McGuire Cup: A Stale Bore

By Paul Gardner

I'm trying to retrieve my memories of past McGuire Cups. Sometime in the 1970s (I think) I saw a final -- inevitably it featured a team from St. Louis -- probably two teams from St. Louis. I think it was Imo’s Pizza that won it.

The only recollection I have is of a relentless workmanlike team, made up of very stocky-looking, all-white athletes. That was St. Louis soccer in those days. I’d already seen quite a lot of it before at the college level, when it was usual for St. Louis University, or maybe Southern Illinois, to sweep up the Division I title.

St. Louis University was coached by Harry Keough -- the same guy who’d played for the USA in that famous 1950 World Cup victory over England -- and I don’t think I’ve ever met a nicer guy in soccer. Which made it difficult to go to him and criticize his team’s players.

So I cleverly disguised the criticism. I pointed out that his players had small numbers on their shirts, that there was also a diagonal line running through them, and this made it almost impossible to identify his players. We joked about it, and soon -- probably the following year -- Harry gleefully pointed out to me that the numbers were bigger. Fine -- then I owned up that the reason I needed the numbers so urgently was because I was having trouble telling his players apart. They all seemed to me to look the same, to be built the same, and to play the same. Harry demurred, of course.

But that was how I saw St. Louis soccer. Obviously, my criticisms didn’t cut much ice. Why would they when St. Louis clubs were winning everything in sight, including 13 out of the 16 McGuire Cups played between 1960 and 1975?

Things changed in 1976. A club from Annandale, Virginia took the crown. St. Louis was losing its monopoly grip on youth soccer, a new wave of youth soccer clubs, generated by the NASL, was entering the picture. Annandale took the trophy again in 1982, and in 1986 it was the turn of California’s Fram-Culver, which I still think of as the best McGuire Cup team.

I saw the next two finals, ‘87 and ‘88, both won by New Jersey’s Union Lancers, coached by Manny Schellscheidt. The point being that the soccer was now much more stylistically varied -- and, for my tastes, much more enjoyable.

All of that is much in my mind at the moment. I watched the most recent McGuire Cup final over the past weekend -- FC Delco Hammerheads vs. Columbus Crew Academy -- and could hardly believe my eyes. Yes, I might just as well have been watching any of those 1970s St Louis teams. Big, all-white, athletic guys playing fast, aggressive physical soccer.

Over thirty years separates my memory of St. Louis soccer in the 1970s and last week’s game -- but my feeling is that the St. Louis teams were better. Marginally.

OK. The McGuire Cup is not what it used to be -- it no longer features the best teams, who reserve their efforts for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy championship. Even so -- these were two established, highly coached, teams. And where was the soccer?

Nowhere. It is pointless to single out any players -- indeed, that is a major part of the problem, because this was soccer without personalities ... back to the days when I was bewildered by the St. Louis look-alikes and play-alikes, complaining about not being able to read the St. Louis numbers.

I have no doubt that every Delco player and every Crew player did his best. But the fact that their best has not moved forward from where we were 35 years ago is not encouraging.

I assume that these are all college players. Certainly this bore the indelible stamp of a college game, and not a particularly good one. To put it another way, this was typical of the white, middle-class suburban soccer that has become the staple feeder line for college soccer. Unimaginative, frantic, monotonous in its banality and its inability to show even a flash or two of something different, something other than honest running and hard work and scrappy battles to gain possession of the ball.

I will name a player. Not from this game, but a player from the past. He was on the Union Lancers team in 1988. Richie Williams, now an assistant coach at the New York Red Bulls. Coach Schellscheidt told me back then: “If people ask what does a good soccer player look like, I say ‘Look at him.’” And looking at Richie you would have seen a player of a mere 5-foot-3 and 135 pounds. Richie doesn’t look much different even now, apart from the graying hair. But there was no sign of a Richie Williams in this year’s McGuire Cup final, no sign of a smaller player who could, indeed would have to, rely on something other than sheer strength.

If I believe the constant MLS publicity about how important the college draft is, then MLS should be very worried. But I’m not that inclined to believe all the MLS hype about the draft because they surely have to know it’s approaching a farce. Sadly, this McGuire Cup final in no way represented, even came close to representing, the soccer talent that we have in this country. A game with only one goal, that on a set piece. A game with, in the first half, just two shots on goal.

And I wonder just how the coaches, Delco’s Alan Mezger and Columbus’ Brian Bliss -- to say nothing of their players -- can possibly be satisfied with such a no-frills, barren version of the world’s No. 1 sport.

