American College Soccer, 1946-1959: The Postwar era


By Mickey Cochrane & Len Oliver <>

This article was originally printed in the NSCAA Soccer Journal in 1998 and is reprinted by permission of the authors.


College soccer had been scattered around in the Northeastern schools from the late 1800’s, fueled by the prep schools and the urban ethnic enclaves. Some colleges that did form club or varsity teams, especially in the Midwest and South, were handicapped by a lack of competition. Just before the war, college soccer faced extinction in some areas because of fuel restrictions and other wartime measures.

By the end of the war, the Interollegiate Soccer Football Association of America reported only 42 active college teams. Almost all of the teams were in the Northeast in urban centers and at private colleges. Almost no college varsity programs, outside of informal school soccer clubs, existed in the Midwest or South.

On the West Coast, Stanford’s program was started in 1911, playing mostly outside amateur teams. The University of San Francisco established its program in 1932 and was joined by UCLA in 1937, with both having trouble finding college-level competition. Intersectional play was only a dream as colleges resumed more normal operations following the end of the global conflict in 1946.

Several factors changed the situation after the war. Many military units during the war had adopted soccer as a low-cost, high-participation training sport, long on conditioning and short on serious injuries. (In fact, the first NSCAA Honor Award was presented to Navy Commander Tom Hamilton or his introduction of soccer as a training regime for the armed forces during the way. Hamilton later enjoyed a stellar football coaching career at Pittsburgh and Navy and served for a time as AD at Navy.)

Servicemen were also exposed to the game overseas and brought their interests, along with their GI Bill of Rights funding , to the campuses . And more and more high school youth, many of them local club soccer players, started to go to college. By 1947, schools like Springfield in new England, Temple in the Mid-Atlantic region, Oberlin in the Midwest, the University of Baltimore in the South, along with USF, Stanford and UCLA on the West Coast, were recognized as soccer powers.

The college game grew steadily over the next decade until 1959 when the ISFAA could report 250 varsity teams in existence and playing in a number of new conferences. As schedules expanded so did intersectional competition which led the NCAA to begin sponsoring a postseason national collegiate championship.

Since many of the better college players of the immediate postwar era had seen service in the armed forces, either playing while in the service or learning the game from overseas exposure, every college team of the postwar era seemed to have its share of older players who added maturity and commitment to the game.

Most of the college teams of the era played a schedule of 8 to 10 games, with no organized postseason play, and little NCAA oversight. Issues such as player recruitment, playing outside ball, limitations on seasonal and out-of-season practicing, scholarships or other matters which are today subject to rigid NCAA regulations were left to coaches and their college administrators to deal with.

Some of the teams played in regional conferences, with champions declared on the basis of team record, not postseason play. The college athletic directors and coaches essentially set the schedules, with no firm requirements for play within a conference. In some areas, such as the West Coast, college teams often were forced to compete in the local amateur leagues.

When I (Len Oliver) was a 1951 senior at Northeast High School in Philadelphia, I received a call from Pete Leanes, a podiatrist who coached 40 years at Temple University, asking me to come to his home. Leaness offered me and several of my fellow lighthouse Boys Club-Northeast High School teammates full scholarships with books. That group of players formed the nucleus of Temple’s national championship teams of the early 1950’s. Temple was one of the few colleges of the day to offer full scholarships for soccer. All of us were first-generation Americans, the first in our families to attend college and soccer opened the doors for a good education and rewarding careers.

The young Philadelphians were fortunate to ender Temple in 1951 when the NCAA unexpectedly declared freshmen eligible to play because of the draft and the Korean War.

A year later, as Dick Packer, Penn State’s NSCAA All-America and Olympic player reminisced, “When I entered Penn State in 1952, freshmen were no longer eligible to play their first year. The rules changed that fast.”

College soccer in the postwar period had two major governing bodies. The National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), founded in 1941 by an interested handful of coaches, primarily named the All-America team and held coaching conferences. The NSCAA stands today as the preeminent college sports coaching association in the U.S. The ISFAA (shortened to ISAA along the way) was founded in 1926. It offered its annual Outstanding Soccer Team award (mythical national championship) and provided oversight for college soccer. Coordination with the U. S. Soccer Football Association (Now the USSF), the sport’s national governing body and FIFA affiliate, came about through overlapping personnel rather than formal agreements.


