal at 5:30 when one of his shots bounced off the crossbar and was knocked into the net by Tim Twellman. Villa got an assist. Then Lincoln Peddie, Howard's top scorer, put in an equalizer. With about 7:30 left in the half, Villa nearly kicked Bison Goalie Allen Gillem in the teeth. It was apparently an accident, but Gillem is an adventurous spirit, always ready to leave the net, and had already been knocked around quite a bit. The real trouble started a minute later. Peddie shoved the Cougars' best defensive player, Greg Makowski, while they were racing for a loose ball and Makowski flipped Peddie to the ground, using the corn-row braids in Peddie's hair for a handle. Both were thrown out.
Early in the second period Villa stole the ball from Fullback Samuel Acquah and charged in for a goal. Taking a pass from Steve Axmacher, he scored again at 17:13 of the half to make it 3-1. A few moments after that, Howard's Dominic Ezeani nailed Villa with a body block in midjump. Villa got up slowly and wobbled to the bench, bleeding from the mouth and clutching his thigh. No penalty was called, except that normally mild-mannered Midfielder John Zacheis was banished from the Cougar bench and the game for expressing his displeasure with the referee's evaluation of the incident. The referees worked the rest of the game with their hands hovering over their pockets, yellow cards at the ready.
"I think the guys got frustrated," said Howard Coach Lincoln Phillips, explaining his team's aggressiveness. "We started to foul unnecessarily." The emotional Howard players, a few of them fighting tears, strode out of the locker room amidst shouts to each other of, "Hold your head high, brothers!"
"I feel like we just won the championship by beating Howard," said SIU Coach Bob Guelker, who coached the 1972 Olympic team. "I'm higher than a kite right now. I feel like it's all over."
Unhappily for Guelker, it wasn't. Next day, SIU looked as if it didn't belong on the same field with San Francisco as the Dons won with surprising ease. At the half they were up 3-0 on headers by McKeown, Captain Korn and Victor Arbelaez. The final goal was scored by Andy Atuegbu, who was named the tournament's outstanding offensive player. SIU showed little of the opportunism it had displayed the day before, and blew several easy shots. And, as had happened to Howard on Saturday, frustrations begat penalties for SIU.
San Francisco is coached by an American-born, Rumanian-raised, silver-haired strategist named Steve Negoesco, whose own soccer prowess as a 16-year-old enabled him to befriend the guards of a German POW camp and escape. This was Negoesco's 15th consecutive winning season at San Francisco, which has had winning seasons for 30 years. But only once before has a West Coast team won the NCAA title—Negoesco's Dons of 1966, naturally.