Jan 7, 2012

Allentown Soccer History

Guest Post by Rolf Oeler

America has long been famously known as the Land of Opportunity for those born both here as well as abroad. And so, once upon a time in a blue collar, industrial city called Bethlehem, a local Hungarian immigrant businessman named WILLIE EHRLICH dared to pursue his own particular vision of American Exceptionalism. A feat many of his contemporary countrymen would have been inclined to believe impossible — to capture a championship in professional soccer using a good supply of homegrown players from right here in the Lehigh Valley.

The upstart PENNSYLVANIA STONERS — employing a trio of products from the local high schools of Freedom and Liberty in Bethlehem as well as Louis E. Dieruff in Allentown — spectacularly made Ehrlich’s dream a reality in just two years’ time when the club captured the American Soccer League title in 1980.
Professional soccer’s popularity in the United States had already peaked by the time the Pennsylvania Stoners contested their first league match and Ehrlich, who was named the A.S.L. Coach of the Year twice, would incur financial losses of almost a million dollars in only three short seasons. But the logo of ALPO, a local dog food manufacturer, delightfully decorated the team’s jerseys while a memorable bumper sticker — “Fifteen Games On One Tank Of Gas” — colorfully adorned the backs of many cars in the area to celebrate the shoe-string budget. And the team was triumphant on the pitch most of the time, as well; in short, it was a whole lot of fun while it lasted.
There can be no question that Ehrlich’s long-gone creation left a lasting legacy which exists to this very day in the Lehigh Valley by fostering an affinity and appreciation for The Beautiful Game to an entire generation of fans in the region — including a certain, unnamed 11-year-old kid who would later play his high school soccer in the very same stadium where the Pennsylvania Stoners used to perform and then, many moons on down the line, get his hands on a blog.
The memories are quite numerous and include a special, rain-soaked evening in April of 1980 on which a franchise record 8,300 people braved the elements at the since-remodeled as well as renamed Allentown School District Stadium (which had a capacity for 20,000 at that time) in the West End to witness the city’s own Polish cannon, ROMAN URBANCZUK, fire the game-winning goal in double overtime as the Pennsylvania Stoners dispatched the visiting Miami Americans 1-0 to open the A.S.L. title-winning campaign. The 21-year-old native of eastern Europe had been honored as a high school All-American at Dieruff on the East Side of town before signing his first pro contract to play the 1978/79 season with the Cleveland Force of the Major Indoor Soccer League. Urbanczuk, who also appeared with the Philadelphia Fever in the old M.I.S.L. during his playing days, would become the one and only player to play every season with the Pennsylvania Stoners during their four-year stay in the since-departed American Soccer League.
Urbanczuk went on later that season to score the only goal of the game at ASD Stadium when the eventual A.S.L. champion shutout the incoming Golden Gate Gales in early August, but that would be another Stoners Story for some other day …
Guest Post by Rolf Oeler


Bernie O'Hare said...

Beautiful story about a beautiful game that is now more popular than football in the Fall.

Anonymous said...

also much more popular than hockey.

Anonymous said...

More popular among whom and where, Bernie?

I agree that many of our youngest athletes in this country play soccer. However, if you would take a poll of adults in the country about which sport is more popular, it still is not close.

ironpigpen said...

... today, the "Philadelphia" Union play in Major League Soccer at PPL Park (capacity 18,500) in Chester.

According to Wikipedia (for what it's worth) --- the PPL Park project was funded by $30 million from Delaware County and another $47 million from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Ed Rendell, Governor).

The total construction cost of PPL is listed at $120 million by Wiki (I pay little attention to MLS but that is another matter altogether).

It is interesting to note that RICH REICE, the former Penn State All-American from Levittown who scored one of the Pennsylvania Stoners' two goals in the 1980 ASL title game, later testified to The Morning Call that the Stoners had been able to draw considerable fans from the Philadelphia area ... Reice had come to the Stoners in 1980 after two seasons with the Philadelphia Fury in the rival North American Soccer League (which overwhelmingly relied on past-their-prime European pros and other foreigners).


ironpigpen said...

Eine was fuer wundervolle Ueberraschung mit diesem Sonntag ... What a wonderful surprise with this Sunday!

WILLIE EHRLICH, a genuine visionary, and his PENNSYLVANIA STONERS were quite revolutionary, even by top shelf European professional standards in existance at that time.

Ehrlich's use of shirt advertisement other efforts to combine with the business sector as well as his philosophy regarding a productive youth policy for the senior professional club are now the model which every pro club in Europe (and everywhere else, actually) tries to emulate.

The club I traditionally follow, Bayern Munich, were one of the very first to have corporate advertisement on their jerseys (Addidas, during the famous 1973-74 season I have been chronicling). Bayern started to get very, very serious about developing youth players and formulating relationships with business during this time period, as well. Nowadays, Bayern are one of the richest clubs in all of Europe, in part because they always have plenty of young talent to consistently sell off and, in part, because they have serious sponsorship pumping money into the club.

It is interesting to wonder what might have been with Mr. Ehrlich in this day and age of a Major League Soccer. I have been to plenty of IronPigs games at Coca-Cola Park (capacity 10,000) when the crowd was 8,300 or so and it is hard not to think back and compare, sometimes. Of course, Ehrlich and the Stoners never got any major assistance from the Government (in the form of a purpose-built stadium)...