Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the soccer competition at 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, remembered for the tragedy at which 11 Israelis were killed by Palestinian attackers.
Affiliates of the Palestinian militant group Black September held 11 Israeli athletes and coaches hostage before killing each one. Two victims were slain early in the morning of Sept. 5, 1972, once the Israeli dormitory had been taken by force. The U.S. soccer players were all housed in the building next door, some 50 yards away. The remaining Israelis were murdered just past midnight on Sept. 6, during a failed rescue attempt at Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base, 15 miles west of the Olympic Village.
The early 1970s were turbulent, replete with deadly protest and terrorist activities. More than 150 U.S. airline flights were hijacked in 1970-74. Americans followed the Munich Olympic chaos during prime time, until ABC’s Jim McKay
solemnly reported the denouement: “They’re all gone.” Then he read aloud A.E. Housman
’s poem, “To Any Athlete Dying Young.” The Games were suspended for 24 hours; German police rounded up other Jewish athletes for their own protection, including American goalkeeper Shep Messing
. When competition resumed on Sept. 7, 1972, the world of sport was forever changed.
The U.S. soccer team had just finished up group play, its first participation in the Olympics since 1956 and last until 1984 when the popular success of the soccer competition at the Los Angeles Olympics was the impetus for FIFA's decision to encourage a U.S bid to host the 1994 World Cup.
was a 23-year-old midfielder on the 1972 U.S. Olympic team. He later became a standard-bearing U.S. player in the North American Soccer League as it grew in the 1970s. He played for his hometown St. Louis Stars, the California Surf and Seattle Sounders before joining the Major Indoor Soccer League's New York Arrows. He retired in 1981 and coached the indoor St. Louis Steamers from 1981-83.
During his playing days in St. Louis, Trost also coached soccer at McCluer North High School . A lifelong educator, he returned to this calling early in the 1990s, eventually amassing more than 350 career wins as the boys and girls soccer coach at Parkway South, where he taught social studies. He was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2006. SOCCER AMERICA: How exactly was the 1972 Olympic squad formed?
There were tryouts held on the West Coast and East Coast, then the [U.S. Soccer] Federation pulled all these players together here in St. Louis. Bob Guelker
was the coach. Julius Menendez
was the assistant. The trainer was Bud Budell
, and I was only able to play in West Germany thanks to Bud. I tore up my knee during a qualification game in Guatemala. Anyway, [team manager] Gene Edwards
and folks from the Federation came in for these tryouts, and they chose the players. It wasn’t too long before we started playing qualification games. Did you know some of these guys beforehand?
There were several from St. Louis: Joey Hamm
, Mike Seerey
, John Carenza
, Buzz Demling
and myself — but only three from SLU [St. Louis University, which won its won NCAA titles in 1969 and 1970 and later won titles in 1972 and 1973]. Otherwise, that was the first time any of us had met. It turned out to be a great group. Very unselfish. A couple head cases, but great guys to get along with ... We would get together for 3-4 practices before we played each of the qualifiers. Guelker was a fitness fanatic and he would really work us —that didn't sit well with some of the guys. Shep Messing didn’t like it, I know that. We were very blessed to have him in the nets, though, along with Mike Ivanow
from California. You guys did well right off the bat, drawing with Mexico, 1-1, in Guadalajara, but you nearly didn’t make it out of the preliminary round.
I meant to look at my scrapbook before this conversation! But yes: We beat El Salvador on penalty kicks. We tied them 1-1, home and away, and we had to play a tiebreaker on neutral ground, in Jamaica — and that game ended in a 1-1 tie. [Trost scored the U.S. goal.] Shep was amazing in that game. He did all sorts of crazy antics during the shootout: He pulled off his shirt, screaming at this one guy [Mario Castro
] — and he missed! We’re looking at all this in the center circle and we’re like, Well, that’s Shep. But it allowed us to advance.
You beat Jamaica in the final group game, 2-1, to qualify for Munich. Did you stay together for the summer?