Little real technical or tactical coaching as we know it today occurred in the college ranks. Coaches of the time were part-timers, often coaching other sports in addition to soccer. Even coaches who knew the game had little sophistication about the nuances of relating it to their players. Most applied what they had learned from being players, or from books and discussions with other coaches. As a student in the 1948-1952 period in Ohio, I (Cochrane) recall that the state had no high school soccer and only six colleges playing the sport. My tenure at Hopkins means that I had to do a lot of teaching, even running instructional classes on basic techniques for my players. I just didn’t have quality players. No emphasis on techniques, no small-sided games, no nomenclature such as “overlapping runs” or “high pressure defense,” just the basic system which had been in place since the 1800’s. The two-back game.

England’s Arsenal had changed to the three-back game, or W.M. by 1930 to counteract the new offside rule of the late 1920s, and the system spread throughout the world. But this innovation didn’t reach the U.S. professional, amateur or college soccer ranks until the early 1950’s. I (Oliver) recall that in my freshman year at Temple, for instance, they played with two fullbacks and the roving, workhorse center half. In 1952, at the urging of the club players, Leaness’ Temple squad switched to the W-M. This is basically the way most college teams played until well into the 1960s while the rest of the world experimented with the deep striker (Hungary, 1953) and the 4-2-4 (Brazil 1958). The Libero-sweeper, the 4-4-2, the 4-4-3, the 3-5-2 and other systems familiar today would all come later.

Most of the college teams were kick-and-run, long-ball, in-your-face teams, with little of the skilled, subtle ball possession and control we see in the intercollegiate game today. Unlimited substitution marked play, which was another break with FIFA, with some even using a platoon system not unlike the modern college football teams. I (Oliver) recall the scary sensation of watching eight or nine highly-charged screaming subs coming on the field all at once. The exceptions were the “city teams”, Temple, Drexel, West Chester, Seton Hall, CCNY and Brooklyn College – and the teams with foreign-born coaches – Penn State, Dartmouth and Princeton. Also, these teams with a preponderance of foreign-born players such as USF and UCLA would rarely substitute.

These teams tried to play possession soccer, slow buildup, combination play, a finesse game, but the major obstacle to playing this type of soccer for most colleges was the mix of a few foreign born players with young American college players who lacked the needed skills, often coming from other sports. Strength, condition and speed were often more a determinant of a team’s style than skill and inventive and productive tactics.

Or example, in a game that contrasted the two styles of the day, Temple faced Army in 1952 at West point with the Owls entering the match on a 20-game unbeaten streak. Temple lost, 4-2, never adjusting to Army’s rugged, high fitness level and run-them-over style on its small field. In 1953, at home and on its way to the mythical national championship, Temple ran Army off the field 5-2 by spreading the play on its large field, playing possession soccer with through balls and overcoming Army’s style with quick touches and off-the-ball runs. Different day, different field, same contrasting styles, and a different results.

Colorful coaches of the era included Earle “Muddy” Waters. Jim Oliver, a Philadelphia product and former West Chester standout, told how Waters acquired his nickname. “He loved to play in bad weather. He would wait for it, anticipate it, and make us practice for hours in the main and mud. His teams always did exceptionally well in inclement weather. We became mud specialists. But he was not unlike a lot of coaches of the era.”

Today coaches at the Division 1 level typically have playing backgrounds and NSCAA, USSF or overseas coaching certifications. Many enjoy full-time salaries, making soccer coaching their primary vocations, tied in with shoe and camp contracts. Few coach other sports, and they look forward to long careers in college soccer coaching. Several have recently made the transition from the college ranks to Major League Soccer.


The leading soccer coaches of the postwar era came from varied backgrounds. Many were foreign-born professionals who coached part-time, such as Hall of Famers Jimmy Mills (Haverford) and Bill Jeffrey (Penn State), both Scots, Gus Donoghue (USF), a member of the U. S. 1936 Olympic team, Jimmy Reed (Princeton) and Tom Dent (Dartmouth).

Some of the American-born coaches had played the game in college and brought that experience to their coaching. These included Charley Scott (Penn), Pete Leanness (Temple), Don Yonker (Drexel), Whitey Burnham (Dartmouth), Irv Schmidt (Springfield) and Earle Waters (West Chester).

Others came to soccer coaching with little playing experience. Often their soccer experience was from participation in sports through the physical education department of the college or from coaching other similar sports that tactically mirrored soccer, such as lacrosse. I (Cochrane) had no prior soccer coaching experience when I took the coaching position at Johns Hopkins in 1953. Most of us were physical education majors. We took classes in the various sports – football, soccer, track, lacrosse, swimming and whatever we were interested in. We also played a bit to familiarize ourselves with the game, attended clinics and invited soccer coaches onto the campus for lectures. But basically, we learned the game from coaching it. When I was at Hopkins, I had to coach track, soccer and freshman baseball, all because I was a physical education major.