17 comments about "McGuire Cup: A Stale Bore".
  1. rich levy, July 28, 2010 at 11 a.m.

    as part of the Lancer coaching staff at the time Paul is spot on.What he neglected to mention was that Bob Bradley ,yes the same Bob, was the training director of the team for Manny.
    The bottom line is that Coach Bradley does,in fact,know what good soccer is.It is to find those players that read and play the game the right way. not just kicking and running.

  2. Georges Edeline, July 28, 2010 at 12:17 p.m.

    I remember the great St Louis teams, under Harry Keough; the glorious WC'50 US victory over soccer power England; & of course the sole scorer of that match, NYC-based Haitian-American Joe Gaetjens.
    Having coached a fairly capable D1 team for a decade, in the 70's, & attended at least 20 of the last 22 D1 Final 4 week-ends, I tend to agree w/ Paul on several points.
    The game has not changed much; starters are big & strong; the tactical & psychological aspects are gaining more momentum...
    Watching UVA win the last championship was a good example of how much of a factor intimidation can play in distracting the players of a more technical & superior squad.
    However, the same approach failed to work in WC'10 between Holland & Spain? The Spanish were determined to stick to their game, rightly so, until the end.
    Do we coaches want to keep the game as enjoyable as possible for players & spectators, or is winning everything, perhaps even "the only thing?"
    The officials play a very important role, of course, & can help in preserving the beauty of the game by discouraging out-of-line(dirty) intimidation.
    Go Akron!
    Viva Espania!

  3. Jorg Will, July 28, 2010 at 12:51 p.m.

    I agree with Paul, the brand of soccer has not been elevated in the U.S. I believe part of the problem exists with club teams expected to win at all costs, this is the only way they are measured by the parents paying the money for their kids to play. The emphasis needs to change to making the kids better soccer players with better skills, winning needs t be a goal, but not the only one. The other issue I see is that the colleges, especially NCAA D1 schools, try to find the biggest, fastest and most physical players, and these are the ones that the MLS drafts. My son played at Columbia College, an NAIA school, that had a number of foreign players that were older and had exceptional skills. He had the opportunity to play at a D1 schol, but chose NAIA instead, because of the level of play. I believe he benefitted greatly from playing with these players and having to become better skilled himself. I have often wondered why the MLS does not look at NAIA schools to draft some of their players. They older and more skilled right out of college, and in my opinion play a much more refined game. My son had a club team coach that stressed skills at every practice and made sure the boys learned and used those skills. I heard my son tell his young cousin the other day that at the time he believed it was dumb to practive skills at every training session, but now he sees the benefit of it and that it helped him to earn a college scholorship and play ta that level. So there may actually be some hope out there.

  4. David Sirias, July 28, 2010 at 12:53 p.m.

    Paul, I know a lot of people rag on you for being negative, but I for one want you to continue calling a spade a spade. Everyone knows the best players of that age group were not there, but that does not mean, for example, the Columbus Crew Acedemy should not have at least a few players who are valued for their skills and brain more than their size. Wash rinse, repeat.. Keep up the pressure Paul.

  5. Jim Paglia, July 28, 2010 at 1:15 p.m.

    Paul, I enjoy your perspective in SA online and especially agree with your assessment of the McGuire Cup game. I think the same conditions were evident in the US team at the U-20 Women's World Cup. The US effort lacked creativity, and imagination and instead relied on power, needless passing, and speed (without an equal measure of skill) until the Nigerians proved to be as speedy. Has the sport regressed or just failed to advance in this country? The more coaching in this country "advances," the worse it seems to get. US coaching is motivated by the wrong factors (career advancement and revenue) in a system that rewards winning at any cost over teaching and truly developing talent.

  6. David Ter molen, July 28, 2010 at 1:43 p.m.

    A nice and thought-provoking column. There's the suggestion, though, that boring soccer can partly be blamed on players who Paul labels in the aggregate as middle-class, suburban, big and white. Such "suburban" players are not a monolith and they all don't play alike simply because they "look alike." In other words, we shouldn't assume that certain attributes and playing styles are embedded in white suburban players. Paul's implication is that a team with more Hispanics or other persons of color would bring a certain flair and style of play that "boring" white suburban players lack. But in the suburbs, I see great technical skills, diverse styles of play, and many creative players. I also see the kids who lack technical skills and finesse but get by on strength and atheticism. In other words, top players in the suburbs have a range of skills and talents, some of which are more favored by soccer purists. Simply put, we shouldn't paint with too broad a brush by suggesting that all white kids play boring soccer and all Hispanic kids play a more beautiful game.

