100 Moments: Archie Stark and America's First Home Game
On Nov. 8, 1925, the U.S. Men’s National Team played its first match on American soil here. More accurately they played on a rain-soaked and muddy Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, N.Y. The U.S. Men had been playing around the world for the previous 12 years and when they finally got the opportunity to play in their own backyard they made the most of it - especially American forward Archie Stark.
In front of 12,000 drenched New Yorkers, the Scottish-born striker undeterred (or perhaps at home) in the rainy conditions led the U.S. to a convincing 6-1 victory over Canada and notched an astounding four goals in his second and final appearance for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Stark’s record-setting performance has since been matched by Buff Donelli in 1934, Joe-Max Moore in 1993 and Landon Donovan in 2003, but has never been surpassed by a fellow American.
Stark’s exploits that day against Canada were no surprise to the American soccer scene in 1925. Over the 1924-25 season with perennial powerhouse Bethlehem Steel, Stark tallied 67 goals in his 44 regular season games, a mark that set a single-season record in American first-division professional soccer that has yet to be threatened by another player. Stark’s four goals against Canada weren’t even his single-game high in 1925. In regular season play Stark notched five goals in a single game for the Steel on three different occasions en route to the finest season ever enjoyed by a goal scorer in American first-division professional soccer.
Stark turned pro at the youthful age of 14, just one year after his family had immigrated to the United States from their home in Glasgow, Scotland. The Starks made their American home in Kearny, N.J., and the young Scot’s career took off immediately. At the beginning of 1912, Stark signed with the Scottish Americans of Kearny in the National Association Football League, where he played for four seasons. Yearly statistics were not recorded so Stark’s goal total early in his career is unknown, but he did score the lone goal in the Scottish Americans’ 1-0 victory against Brooklyn Celtic for the 1915 American Cup.
Stark took a hiatus from his professional soccer career in 1917 due to World War I he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in France, before returning to the States in 1919 where he played for two different New Jersey based clubs, Patterson FC and Erie AA. Stark helped Patterson reach the final of the 1919 National Challenge Cup (now known as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup), only to lose 2-0 to his eventual employers, the Bethlehem Steel.
After several teams jumped ship from the NAFBL to form the American Soccer League, the league was forced to disband and Stark moved from Erie AA to play for New York Field Club. Stark netted 45 goals in his 69 games played with New York FC from 1921-24 before beginning his incredible run with Bethlehem Steel the following season.
In his eight seasons with the Steel, Stark scored 240 goals for the powerhouse club and was referred to by The Bethlehem Globe as the “Babe Ruth of American soccer.” With Stark posting numbers the sport wouldn’t see for another 80 years, the Steel took control of the American soccer landscape, winning the 1926 National Challenge Cup, the 1927 American Soccer League Title, and the 1928 and 1929 Eastern Soccer League Titles.
Meanwhile, disputes between the ASL with FIFA and the USFA known as the “Soccer War” erupted over ASL owners signing European players already under contract in their native countries. The ASL owners proposed to remove the league and all its teams from their USFA affiliation and participation in the National Challenge Cup. Three league teams, including Stark’s Bethlehem Steel opposed the changes and left the ASL to begin play in the Eastern Soccer League.
The Soccer War, followed soon after by the Great Depression, led to the demise of the ASL entirely in 1933 and several of the league’s original teams were gone before that, including perennial power Bethlehem Steel. Even though they were known as one of the richest and highest-spending clubs in the country, Steel were not immune to disbanding and did so in April of 1930.
Stark’s dominant display throughout the 1920s earned him an invite to play for the U.S. MNT at the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay. Stark declined the offer due to business reasons - most professional players had full-time jobs off the pitch in those days and Stark was attempting to get a new automotive company off the ground in Kearny.
Eventually, Stark’s new business was up and running and he was able to return to professional soccer. Stark signed on with the ASL side Newark Americans and played there through the league’s final days.
Stark’s career came full circle when he played his final season in his adopted hometown once again, this time for the Kearny Irish of the new semipro ASL known as the ASL II. Stark helped Kearny capture the league title and added another 22 goals to his career total, good enough for a first-place tie as the league’s top scorer.
Stark retired in 1934 and his records of single-season goals with 67 in 1925, and career goals of 260 in 10 ASL seasons are American first-division pro soccer records that still stand. Stark was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1950 and passed away in Kearny on May 27, 1985, at the age of 87.