The American coaches also learned the game from the handful of quality club (Sunday players” coming onto their teams, players who often dictated the system of play and practices, regardless of the coaching philosophy. Many of the coaches without playing experience stressed physical conditioning over technique, hoped for a few foreign-born walk-ons and played a standard kick-and-run style with little finesse. At that time, there were no NSCAA or USSF Coaching schools, no coaching certifications, little screening of credentials, few books and no videos — and no full-time coaches. A college team’s fortunes would ebb and flow based on its talent. Coaching often had very little to do with the success of the teams.


In the first five minutes of the game between Yale and Dartmouth in New Haven in the fall of 1948, a spectator well-versed in soccer would have been bewildered when the Dartmouth winghalf took the first throw-in. He approached the touch line, reared back like an outfielder in baseball, and threw the ball 40 yards one-handed. No whistle! The New England Intercollegiate League had sanctioned the one-handed throw-in for a brief time in the postwar era.

It was a time in which there was a great deal of experimentation with the laws of the game.

Other college innovations that would be tried included substituting a direct “kirk-in” for a throw-in in 1950 and playing the game in quarters instead of halves. On the kick-in, the rationale was “to speed up the game,” according to Hall of Famer and noted soccer official Ray Bernabei, and “to compensate for the college player unfamiliar with the sport.”

For some reason, it was tough to teach the players new to soccer to get the overhead throw-in mechanics right. When an attempt was made to put the throw-in back into the game, there was fierce resistance from many of the coaches.

The kick-in was also put into the game to simplify matters for the many inexperienced referees who suddenly were recruited to officiate the expanded collegiate schedules following the war. Restricted travel during the war had cut down schedules.

The new officials, many recruited from the ranks of other sports, worried more about too much handedness in the throw (“spinning the ball” in any form usually resulted in a whistle and a throw-in for the other team). As a result, games were marked with many whistles for throw-in infractions with both coaches and players frustrated by officials’ attention to something that, in reality, was only a minor part of the action. Thus the move to either the short-lived one-hand throw-in or the kick-in which had a longer impact on the game.

For the “Sunday” or “club” players, those who grew up with outside soccer and continued in the amateur ranks, the college innovations were anomalies, often bizarre distractions skewing the real game. The kick-in with no offsides, for example, raised such havoc in the goal mouth that the NCAA Rules Committee changed the kick-in to an indirect kick in 1952 with offsides.

One can recall that a major injury factor in the game was, in part, a result of the kick-in, but also a spin-off from football as many of the players who were recruited to play soccer had previously played football. Teams generally wanted to make certain that they had a player (or two or three) ready to serve as backup keepers. “Charging the goalkeeper” was a major rule interpretation problem with more times than not “late charges” the only incident called.

If memory serves, more times than not, keepers were big and strong and selected not only for their ball-handling ability but for their ability “to take a beating.” Keepers were generally left a bit unprotected by the inexperienced officials, with broken bones, separated shoulders and the like, the general lot of the keepers. One can recall more than one star basketball player lost for part of the upcoming winter season as a result of soccer-induced injury. (Basketball players with good hands and some semblance of game sense made excellent goalkeepers.)

In 1958, the NCAA experimented with a semi-circle replacing the rectangular penalty area. The NCAA Rules Committee wanted to make the penalty fit the crime. A foul on an attacking player in the corner of the box didn’t seem to warrant a penalty kick. Several prominent coaches were proponents pf the change. The penalty area itself was 36 yards in width along the goal line and the semi-circular restraining line four yards more distant.

The NCAA also tried stopping the clock in the last three minutes of the third and fourth quarters to avoid time-wasting. These measures, finally eliminated in 1963, demonstrated the difficulty of bringing the college game into conformance with FIFA laws. Collegiate nonconformance with FIFA from the late 1940’s meant the college game was going its own way for quite a long time, a situation largely reversed today.

This somewhat contrary attitude by the college coaches put them at odds with the forces at the United States Soccer Federation. And sometimes college coaches were at odds with themselves.

The USSF wanted collegiate players playing under FIFA rules because otherwise when time arrived to select teams to play in World Cup, Olympic or other international play, they would have been schooled playing under “the wrong sport”. Some college coaches, many of whom were part-time coaches such as Doug Stewart at Penn, Jack Marshall at Yale, Jimmy Mills (Haverford and others) and Bill Jeffrey at Penn State. Were heavily involved with the USSF as well as the college game. These coaches were torn between keeping the game rules the same as played throughout the world and the need for accommodation due to inexperienced players and referees. The battle was further drawn when it was perceived by collegiate coaches that some fine college players were not selected to the U.S. international teams due to the fact that they played part of their season under non-FIFA rules and that was used against them in the selection process. Rather, the selections came from USSF-sanctioned league players, primarily drawn from the major metropolitan leagues and the ethnic leagues.

