Three clubs in the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Field enter this year’s competition with their trophy cases on equal footing. The recent histories of MLS sides Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders FC are well known - each has won four titles since 1998 - but the two Open Cup giants again have company this year in New York Greek American SC, four-time winners themselves, and one of the few holdover amateur clubs to compete regularly in the tournament’s “Pro Era”.
Tickets for New York Greek American SC vs. Jersey Express at NJIT Stadium in Newark, N.J., are $10 at the gate. Kick-off is Scheduled for 8 p.m. ET.
The Greek American Soccer Club was founded in 1946 by Greek immigrants who had settled in New York City following World War II. Eventually the club joined New York’s German American Soccer League and was promoted to the First Division in 1958.
Prior to the sport’s current boom, ethnic clubs were key in building the post-war soccer history of the United States. In New York alone, the Greek Americans were joined by the likes of New York Hungaria, German Hungarians, Brooklyn Italians and Austrian club New York Hakoah, all of which were importing professional players seeking to make more money in the United States.
“Because of certain situations back in Europe, some of the different ethnic clubs in New York were able to import very good players,” said Greek American historian Nick Notaridis. “Greek players coming over at that time were making very little money and they were happy to come here, work in the fur business for instance and get paid 50 dollars to play a game. Teams at the time were very talented.”
Chief among the prominent imports to the Greek Americans was former Aris Thessaloniki and Greek international Alkis Panagoulias, who played for the Greeks from 1962-1967 before coaching them to their first three National Challenge Cup (now U.S. Open Cup) titles from 1967-1969. Panagoulias left the club in 1971 to become an assistant for the Greek National Team before taking the head job from 1973-1981. After a short stay as manager of club giants Olympiakos, he returned to become U.S. National Team head coach from 1983-1985, and led the USA at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
New York Greek American SC has developed a winning tradition through the years since its founding in 1941.
Then there are the goal scorers, like former Panathinaikos striker John Kosmides. With the score of the 1967 Open Cup final with Orange County tied at 2-2, Kosmides came off the bench to tally two second half goals, and lift the club to its first National Challenge Cup in front of 2,500 at the Eintracht Oval in Astoria, New York.
Bob Haztos, another former Panathinaikos striker and future American Soccer League MVP for the Greeks in 1971, tallied the decisive goal in the second leg of the 1968 final win over Chicago Olympic (2-1 on aggregate).
And then there is Dennis Nanos, a constant on the score sheet in each of the team’s finals during their-three-peat run, tallying in the first half of the 1967 win, the 1-1 first leg draw with Chicago Olympic in 1968 and then the decisive 90th minute winner in the club’s 1-0 victory over Montabello Armenian’s of Los Angeles in 1969.
Five years later, a new wave of Greek American players won the club’s historic fourth National Challenge Cup with Roberto Illenes and Tibor Vigh scoring the goals in a 2-0 victory over Croatian SC of Chicago in 1974.
Community Support and Present Day
At a time when the Greek National Team had yet to qualify for a FIFA World Cup or UEFA European championship, the club in New York was carrying the torch for the country’s soccer exploits.
“We hadn’t won anything at that point,” said Notaridis. “But here in America, we’re winning the Challenge Cup and the club is making news back home with former Greek stars. Long before the Greeks were European champions in 2004, they were champions of America four times,” he joked.
And with their success and the waves of immigration, fan support from the Greek community in New York was ever-present in those times according to club president George Mellis.
“The winning teams, the good players and the huge immigration of Greeks to New York in the 1960s and 1970s all combined for great support of the club in those times. It would be normal to have 5,000 people for matches at the Eintracht Oval.”
As Greek immigration waned and professional clubs began to take a foothold of the American game, the highest attendance for New York Greek American matches these days is usually 500-600 when the club plays Hellenic rivals New York Pancyprian Freedoms or renews its rivalry with the Brooklyn Italians.
Recent vintages of New York Greek American SC continues to draw support from the community and keeps alive long-standing local rivalries.
Despite less folks in the stands, the Greek community in New York still lends its support. The Greek newspapers regularly cover the team’s exploits in the U.S. Open Cup and Cosmopolitan Soccer League while the community lends its support through various fundraisers held at the club house in Astoria, Queens where reminders of the club’s past exploits are there for all to see.
