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Since we borrowed the game from a bunch of other countries, it was fitting that the NCAA soccer championship last week was a Mixmaster of nationalities. Cornell's leading scorer was from Ecuador, UCLA started enough Ethiopians to staff Haile Selassie's palace guard, and the home countries on Howard University's roster read like the itinerary of a Caribbean cruise ship. Even the St. Louis Billikens—whose members regard anybody from across the city line as a foreigner—added international flavor: they wore jerseys bought wholesale from a dealer in Guadalajara.
So the scene in Miami should have been one of purest peace and harmony, good fellowship through sport and all that sort of thing. But no. In fact, the tourney took on Olympian dimensions in ill will. The often ragged and occasionally brilliant play was punctuated by angry charges of racism, extracurricular kicking and elbowing and one donnybrook that proved soccer is not always a no-hands game. When it was all over, all-white, all-Catholic, all-citizen St. Louis had won its ninth championship in the 14-year history of the event—and had sent two of its players to the hospital.
The key to the 1972 title came in the semifinals when St. Louis met all-black Howard, the team that had won the Orange Bowl final last year to end a 44-game Billiken winning streak. This time St. Louis won 2-1 in sudden-death overtime on a header by Dan Counce, marking the first Howard loss in 31 games.
Howard brought out a fine stand of foreign students for the occasion: Stan-field Smith of Bermuda, Ian Bain of Trinidad, Desmond Alfred of Tobago, Amdemichael Selassie of Ethiopia and Mario McLennon of Jamaica, and all of them displayed fancy footwork. But Coach Lincoln Phillips, from Trinidad, had even more devastating players on the bench, most notably his countryman Keith Aqui, last year's leading scorer. In fact, seven men on Howard's team had been accused of violating NCAA eligibility rules on various counts.
"It took both St. Louis and the NCAA to beat us," Phillips complained after the game. "The NCAA took this game away from us. But that's to be expected. It's pretty evident that a black school is not supposed to win." At a soccer luncheon the next day he attacked again, saying that St. Louis had only beaten "the remnants of Howard University"; that the NCAA was "guilty of practicing racism"; that Howard was having to buck a "racist system" in the U.S. When he finished, his team gave him a standing ovation.
"I'm not apologizing for sending my team out to win a soccer game," said St. Louis Coach Harry Keough, who got a standing ovation from his squad the minute he stepped up to the microphone. "I'm sorry politics affects other teams."
With all that steam blown off, the way seemed clear for a pleasant final match on Friday night between St. Louis and UCLA, which had edged Cornell 1-0 in the other semifinal. The Billikens and Bruins had met in the 1970 final and St. Louis had won a close game. Now, the two teams were quite different: St. Louis was completely homogeneous, its players having battled with and against each other since youth soccer days in their various parishes. The Californians, however, started five Ethiopians, including a sheepherder's son named Shoa Agonafer, plus one Colombian and two Mexico-born Chicanos.
The coaches had little in common except the sport itself. UCLA's Dennis Storer, an articulate Englishman, directs both rugby and soccer. His rugby teams have regularly been the best on the West Coast and the Bruins' five-year soccer record going into last week's tournament was 72-7-4. "Our success in rugby and soccer would have made quite a stir at most places," he said, "but it hardly makes a ripple at UCLA."
But success in soccer does make a stir in St. Louis, where Harry Keough gets $2,500 a year to coach in what spare time he can find from his job as a post-office supervisor. Keough is married to a native of Mexico, speaks fluent Spanish and uses his family's annual trip south of the border to buy inexpensive uniforms for the team. But so far he has not needed to pick up any Latin goalies or fullbacks. "We're a little smug, I guess," he says. "We think if we get the best players from St. Louis, we'll do all right."
Less than 5,000 fans turned out in the Orange Bowl for the final. Too bad; the stay-at-homes missed almost as much-hard hitting as the stadium was to experience three days later in the Nebraska-Notre Dame football game.