Despite the experimentation and the disorganization, postwar college soccer had slow but continuous growth and the groundwork was laid for the sophisticated structure of the modern college game.


Unlike the college teams of today, which travel great distances for tournaments and play a full regular season schedule of 20 to 25 games including postseason playoffs, college teams of the 1940’s and 1950’s stayed close to home. That’s where the competition was, it kept limited varsity budgets in check and it helped to build rivalries.

Temple, playing a schedule of 8 to 10 games, with no preseason restrictions and no scheduled postseason play, built up strong regional rivalries with schools like Bill Jeffrey’s Penn State and Don Yonkers’ Drexel teams. There was no conference play. If the rivalry got too intense, as in the Temple-Army series in the 1952 and 1953 seasons, a team might simply drop an opposing team from the schedule. For example, following its devastating 5-2 loss to Temple in 1953, Army’s Joe Palone never rescheduled Temple.

The abbreviated college schedule of the day makes it difficult to compare statistics with today’s teams and players. For example, Temple’s All-America Jack Dunn led the nation in scoring in 1953 with 20 goals, a college record for the time. Today, 50 goals a season is not far fetched.

It was not unheard of for teams to run up long victory strings. Coach Cliff Stevenson and his Oberlin College team had 43 straight victories in the mid 1950s. (Stevenson would later develop an Ivy league powerhouse at Brown). Temple, under Leaness, won 22 straight matches. The University of San Francisco, under Gus Donoghue, compiled two long winning streaks, winning 55 in a row from 1948-1953 and 41 straight from 1954-1959.

By the mid 1950s, in every region where soccer was played, certain outstanding teams emerged – USF and UCLA on the west coast, Oberlin and Wheaton (NSCAA Honor award Bob Baptista was the coach) in the Midwest, and Temple, Penn State, west Chester (Muddy Waters and mel Lorback the coaches), Seton Hall, Slippery rock (coaches John Eiler and Jim Egli), Dartmouth and Drexel (coaches Tom dent and Whitney Burnham) on the East Coast.

These teams, because of their stature, received a constant flow of primarily local talent, often on scholarships. The players came from ethnic soccer clubs in their urban working class areas and the soccer-playing prep schools. They also benefited from the occasional influx of foreign-born players who migrated from war-torn Europe after the war, many with skills and a flair for the game.

USF located in cosmopolitan San Francisco,, for example, relied almost solely on foreign-born players. Ossie Jethon (Drexel), Scotty Adams (Army), Steve Negoseco (USF), Walt Chyzowych (Temple), Gabor Czako (Penn), Zenon Snylyk (Rochester) and many other college stars of the era complemented the American-born players on the rosters.


Women did not play college soccer during the post-war era, just as no women played on the sandlots, on club teams or in amateur soccer. There just were no opportunities for girls to learn and play the game. Most who would have wanted to play turned to field hockey, volleyball or track. At that time, they would have been politely asked to leave even if they did show up. So we will never know what the loss of a generation of young women exposed to soccer would have meant for them and for the sport. It was a man’s world, unlike today in the U.S., where the women’s college game flourishes in some 750 schools, where our National Women’s team, 1996 Olympic gold medalists, is rated first in the world, winners of the 1991 and 1999 Women’s World Cup, and where the women play a clean, sophisticated, highly-skilled game which some observers call “pure soccer”.


Walt Bahr, former professional, U.S. National team captain, college coach at temple and Penn State and a Soccer Hall of Famer, recalled his college playing days at Temple in 1944: “We played eight or nine games, never fielded 11 experienced players, and most of our games were against extremely physical opponents. Our goalie was a big guy from the basketball team, we had a guy from the gym team and another guy from the track team – fast but with no soccer skills. All were good athletes, but not soccer players. At this time, many of the soccer-playing kids from our ethnic neighborhoods didn’t finish high school, let alone think about college.”

By 1946, every college team had a few returning servicemen employing the GI Bill to go to school. More and more colleges were offering scholarships as the sport continued to grow, although recruitment primarily focused on local talent. Players helped to recruit other players from the neighborhoods. None of the college soccer programs was national, as many Division 1 programs are today. Since more and more ethnic kids were completing high school, college scholarships were highly sought as a means to the end of a college degree.