“Every new player that comes to us comes to the club house,” said current Greek American head coach Stavros Zomopoulos. “They see all the pictures of the teams that won the cups, there’s a big poster-size photo of the team that won the three in a row 1967-1969. Everybody’s aware of the history of the club. It’s wall-to-wall with photos from the past and all the cups and trophy cases. You can’t run away from the history – you feel part of the club. You’re aware of it, you see it and you’re told about it. It is part of everything for us.”
While he won’t have a team of former Greek pros and national team players, the side Zomopoulos will run out in Wednesday’s First Round match at Jersey Express does have some talent at its disposal.
“We try to keep a steady core of players that that play with us over the years,” said Zomopoulos. “They’re the former pros, college players or aspiring players who are about to go to college and good enough to showcase themselves. We try to build from having a very strong reserve team. If we need to, we bring up players as needed.”
Former New York Red Bulls forward and Puerto Rico international Chris Megaloudis leads the side up top while Zomopoulos will also call upon former Dayton Dutch Lions midfielders Christian Camacho and Keith Detelj to serve as leaders of his team.
The side also features forward Elliot Firth, whose coming off of winning the Colonial Athletic Association’s Player of the Year award, as well as his former teammate and center back Tyler Botte.
It’s a long shot that the amateur club can go and win a record-tying fifth U.S. Open Cup trophy. Still, it remains the goal every year.
"That goal was passed from decade to decade to all of us,” said Mellis. “Every year when we start and even today with MLS and all the pro teams, our goal is to win the Open Cup and make more history for Greek Americans.”
|Affiliation:||USASA (Cosmopolitan Soccer League)|
|Pro Era Appearances/Record:||5th Appearance (1-4-0)|
On Feb. 9, 2013, the U.S. Women’s National Team kicked off the new year with a 4-1 victory against Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida. Christen Press, then 24-years-old, was responsible for two goals that day, scoring in the 13th minute and adding another in the 32nd to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at halftime.
The early goal was Press’ first for the USA, coming in a match that was also her first cap.
Becky Sauerbrunn hugs Christen Press in the aftermath of Press scoring on her WNT debut.
Earning that first cap is special for any player, but a debut and a goal in the same game? That’s a rare feat. In the 30+ year history of the U.S. WNT 21 players have scored in their first caps.
NOTHING TO LOSE
Press’ path to that first game three years ago was an interesting one. In early 2012, she made the decision to move to Sweden after U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer folded. Press thought leaving the country might negatively impact her hopeful National Team career, but little did she know, it was only just beginning.
“I think just because I always thought that the National Teams would be watching the American league, I thought that going abroad was kind of like saying goodbye to my dream of playing for the National Team,” recalled Press. “I left around this time, in February, and I thought I would not get a call, I sort of thought that I would fall out of U.S. Soccer’s radar.”
As it turns out, head coach Pia Sundhage kept tabs on players in Europe, especially in her native land of Sweden. Press got off to a hot start with her new club, and it wasn’t long before she was on her way back home.
Press returned to the U.S. and joined the WNT in Florida in April during the final stretch of what had been an intense fitness camp. She kept to herself and tried to quickly learn as much as possible despite only being there for five days.
“I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It was my first camp, it was warm and I was so happy. I don’t think I spoke to anybody. I was not nervous, I was just happy to be in Florida and my dream was coming true. I’m always quiet when I don’t know my surroundings, so I just kept to myself trying to learn the rules, how to behave; it was all so quick.”
That short stint turned out to be the only one for Press before she was named an Olympic alternate in 2012. The following February, Tom Sermanni took over as WNT head coach, and it was then Press learned she would start against Scotland. Her chance had arrived.
“I went on the field, the crowd was so much bigger than I’d ever played in front of, and for me it was so much bigger than life,” said Press. “But I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m confident, I’m a good player and I believe in myself.’”
Years and multiple goals later, plus one Women’s World Cup title to her name, the dream is alive and well for Press.
Press celebrates scoring her first World Cup goal against Australia in the USA's opening match of the 2015 Women's World Cup