    The dangers of over-generalizing are obvious. A coach who wants to play a more elegant game might not select kids based on their individual skills and talents but instead be (a) predisposed to select Hispanic kids based on the assumption that they inherently have the requisite skill set, and (b) biased against white kids based on the belief that all they know is boring soccer.

    I do agree with Paul's comments on size and that many coaches at the youth levels overlook smaller players because they don't fit the "mold" in the coach's mind -- i.e., a strong and "athletic" player. Hopefully the style of play will improve and the "kick and run" mentality -- which a coach might feel is ideal for big, fast and strong players -- will give way to a more elegant style of play which favors a wide-array of talents.

  7. James Froehlich, July 28, 2010 at 2:04 p.m.

    This is a red letter day for me! Paul's column and all of the above comments are a delight to read. On many of the soccer blogs I feel lost in a wilderness of soccer fans who have little interest in improving the overall level of play. They are often either Euro-snobs who could care less about the state of US soccer or else they are so mesmerized by one game or one tournament that they fail to note the poor level of play. --------------------- A special note to Ric F: dead on comment about BB. What happened to the coach of the Chicago Fire who fielded a skillful, quick passing team. Where did he go???

  8. gene obrien, July 28, 2010 at 4:27 p.m.

    I played in the 1982 McGuire Cup finals and my team (Datagraphic, Atlanta, Ga.)lost to Annandale in penalties. Have yet to recover from the loss.

    Paul, thanks for bringing the pain back.

  9. Carl Walther, July 28, 2010 at 6:54 p.m.

    From the way Paul described the way they played, I assume all of these college players want to play for England.

  10. Barry Ulrich, July 29, 2010 at 5:43 p.m.

    Wimpy passes continue to be the downfall of US teams. Consider the first ManU goal! We may know how to control the ball, but crisp accurate passing seems to elude us. What, if anything, do US coaches take back to their training sessions after they've seen a debacle like the one last night. Do they completly ignore the erratic, aimless (unless they somehow thought the guys in Red were on their side) and weak passes and continue teaching players to send the ball as long as they can kick it?

  11. Gregory Dougherty, July 29, 2010 at 7:04 p.m.

    Well, for the sake of balance, I'll take the other side of the argument. When I was growing up, the kids who were too small or not athletic enough were the ones who played golf, rugby or soccer. But, as these sports have gained popularity, bigger and better athletes have started to discover these games. 20 years ago, Tiger Woods would have been a running back, a point guard or a shortstop. Instead, he's the best athlete on the PGA Tour. The same thing happened to rugby, where 20 years ago the players were smaller than football players, but are now bigger and faster. It's also the case in soccer. These superior athletes are changing the game and 20 years from now, there will be little room for a 5'4" quick little guy, because the 6'2", stronger guys will be just as quick and talented. This is a wave that we should embrace, as we Americans tend to be bigger and stronger than most other countries. Let's celebrate our natural advantage and use it to change the game in a way that benefits us. Forget recruiting hispanic players and other internationals, let's be proud of who we are, what we bring to the game and how we can use our skills to dominate the game.

    I agree that the small, shifty, quick, creative player is fun to watch. But if we can focus on developing much bigger players who are just as shifty, quick and creative, the game will be ours. Stop living in the past. Let's take what we have and use it to our greatest advantage.

  12. Gregory Dougherty, July 29, 2010 at 8:15 p.m.

    OH, and I also watched that McGuire Cup final. I thought the all-star team that Crew put together was far more direct and far more boring than the PA team. The PA boys showed some nice creativity, they varied their attack, they moved players all over the field like the Brazilians often do and they possessed the ball well, playing in 3's and 4's. They just couldn't knock any balls in the net, repeatedly failing to connect on countless balls into the scoring area. The Crew defended hard, but showed very little soccer acumen. I went into the game thinking the Crew would be far more impressive, given all the highly touted talent they had on the field, but that's not what happened.

  13. Brian Herbert, July 30, 2010 at 11:03 a.m.

    Good article, however let's not create the impression that big and athletic frames are bad, that white is bad, that making strong challenges (within the law of the game) is bad, they are not bad. What's bad is the way the system still tends to shut out coaches with different approaches, creativity on the ball, short crisp and rapid passing, and players with the body frame of a David Villa, Wesley Sneijder, or Leo Messi. How many Messi's have our US coaches already failed to reward, motivate, and develop?

  14. Joe Hamm, July 30, 2010 at 11:17 a.m.

    Paul Gardner was crusty 40 years ago
    and I resent other comments that the St.Louis U team that beat UCLA in 1970 and 1972 dependent upon 'strength'.
    I played in both games. The final in Edwardswille was played on a sunny 40 degree day, and the field was a carpet, and not frozen. UCLA had an excellent team, and it is a game I will never forget.