Temple, Penn, Drexel, West Chester and La Salle recruited from the Philadelphia ethnic neighborhoods and the Philadelphia Junior League, enticing many first-generation Americans with the promise of a free education. Seton Hall looked to the northern New Jersey ethnic clubs, Brooklyn College and CCNY to New York City, while Harvard, Yale, Trinity, Williams and Brown drew from both the eastern prep schools and a few foreign walk-ons to fill their rosters.

According to Negoesco, “USF drew from the San Francisco neighborhoods and from the influx of the many foreign-born players. There was no junior league soccer in San Francisco at the time.”

Temple’s outstanding teams of the late 1940s had world-class players like Walt Bahr and Ben McLaughlin, products of Philadelphia club soccer, and Temple’s teams of the early 1950s depended on neighborhood players like Jack Dunn, Ed Tatoian, Bob Casey, Lefty Didnksen, Bob Lamey, Harry Smith and myself (Oliver) – all coming from street and club soccer. Temple provided them with a college education and the pathway to successful careers that many might have thought of as being unobtainable, except for the opportunity college soccer afforded them. In turn, these ethnic youngsters brought sports recognition to Temple.

Here is the way I (Oliver) recall the college experience: Making the transition from club soccer and the amateurs to college soccer was easy. Temple game us time to train in our sport. We had well-maintained grass fields, a professional trainer, free equipment and paid travel. We gained school, citywide and national recognition. We got a good education which most of us couldn’t afford on our family resources. What more could an inner-city, ethnic, first generation soccer kid want?


Zander Hollander, in his book “The American Encyclopedia of Soccer” (Everest House, 1980), noted the high caliber of the college soccer player, citing a 1949 2-2 tie game between players from the 1948 NSCAA All-America team and an all-star team from the powerful German-American and Metropolitan Leagues in New York. Collegiate players were also prominent on the U. S. National teams of the era. Temple’s Bahr and McLaughlin and Swarthmore’s Rolf Valtin led the U. S. Olympic team in 1948, with Bahr and McLaughlin going on to star for many years with the U. S. National team. Bahr assisted on the only goal for the U.S.’s spectacular 1-0 defeat of England in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, and he captained the U. S. team for many years.

For the 1952 Olympic tryouts, the ISFAA selected an all-college team to play in New York’s Eintract Oval against the Eastern Amateur select team. The latter team was named following an all-college select tournament in Philadelphia. Seton Hall’s Billy Sheppel, Baltimore’s Larry Surrock, and Temple’s Jack Dunn made the 1952 U. S. Olympic Team that played in Helsinki. Other collegians, including Dartmouth’s Jackson Hall, Yale’s Charley Ufford, Seton Hall’s Jim Hannah and Temple’s Oliver and Didnkson were among the seven collegians making it to the 1952 Olympic final tryouts. The 1956 Olympic Team included Penn State’s outstanding forward Dick Packer and skilled inside forward teammate Ron Coder, along with Rochester’s midfield wizard Zenon Snylyk (see Soccer Journal, March-April 1995, for a story on Snylyk, “Put the Ball Down and Play”). Most of these players subsequently turned professional in either the old American Soccer League or the German-American League.

The tradition of including leading college players in the National Team tryouts continued. By 1958, one-fourth of the players screened for the 1959 Pan-American and 1960 Olympic Teams were former or current collegians. Again, most of these National Team prospects came out of urban ethnic club soccer or Eastern prep schools or they had learned their soccer overseas.

Rules for maintaining a player’s amateur status were strict at the time. I (Oliver) made the Olympic finals in 1952 but missed selection in 1956 due to a broken leg suffered just before the tryouts. Mononucleosis suffered while an ASL player playing in Germany cost me while trying for the Olympic Team of 1960. But I would later make the 1964 U. S. team while a member of the ASL’s Baltimore Pompeii. Yet I always retained my amateur standing, even when playing in Germany and in the ASL for money. Each ASL team, for instance could sign two amateurs, although as amateurs players still could receive money for what was termed expenses, necessary travel and meals involved in traveling to their clubs for matches.

But the Eastern urban ethnic club players, the first-generation Americans taught the game by their Scottish, German and Italian fathers, were not the only solid players in the college ranks. Tom Fox, of Washington, DC recalls his soccer career on the outstanding Williams College teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

He seemed to speaking for the majority of the prep school players of the time: “None of us played soccer until prep school in New England. We never played soccer on Sunday or club soccer. Our coaches were part-timers, usually foreign-born ex-players living in the community. We only knew a highly physical kick-and-run game with two fullbacks, long passes up the field, hurried crosses from the wings and an aggressive, in-your-face style.”

