The food at the dinner for U.S. college soccer panjandrums, assorted hangers-on and the coaches and players of the four teams that had reached the semifinals of last week's NCAA championships in Philadelphia was bland as bland—tasteless beef and potatoes followed by Jell-O. So utterly insipid was it all that one could be excused for wondering how the food had gone down with the four teams, for each of them, at least, had a distinctive flavor.
First there was the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, Dr. Ibrahim M. Ibrahim's Clemson Tigers from the Southern Division, whose 18-0-1 record was the best in the NCAA. When the chemistry professor's team rose to be introduced to the rest of the diners, it was as sleek, powerful and black as a limousine, for Clemson recruits almost exclusively in Ghana, Guyana, Nigeria and Jamaica. Here, certainly, was a side that would be happier with couscous, conch and the insanely spiced Jamaican meat pies.
Next Jim Lennox' Hartwick College team was introduced. A strong defensive club, winner of the New York Division with a 15-0-1 record and ranked No. 3 in the nation, it was made up almost exclusively of local and British players. They looked modish, with long hair and body shirts, in flagrant imitation of an English first-division professional team. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for these lads.
When they sat down, Jerry Yeagley's University of Indiana, the outfit everybody insisted on referring to as the "Cinderella team," took a bow. Upset winners over St. Louis and other Midwest soccer powers, Indiana finished the season 17-0-1 to gain the No. 2 ranking in the nation. With one important exception, the Hoosiers were genuine Midwestern American products. They might have liked the dinner.
December 13, 1976
And, finally, there were Steve Negoesco's University of San Francisco Dons, a mélange of Norwegians, Nigerians, Guyanese, English and Californians. USF was the defending NCAA champion, but this year was ranked only No. 6 nationally. Perhaps Negoesco typified the Dons, a Greek-Orthodox Romanian leading the Jesuit school's polyglot side. Negoesco fancies Italian food.
On Saturday, the day after the banquet, Hartwick faced Indiana in the first of back-to-back semifinals before 4,215 half-frozen fans in Penn's cavernous Franklin Field. Through the first half, the Hoosiers' hard-charging, be-first-to-the-ball midfielders contained Hartwick's sophisticated play, but barely. Playing two-on-one, and sometimes three-on-one defensively, IU ran the risk of breakaways by Hartwick's explosive forwards. But the threat never materialized. In the first half, heavily favored Hartwick, which had allowed only seven goals in its 16 regular-season games, and Indiana, which had scored 92 times in its 18 games, played scoreless ball.
After halftime, however, Indiana unveiled its prime weapon. Angelo DiBernardo is a freshman and a native of Argentina who has lived in Chicago for the past five years. He is a striker of awesome agility and speed and has the deadliest toe in the Midwest (SI, Nov. 15). Yeagley explained why DiBernardo had not appeared in the first half. "We only use Angelo when we have to," he said. "He has a double groin pull and keeps getting reinjured. We decided that if we were down 1-0, or scoreless at the half, we'd use him."
With 8:43 gone in the half, DiBernardo took a pass 30 yards out on the left sideline and, controlling the ball with a deft South American touch, streaked inside and downfield. Two Hartwick defenders came up to meet him at the penalty line. DiBernardo simply stopped dead, letting the Hartwick players follow the trickling ball, then ran around them, pulled it in and shot hard past the outstretched goalie for the score.
In a minute and a half, Hartwick returned the favor, Midfielder Joey Ryan heading in a shot that glanced downward off the crossbar and past IU's diminutive goalie, Cary Feld.
But a minute later DiBernardo decided the game for IU, netting a weak shot to make the score 2-1. Although Hartwick controlled the final 30 minutes of play, being awarded numerous corner kicks, free kicks and throw-ins—mostly because IU's bruising tactics kept drawing referees' whistles—they failed to score. Even the likes of Fullback Glenn Myernick, a U.S. Olympic team member, couldn't overcome what DiBernardo had done. Wrapped in a football storm coat, DiBernardo was back on the sideline after only 30 minutes on the field.