    I guarded an Ethiopian who had at least 20 more pounds of muscle than me.
    This is the first time I have heard that the ball was over the line in the goal in the 1970 final. Also, I remember UCLA coach stating in Soccer America after the 1972 game, that his team needed a few feet to play in, and that SLU did not allow that. While we were not as technically skilled dribbling as some of the foreingers we played against, we could play one or two touch and find openings for thru balls as well or better than others, probably because we grew up playing small sided games in concrete Catholic school yards. The last 15 minutes of each game was ours because of our superior conditioning and our will to win. Coaches Keough and Pelizzaro treated us with respect and trained us to be in game shape. The other college teams from St.Louis at the time, FloValley, UMSL, SIU-e, Quincy, Rockhurst were right there with us, and gave us as good competition as any foreign team. Once college season was over, the St.Louis mens league provided weekly competition from December to June. Of course the NCAA stopped all of that.

  15. craig sofital, July 30, 2010 at 6:19 p.m.

    First of all, U19 soccer is tough because the boys have all had a year of college, and then come home to play with their old buddies, but with very little practice. Add to that the all-star team that Crew put together and those boys played more games together than they had practices together. That's a big reason they did not impress. I was at the game and I agree with an earlier post that the Delco team was much more fun to watch. The big blond haired forward from princeton, who someone there said had won the USSF Academy U18 final with Carmel United last year, was all over the field, playing center mid, outside mid and even dropping back to left back at one point. Delco made runs from everywhere, tried some cheeky flicks, made some nice crosses, just failed to score. Not sure how Paul could have not enjoyed watching them play. They were small, crafty, tough and attacking from all angles.

    Of the final four U19 teams in kansas, all but the Oregon team played U18 USSF Academy soccer last year, so these were the best teams we had to offer, even though some of the best U19's were off at Milk Cup. The best player I saw all week was the oregon forward who plays at Santa Clara - one tough hombre. I enjoyed the final, even though I couldn't help rooting for the team that lost.

  16. Michael Seerey, November 3, 2010 at 1:51 p.m.

    I wanted to set the record straight regarding the play they lead to the winning goal in 1970 NCAA final. I had the best view in the stadium that day. I sent the cross into the box for the game winning goal. I can tell you the ball never crossed the touch line. This is the 1st time I ever heard anybody say it did.

    Mike Seerey
    St Louis University
    NCAA Champions - 1969,1970,1972

  17. Don Copple, May 23, 2013 at 5:38 p.m.

    My memories of the 1970 NCAA title game are quite vivid. I was the goalkeeper for St. Louis University. I differ considerably with Mr. Fonseca's version of the game. First of all the field was not rock hard. I am very attuned to hard fields, being a keeper. It was not hard and was all grass, reasonably high enoough for December in the midwest. Also was not terribly cold, 40 degrees and extremely windy, up to 25 mph winds from end to end. It was same windy conditions 2 days earlier in semifinals with 60 degree temperature. UCLA had no trouble then as they scored 4 goals against Howard. Fans being close to action had no ill effect on game or goalkeeper play. Personally I love the fans as close as that. Mike Seerey who made goal winning cross has already indicated that the ball was never out of bounds. Your coach, Dennis Storer was asked for quote after the game and had nothing to say. He had plenty to saw after his semi-final victory against Howard. "St. Louis is fine team, but we will score goals" he said. "They will not shut us out". Not a smart move by Storer. We used those comments as an extra incentive. One should never give their oponent an extra reason to beat you. His pride would not alow him to keep his opinion to himself. In truth UCLA never came close to scoring in actuality. They had two very hard shots from at least 30-35 yards out with the wind. But at such a distance no matter how well directed they were, I had no trouble gathering them in. They also had a long head ball where I was somewhat out of position, but it missed the post by 2 feet. The only close shot they had was from edge of penalty area and our full back easily blocked it. Not once did UCLA have control of the ball on the attach inside the penalty area. In fact for the last quarter we were playing against the very stong wind. You would have thought that UCLA would be on the attack. But our guys out in the field played keep away from UCLA for most of the last 15 minutes. They were not in the condition of our guys. This was quite clear to me. Coach Keough described them as not as mobile as the SLU players. I did'nt see the buring desire to win from UCLA. As difficult as it was to distribute the ball by throwing by me as it was with the stong winds, they never even intercepted one of my throws, which is not a testament to my abilities, but to a lack of their desire.

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