Packer, himself a prep school product from Philadelphia’s suburbs and a prolific goal scorer, echoed Fox’s comments: “We didn’t have the exquisite skills of the urban guys who grew up with the game in the streets, but we had guts, determination and a hard-nosed, grind-them-down spirit. I see too many prima donnas today whining at the first hard tackle. I think we were tougher players, and the refs let us play.”


The amateur and professional Sunday club games provided most of the referees of the period. Philadelphia players would see Jimmy Walder, Harry Rodgers, Bill Rose, Ray (Granny” Kraft, Ralph Rossner, “Offsides Smitty”, Hans Peters and other familiar faces for their college games, and after the season these same individuals would work their amateur club matches.

Up to the late 1940s, referees used the FIFA diagonal system. As Ray Bernabei recalls, “We had one ref in the middle and the linesmen were usually students or even spectators recruited from the crowd.”

The two-man or “dual system” came into vogue starting in the late 1940s. Unique in the soccer world but still in use today in some youth and amateur leagues and college conferences, the dual system was the invention of Walder and Rodgers, influential referees of the period. They fought for its inclusion as a means of bring greater control to the game. But the system also served as a means for helping extend the careers of poorly-conditioned referees, ones who could no longer spring and keep up with the young players. According to Bernabei, “College coaches liked it better than using student linesmen.”

Steve Negoesco, coach at the University of San Francisco, however, recalled a brief West Coast experiment with the dual system in the early 1950s, but called it “too confusing”. He went on to say “Basically, the diagonal system with two linesmen was the system we used on the West Coast at the time. Most of the referees were former players, usually Scots, Irish or Italians who knew the game and the players from club soccer.

Negoesco has a point. The referees knew many of the Eastern urban club players from handling their amateur games and had earned the players’ respect. They let the players play with few whistles, no expulsions and many verbal warnings. They were able to control the game by their presence. I (Oliver) remember the Baltimore-based referee and Hall of famer “Granny” Kraft, running alongside me in an especially tense moment and advising, “:Cool it, Lenny”.

A good sense or feel for the game and the players by officials such as Kraft helped defuse a player’s momentary anger which could soon lead to foolish and at times dangerous challenges. Officials controlled play by relating to the players, rather than resorting to cautions or send-offs (bookings). They did not use yellow or red cards, unlike today, and it took a lot to even get a warning. As Bernabei wisely stated, “It’s not a card game, it’s a game for the players.” I (Oliver), for example, never received a caution in four years of strenuous college play, and I remember few bookings with no player or coach being sent off. Once, in that intense 1953 match between Penn State and temple at State College for the national title, Walder and Rodgers called both teams to midfield after 30 minutes and gave a verbal caution: “Your first caution, gentlemen, the next time, you go off.”

American coaches and referees were innovative. One change was the introduction of hand signals by the referee to indicate the type of infraction being whistled. In part it was to promote the game by making spectators aware of which foul was being penalized. American referees started to use hand signals around 1955. I (Oliver) for to know Cliff Stevenson, Oberlin coach and chair of the NCAA Rules Committee, and we developed 17 hand signals, subsequently reducing them to seven, although FIFA didn’t buy it.

Soccer in some colleges was considered a “non-contact sport.” Still, there was retaliation, forceful tackles, intense strong play and a contrast of styles when newcomers to the game clashed with the finesse players. All were considered part of the game. The club players played college soccer the way they learned the game on the streets and lots where the amateur Sunday games took place. The referees of the day were friends, lived in the neighborhoods, and had watched the development of various players’ soccer careers. I (Oliver) remember Walder, who lived around the corner in my Kensington row house neighborhood, often coming by for long chats about the game or passing on clippings from English soccer. Referees had their roles, players had theirs. Both respected these roles; as each helped “grow the game on these shores”.


As products of urban amateur soccer leagues, the Philadelphia area college players, like other urban club players of the generation, returned to their amateur teams right after the college season. NCAA restrictions prohibited college players from playing outside ball until after the college season, but those with the amateur clubs still played some 40-50 games a year, equivalent to the foreign leagues. The top amateur teams in Philadelphia, New Jersey and new York, for example, eagerly awaited the end of the college season so they could add the leading college players to their rosters.

My (Oliver’s) team, the Kensington Bluebelles, for instance, fielded a September – early November lineup of older Scottish players, some “right off the boat.” When the five or six college players arrived, mainly from Temple and West Chester (where my twin brother, Jim starred), the team took on a different look. Since these players had grown up with club soccer, it was a natural transition from the kick-and-run, hectic style of college soccer to the more technical game of the amateurs.

The Sunday games were dominated by the German, Italian or Ukrainian immigrants and played on the hard dirt lots prevalent in Philadelphia amateur soccer.