Hartwick's loss gave rise to displays of bile. Hartwick's Lennox was violent on the subject of AstroTurf, the surface at Penn. Neither Hartwick nor Clemson had played on the synthetic before. Clemson's Ibrahim was most acid. "It's not a great invention," he fumed. "In fact, it's the lousiest surface I've ever seen in my life. It favored Indiana because they practice on it and play their home games on it. And everybody knows that Indiana is here on a fluke. They aren't in championship class."
Jerry Yeagley offered a soft-spoken rejoinder to that. "Everybody thinks we're dumb to keep playing over our heads," he said. "I think we are worse than that—we're stupid. We keep winning."
A day earlier the irascible Ibrahim had fired a broadside at the NCAA itself—an ever-popular target with many soccer powers and a particular favorite of the nation's No. 1 team. "It is typical of the NCAA to have the tournament on artificial turf, and to have it in a division that doesn't have a team playing," he said. "For the past 10 years the Midwest and Far West have drawn byes because the association says that the travel expenses for them in the first round are too much. Nonsense. The byes should rotate. And the host site should always draw a bye to ensure a large local crowd." This year, as it turned out, the two teams that met in the final were the ones that had drawn byes.
Beginning at 2:30 p.m. Saturday Ibrahim had more immediate problems than NCAA policy, however—namely, Steve Negoesco and his USF Dons, featuring Andy Atuegbu, a 5'7", 170-pound junior midfielder from Nigeria who rightly deserved his 1975 MVP award in the playoffs for his generally scintillating play in USF's 4-0 championship game win over Southern Illinois.
Against Clemson, USF used an odd but brilliant defense to counter a team that had scored 100 goals in its 19 games. The Dons, who had 12 shutouts in regular-season play, rigged up a baffling 2-4-4 alignment, which Negoesco undertook to explain afterward: "We form a defensive wedge against Clemson, which has so many players of great individual ball-handling capabilities," he said. "This forces them to the sidelines, where we can kick the ball out. They win a lot of throw-ins but they can't break away. They have tremendous finesse, perfect touch, but if they have no center-field room, they can't work through us."
The first half of the game hardly looked like soccer. USF's tall, tough Norwegian backs didn't even have to jump to head the ball away from their goal as Clemson, abandoning its superb passing game, tried long arching kicks over the opposing midfield. Long periods passed during which the ball never touched the ground, kept in the air high above the hated AstroTurf by multiple opposing headers.
Less than 12 minutes into the second half, however, USF managed to get the ball down on the synthetic long enough for John Brooks, a talented freshman midfielder, to race forward from his position and surprise the Clemson defenders by taking a perfectly placed pass from the amazing Atuegbu, go straight through a defender and place a hard kick behind Tiger Goalie Denis Carrington. Though Brooks comes from England, he resembles one of the USF's Norwegians: he is 6'2" and strong. Clemson pressed a disorganized attack, but the Dons' flying wedge held on to win 1-0.
In the steamy locker room, Negoesco wagged a finger at his ecstatic players. "Don't get a big head," he chided. "If you do, you'll fall on your butt. Hart-wick didn't cover DiBernardo enough, and he'll be there tomorrow looking down your throats. You'll have to shut him off, and shut off his feeders. So don't go around on tippy-toe, O.K.?"
Brooks, who was recruited by USF while in this country visiting his brother, asked in awe, "Is DiBernardo that good? What about his mates? Is he all there is to them?"
Sunday afternoon, after Hartwick had subdued Clemson 4-3 in the consolation game for third place, Negoesco's warning and Brooks' concern paid off. The championship game pitted the experienced, controlled defensive play of USF against Indiana's raw hustle. Relying on sheer will and teamwork, the Hoosiers traded scoring opportunities with the Dons through most of the first half. But with 10 minutes left, the ball came to Atuegbu, and 6,000 fans saw the Nigerian accelerate quickly, his wingmen spreading out to draw defenders away, and from 25 yards out let go a thumping lofty shot that arched over IU's fullbacks and smashed into the netting high to the right of Goalie Feld. That ended the scoring for the afternoon.
The formidable DiBernardo was denied the ball all day by Brooks. Said Negoesco after the 1-0 win, "I told John, 'Never let him have the ball. It's a simple assignment. If he goes to the bathroom, you go with him.' And it worked."
Said Indiana's Yeagley, "San Francisco has everything—speed, touch, experience. But now that we have had a taste of life here at the top, we like it. We'll be back."