[laughter] No, no. I think we had one training session! Maybe a week before we left for Germany. I know it was late because we were issued our travel and parade clothes, the suits, all the paraphernalia, at the same time.
* * * * *
The USA had to play 11 games to qualify for the 1972 Olympics
, the most a U.S. team played in a qualifying competition until Concacaf introduced the Hexagonal for 1998 World Cup qualifying. The only game the USA lost was a 3-2 decision to Guatemala on April 16, 1972, in Guatemala City: Standing (L-R): Head coach Bob Guelker, Assistant coach Julius Menendez, Horst Stemke, Steve Gay, Hugo Salcedo, John Carenza, Neil Stam, Al Trost, Mike Seerey, Shep Messing, Mike Ivanow, team manager Gene Edwards, trainer Buzz Budell. Kneeling (L-R): Joe Hamm, Buzz Demling, Manny Hernandez, Archie Robostoff, Mike Margulis, Casey Bahr, John Bocwinski, Wally Ziaja.
* * * * *
The Olympic tournament started well.
We tied the first game vs. Morocco (0-0), and I remember we were very confident afterward. We didn’t know a lot about Malaysia, but we thought we had every chance to beat them and maybe go through with West Germany, who we knew would be excellent. But the Malaysians were like a flock of fleas, buzzing around us everywhere. We just couldn’t stay with them (0-3). Then we played Germany last and, well, the outlook wasn’t good! A number of those guys already played in the Bundesliga. We lost 7-0 and if it weren’t for Shep, it could have been 14-0.
[Morocco thumped Malaysia in the final group game, 6-0, sending the North Africans through with the hosts. Poland claimed the gold medal, besting Hungary, while the Soviets and East Germany tied to share the bronze.] What do you remember from the opening ceremony, from parading into the Olympic Stadium?
We weren’t supposed to attend the parade! Our match with Morocco was the very next day [in Augsburg], after this late-night ceremony. The coaches said, Nah, we’re not doing the parade. And a couple guys said, Uh, yes, we are. My wife and I were married that June, and she came over to West Germany on a tour. We decided to attend but not participate in the opening ceremonies. A couple soccer players did parade into the stadium — but I can’t reveal that information. C’mon, Al: It was 50 years ago. Give it up!
No, I can’t rat on anybody. I honestly don’t remember that much about the evening. It was a long time ago and we had our first game the next day, so we didn’t stay long. And because our group games started so quickly, we were all done very quickly. And that’s when everything collapsed…
We had all been struck from the start by how little security there was at those games, before anything happened. Some athletes, some soccer players, we had curfews — and some would break curfew. But instead of going back through the gates, where we thought the coaches might be waiting, you’d just go around the corner, throw your bag over the fence, and then climb over into the village. And we were all in our sweat suits, of course. The guards would see you sneak in and they didn’t do anything. Then you find out the terrorists got in the same way: Climbing over the fences, in their sweat suits, with their gym bags, which were full of weapons. You know the story from there. Where were you when you became aware of what had happened, what was still happening?
After we finished our three games, my wife and I decided we would get on a bus and do a tour of Vienna. We weren’t supposed to fly home for another week. We were getting on the bus when we heard the announcement of what had happened, what was still going on. And we wondered whether should we should go back. But then I realized the Israeli athletes and coaches were in the next building, directly next to ours. So we asked ourselves, What would we do when we got back to the village? What would we even be able or allowed to do? So we got back on the bus and went to Vienna, where we watched the whole thing unfold on TV, like everyone else. Had the entire U.S. soccer team been housed in the next building?
Yes, about 50 yards away. All of us together. The kidnapping took place at 4:30 a.m. on Sept. 5, 1972. But I gather it wasn’t clear for several hours what was happening.
Most of our guys, like me, were not in the dorm when we realized what was happening. Most of them were in the social part of the village or out in downtown Munich. After we were eliminated, guys wanted to do other stuff, see the track & field and swimming events. We were spread out all over. I can’t speak for everyone, but when my wife and I did get back from Vienna, when the games started up again, it was naturally a completely different atmosphere. It was very difficult to get back into my room for example. The security procedures had changed. Has your life ever intersected with an historical event like that again?