Negoesco noted that “after the way, San Francisco attracted a sizeable number of immigrants, many of whom brought their soccer. Some came to USF, others sent their kids, so we’ve always had a nucleus of the good foreign-born players.”

But unlike other urban soccer enclaves, San Francisco had no junior league, so Negoesco started the San Francisco Junior League in 1953 with four teams, the forerunner of the California Youth Soccer Association. As he puts it, “As the game grew in popularity in the region in the 1950s, we encouraged the soccer officials moving to the suburbs to start their own leagues. By the late 1950s, we had new talent coming up from outside the city.” Another factor was the growth of the California state colleges and junior colleges after the war.


When I (Len Oliver) was selected to the NSCAA All-American Intercollegiate Soccer Team in 1951, in my freshman year at Temple, I remember calling Pete Leaness and asking about the selection process. Leaness replied, “We work it out. Both coaches and the referees vote after each game for three players. We can promote a player, but he has to be consistently outstanding to win All-America honors. The NCAA knows the difficulty in naming All-Americans so it makes no distinction between the first and fifth All-America teams.”

There were years, however, when outstanding college performers were overlooked due to the concern of the NSCAA for national representation and the lack of communication among the coaches, most of whom were part-time. Good players were simply missed. For example, no player from the West Coast was chosen in 1950 despite USF’s 10-0 record.

In 1949, a breakthrough occurred that allowed for a more objective means of selecting the nation’s best players. SUNY-Cortland’s coach, T. Fred Holloway, published his “statistical Methods of All-America selection,” an index system for selecting soccer All-Americans based on a rating scale for both the players and their teams. Adopted in the 1950s, the basic system is still in use today. It employed team indexes to introduce strength of schedule into the equation, making it difficult for strong players on weak teams to be named to the All-America team.


The postwar system of choosing a national collegiate champion was for the most part arbitrary. The ISFAA, except for the years 1950-1952, when non-official national soccer bowls were held for the title, declared the “mythical national champion” based on seasonal record and competition. This was, at best, a subjective judgment open to challenge, much like the modern college football polls. This system had started in the 1920’s.

The first Soccer Bowl, held in St. Louis on January 1, 1950, resulted in a 2-2 tie between the University of San Francisco and Penn State. As Zander Hollander has pointed out, “When it was over, little had been decided. But the game did bring the cross-country intersectional meeting into reality and gave a large boost to the growth of the sport in the Midwest and West.”

In the second Soccer Bowl, held in St. Louis in December 1950, Penn State defeated Purdue 3-1. (USF was invited, but was unable to make the trip.) But the ISFAA declared West Chester’s 8-0-0 squad the national champion despite the Soccer Bowl result and much to the dissatisfaction of Penn State and USF. In 1952, when Temple defeated USF 2-0 in the third Soccer Bowl in San Francisco, the ISFAA immediately declared Temple the national champion with no one disputing the choice.

The Soccer Bowls, forerunners of the NCAA tournaments later in the decade, were not free from controversy. Without postseason play, the ISFAA’s choices, subjective as they were, continually came in for harsh criticism. Thus, when the ISFAA selected co-national champions in 1957 (Springfield College with a 9-0-0 record and CCNY at 10-0-0), other schools with unbeaten records complained. Drexel, with a record of 12-0-0, was declared champion in 1958 but complaints came from USF (8-0-0 with 67 goals for and 2 against) and UCLA (with 13 straight wins). This is obviously one of the major reasons that the idea of the NCAA designating a postseason winner from tournament play was so welcomed by the collegiate soccer community in 1959.

The 1952 Soccer Bowl holds vivid memories for me (Oliver). Temple compiled a 7-0-1 record for the 1951 college season, winning most games by lopsided margins and tying only Penn State in a bruising battle of unbeaten teams at State College. At the end of the season, temple’s athletic director, Josh Cody, notified the team that Temple had received an attractive financial offer to participate in the third Soccer Bowl against USF in St. Louis on December 27. However, because of a snowstorm in St. Louis the site of the game was changed to Kezar Stadium in San Francisco on February 3. The Dons, a West Coast powerhouse, carried a 40-game win streak into the showdown for the mythical college championship.

Despite the guarantee, the Temple team conducted fundraisers and obtained the support of the students, faculty and administrators, along with the Philadelphia media, to subsidize the trip and the purchase of new uniforms.

The trip, on a TWA propeller plane, took 18 hours. It was the first time a college soccer team had flown coast-to-coast. Upon arrival, headlines in the San Francisco papers greeted the Owls: “Making History,” “U. S. Soccer Title Game at Kezar,” and “Temple and Dons Clash.” The headlines created a great deal of interest in the game and 10,000 fans turned out, the largest crowd ever to see a college game in the U.S.

