By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Feb 12, 2018) US Soccer Players – Establishing soccer in New York City isn’t just an MLS problem. For all the communities and clubs, producing a dominant team has never been easy. Consider how much the New York Cosmos had to spend for their brief run of relevance in the 1970s. It’s an old story, with lots of teams trying to bring championships to New York. One of those was Brookhattan. Based in New York City, the club was founded in 1933 and played in the American Soccer League.
After the original ASL’s collapse in 1933 following the onset of the Great Depression four years earlier, Brookhattan and the New York Americans helped in the formation of a new ASL. Before the start of the 1938-39 season, the team dropped “New York” from its name and simply became known as Brookhattan.
Throughout the 1940s, Brookhattan was one of the most-successful clubs in the country. The team won the Lewis Cup, awarded to the winners of the ASL’s league cup, in 1942 and 1945. Brookhattan captured the treble after also winning the ASL title and National Challenge Cup, the precursor to the US Open Cup, in 1945. Brookhattan featured many star players of the time, including George Barr, Jack Hynes, and Teddy Glover. All three men would later be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
The 1945 season marked the pinnacle of Brookhattan’s success. While the ASL struggled as players went off to fight in World War II, Brookhattan rose above the rest thanks to MVP Steve Rozbora. They won the league title, edging out the Philadelphia Americans by just two points in the standings. Brookhattan also won the Lewis Cup and the National Challenge Cup that year. On the road to the Challenge Cup final, Brookhattan defeated the New York Americans in the first round, Kearney Irish in the round of 16, Baltimore Americans in the quarterfinals, and Brooklyn Hispano 5-4 in overtime in a riveting semifinal. In the two-leg series to decide the trophy, Brookhattan beat the Cleveland Americans 4-1 on June 10 at home and 2-1 on the road.
“The main thing that it did have going for it was longevity. Not many ASL teams lasted a quarter-century… Brookhattan was important to the ASL in the sense that it was always there, year after year, but it didn't really win very much outside of that one great year,” said soccer historian Roger Allaway.
When coffee importer Eugene Diaz, who had owned a team called New York Galicia, purchased the club in 1948, he changed the name to Brookhattan-Galicia. The same year Diaz decided to bankroll the unified club, Brookhattan reached the National Challenge Cup final, coming out of the East bracket, only to lose to Simkins Ford of Missouri 3-2, in the final.
Brookhattan’s legacy is a mixed one. Allaway said there were other teams at the time far more successful. “During the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s, the ASL was dominated by teams from Philadelphia and Kearny, N.J. There were usually two teams from Brooklyn each year – Hispano and Wanderers – and two from the Bronx – Brookhattan and New York Americans – but they tended to take a back seat to teams from Philadelphia and Kearny,” Allaway said. “In the 1920s, the best ASL teams were from New England. The Fall River Marksmen team that won the same triple in 1930 was a far better team than 1945 Brookhattan.”
While the team didn’t always win trophies or finish first in the ASL, it did feature some of the country’s best players during that era. The team that lost the 1948 final featured none other than Joe Gaetjens. The Haitian-born forward, who played for Brookhattan from 1947 to 1950, would go on to star for the United States at the 1950 World Cup. His now-legendary goal against England helped the US win 1-0, which remains one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history.
Gaetjens had originally come to the United States to study accounting at Columbia University on a scholarship from the Haitian government. He could not make a living playing soccer alone – where he earned about $25 a game – and decided to take a job washing dishes. At the same time, he proved to be a prolific scorer in the ASL. During the 1947–48 season, his first in the league, Gaejtens scored the second-most goals of any player with 14. During the 1949-50 season, he was the league’s top scorer – with 18 goals in 15 matches – and in the process earned a spot on the National Team after committing to become a US citizen. Although he never did get an American passport (FIFA rules at the time allowed for this), Gaetjens eventually moved to France to play professionally and later back to Haiti. He is believed to have been killed in 1964 by the country’s secret police on orders from dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Gaetjens’ body was never found.
Gaejtens was just one example of how the team’s roster reflected the diversity of New York City. Cuban-born Pito Villanon, believed to be the first black player in the ASL’s history, played his entire 11-year career at Brookhattan, retiring in 1958. During the 1952-53 season, Villanon, a striker, scored 12 goals and finished as the league’s top scorer and MVP. Another star player, Rudy Kuntner, was also one of the ASL’s best strikers. Born in Austria, Kuntner moved to the US as a child and later helped Brookhattan win the treble. He also had a day job as an electrician – and later stage manager – at New York’s famed Metropolitan Opera. Kuntner had also earned two caps with the National Team in 1928 as part of the Olympic team. Back then, the Olympics counted as full international games.
Brookhattan-Galicia became Galicia SC. Before the start of the 1961-62 season, the merged with the amateur club Honduras to become Galicia-Honduras. The side finished a dismal seventh in the eight-team league that season and withdrew from the league. Brookhattan was lost to history until a 2013 revival as an amateur club. Brookhattan’s website says the club – which features the team’s original logo – is “quintessentially and decidedly non-glamorous, championing grassroots and amateur soccer.” The club has not been forgotten by a new generation of players and fans this time on the fields of Brooklyn.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
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