No. For us, for anyone who was there, it was so catastrophic. And we were so young. We just couldn’t believe that suddenly these murders had taken place. Just incredible. I still feel for the families of all those Jewish athletes and coaches who were killed. It was literally unbelievable, in the moment... Once we had returned home, I was in the process of getting my masters [in education]. I was student teaching all over the North County. I remember going into a different classroom each day and everyone wanting to know what had happened — my experience of how horrifying it all was. You had signed with the St. Louis Stars. But when you returned home, it was September of 1972. The season was over.
Right, so everything for me started in 1973.
You were one of the few Americans during the mid-1970s playing in the middle of the field. The NASL quota — two North Americans on the field, at all times — was conceived to place foreign pros beside guys like you. A lot of Americans were stashed at left back and goalkeeper, however. You were the poster child for how the quota was supposed to work!
Well, I’ve never considered it quite that way, but you make a good point. No doubt about the fact that I improved. You want to get better? Play with better payers. And I played beside some great players: Peter Wall and John Hawley from the England. Later our goalkeeper was Peter Bonetti, who just died [in 2020]. Outstanding guy. English national team goalkeeper coach for a while… A lot of folks don’t realize that while most foreign players did come over for the money, a lot of them stayed to develop the game here. Bobby Moffat down in Dallas. Paul Child was another one. Laurie Calloway in California… All through the ’50s and ‘60s, guys from St. Louis were the American players to catch. And we were caught, eventually — and a lot of that had to do with foreign players coming to NASL, making lives here, and coaching Americans players.
You went west in 1978, when the Stars became the California Surf, in Anaheim — where a young Marcelo Balboa was ball boy.
Is that right? Wow. But yeah, from St. Louis, I moved out to California in 1978. That’s when I became a full-time pro. Then I went to Seattle and I played with a bunch of talented English guys up there, too.
Wait. You had been playing in NASL since 1973. You were three times an all-star. You didn’t consider yourself a full-time pro till ’78?
That’s correct. The Americans all had second jobs prior to that point. The foreign players were on short-term contracts for big money. I think most of the Cosmos players were full-time; they had the ownership group to pay their players a bit better. But St. Louis? Nope.
This likely informs your national team travails. In December 1976, you lost a one-game playoff to Canada, 3-0, in Haiti, to crash out of World Cup qualifying. I understand you had a terrible case of food poisoning that day.
How’d you find that out?!
Due diligence, Al.
Yeah, well, it was coming out both ends. I told Walt [Chyzowych, USMNT coach] I’d give it a shot. But at halftime, I couldn’t do it any more. I felt terrible having to quit on him and the guys, but it wasn’t going to work. They were just better than us that day.
I remain a bit stunned that, effectively, you weren’t a full-time pro in St. Louis, maybe the most highly developed soccer culture in the country, at the time.
I wish the ownership group had been so highly developed! I was already teaching and coaching back then. We won a high school state championship in 1974, and I’m very proud of that. Larry Hulcer played for me. We played against Ty Keough [whose dad, 1950 World Cup hero Harry Keough, coached Trost at SLU]. It was a difficult decision to move to California, for my wife and myself. But we gave it a shot.
The NASL quota — did it ultimately help or hurt the development of American players?
That’s a good question, and I don’t know exactly how to answer it. But I suppose I could answer this way: There was a running joke that many foreign coaches would tell in those days. It went like this, “How do we play with two goalkeepers?” I heard that more than once.
Hal Phillips is a journalist and media executive based in southern Maine. His new book, "Generation Zero: Founding Fathers, Hidden Histories & The Making of Soccer in America” (Dickinson-Moses Press, 2022), was published in July. The book’s companion site is www.genzero.halphillips.net
Top Photo: Howard C. Smith/ISI Photos