In an intriguing historical footnote, the USF sports publicist, the late Pete Rozelle, first gained attention with his deft handling of the Soccer Bowl. He would, of course, later gain recognition as commissioner of the National Football League and be honored with selection to the pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Temple team arrived at Kezar Stadium overwhelmed by the enthusiastic crowd. We were more familiar playing in front of only a few dozen spectators even at our top college and club games. I (Oliver) was Temple’s designated captain for the game. Playing in the basic two-back system of the day, the only system the players had ever known, Ed Tatoian put in two close-range goals in the first 12 minutes and Temple’s defense shut down the highly-touted USF attack.

The hard-fought, end-to-end match delighted the spectators. It pitted Temple, essentially a local neighborhood blue-collar team with a direct-style of play against a primarily foreign-born USF contingent (only three of the USF players were US citizens) skilled in ball possession and technique. Bib Lamey, Owls fullback that day, recalls that “San Francisco was kicking us all over the field for the first five minutes. Oliver got us together quickly on the field before a goal kick and said ‘OK, they want it that way, let’s play Kensington soccer,’ and after great pressure, Tatoian’s two goals came within minutes.”

Afterwards, the San Francisco papers again headlined the game “Owls Win National Soccer Crown,” “Owls tip USF for U.S. Crown Before 10,000,” and “Foe to rugged, says USF Pilot.” Several of Temple’s players had won two national junior titles with Lighthouse Boys Club a few years earlier, but they had never experienced the atmosphere created by an entire city devoted to the game. The game atmosphere and the large crowd left little doubt that this was for the national championship, unlike the previous Soccer Bowl.

The game marked the end of the Soccer Bowl matches, with costs of travel cited as the main cause. For example, in 1053, with an undefeated team, Temple looked forward to another Bowl bid. But Temple’s athletic director informed the team that USF’s subsidy offer was too low, and Temple couldn’t afford to send the team to the West Coast or to sponsor a team to come out. Steve Negoesco, USF’s coach for the past 36 years (in 1998), recalled that “USF wanted very much to have a rematch with Temple in 1953, but we couldn’t find a sponsor.”

Dick Packer said that Penn State’s undefeated 1954 team received a telegram from USF inviting the team to a bowl game to San Francisco, but the dean of athletics turned it down as insufficient. USF had the interest, but meager college soccer budgets of the day prohibited underwriting such expense.

Over the next seven years, an ISFAA committee chose the national champions, with only teams from the Northeast in the final running. West Chester did win a hastily arranged post-season tournament in 1955 in what was an attempt to designate an Eastern champion, but plans for a national title game fell through. Navy’s renowned coach, Glenn Warner, organized the first Florida Soccer Forum in 1952, an informal tournament for outstanding college players that continued until 1959 when the NCAA tournament started. I (Cochrane) remember coaching the squads in 1954 and 1958: “We made announcements about the Forum and any player could come. There were no invitations. They paid their own way, and we played whoever showed up. The magic was that some great kids came to play.”

Through polling and the three Soccer Bowl matches, it was apparent that there was interest in collegiate postseason play to decide the issue of which was the collegiate game’s best team. Finally, in 1959, the NCAA officially sponsored its first postseason soccer tournament to determine a national champion.


In 1959, Jack Squires, University of Connecticut coach and chair of the NCAA Rules Committee, devised a plan for conducting the first NCAA Soccer tournament. All sections of the country seemed to welcome the idea. For the first time since the 1952 Soccer Bowl between temple and USF, intersectional postseason competition would determine the official NCAA national champion. After the 1959 season, the four surviving postseason tournament teams — Bridgeport, West Chester and CCNY from the East, along with Saint Louis University from the Midwest — met at the University of Connecticut during Thanksgiving week. Saint Louis, coached by Bob Guelker, marched through the final round to become the first designated NCAA national champion by defeating CCNY 6-2 in the semifinal and Bridgeport in the final 5-2. The Saint Louis team was composed of American players from the St. Louis CYC league, and 1959 represented the school’s first season of varsity play after playing club soccer for several years. The Billikens matched up well against the more highly-touted teams loaded with foreign-born players.

With the triumph of St. Louis, American college soccer players had gained recognition. Soon thereafter, college coaches started recruiting players from cities like St. Louis, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. There they would seek out the native-born players who had come up through the ranks of Sunday soccer. Years later the game emigrated from its principal cities to the suburbs.

Of importance was the fact that this first national NCAA tournament marked a critical milestone; college soccer would never look back.