Saint Louis Kutis & a Father-to-Son Cup

With USL Championship side Saint Louis FC among the underdog darlings of the 2019 Quarterfinal round, join ussoccer.com for a look back at the Gateway City’s long tradition in America’s oldest soccer tournament (and its father-and-son winners of 1957 and 1986).
Jonah Fontela

Saint Louis, Missouri’s Open Cup roots run deep. Nowhere is that tradition clearer than in the Eppy Family, where father (Bill) and son (Joe) lifted that same old trophy with the same Saint Louis Kutis Club - with 29 years rushing like the Mississippi in between.

“It all started with the Italians up on the Hill,” said 87-year-old Bill Eppy [top row, fourth from left in photo above] who won the Open Cup in 1957 with Saint Louis Kutis. “We played on Sundays against guys from up there like Frank [Pee Wee] Wallace, Gino Pariani and Frank Borghi - all those guys who went to the World Cup in 1950 in Brazil and beat the English there. A huge part of that team was from Saint Louis.”

  • Saint Louis Kutis’ ‘Butch’ Cook in the 1957 U.S. Open Cup Semifinal

The city’s first flirtation with the Open Cup came in 1920 when St. Louis Ben Miller shocked favorites Fore River Rovers of Quincy, Massachusetts. And the rest is history – American soccer history to be precise. In all, the city can claim 12 Open Cup titles spread out among seven teams and nearly 100 years. Only clubs from California, New York and Pennsylvania have more Open Cup crowns than Missouri and that’s all thanks exclusively to the city of Saint Louis and its century-strong romance with the beautiful game.

Saint Louis’ brand of soccer was born near Saint Ambrose’s Church in an ethnic neighborhood, but it spread out fast through the city’s Catholic Youth Organization. Parish and school teams popped up all over the city and its outskirts in eastern Missouri, where it hugs the Mississippi River. By the middle of the last century, soccer was engrained and integrated into Saint Louis’ traditional sports landscape as perhaps no other place in America.

Through the 1920s and 30s, the city’s teams began to flex their muscles in the Open Cup. Clubs like Stix Baer & Fuller, Vesper Buick, Scullin Steel, Central Breweries, St. Louis Shamrocks and Simpkins-Ford dominated with titles and multiple Finals appearances. There was no denying that Saint Louis had grown into an American soccer power. And those teams paved the way for the all-conquering Saint Louis Kutis SC of the 1950s.

 
  • Kutis legends (left to right) Bob Burkhard, Harry Keough, Rich Meisemann & Ruben Mendoza

“When we started out we were known as the Saint Louis Raiders,” remembered Bill Eppy, a former U.S. National Team defender, of his first games with the club that later became Kutis SC. He grew up watching the tail end of the Saint Louis Soccer League’s heroes at Sportsman Park. “In those days you worked a job and played soccer on the side. You didn’t get paid, but you might get a nice Christmas present when the holidays rolled around.” 

A Funeral Home & the Birth of Kutis

In the early 1950s, when Eppy joined up, a new club sponsor came on board. Tom Kutis, who operated a Saint Louis funeral parlor, gave the club his name and an American soccer legend was born. The club won seven straight National Amateur Cups in that decade and collected a pair of Open Cups over a 50-year history.

Eppy was a no-nonsense defensive midfielder and he missed out on Kutis’ 1954 loss in the Open Cup Final to the NY Americans because he was bouncing from base to base doing his military service. He returned to play a critical role in the 1957 side that demolished New York Hakoah 6-1 over two legs in the Open Cup Final series.

“It wasn’t much of a party for the team from New York,” said Eppy, who worked as a machinist for South Side Machine Works while doing his part in Kutis’ seven consecutive Amateur Cup runs. “I remember they didn’t really have a chance in the game. It probably wasn’t the most exciting Open Cup Final ever played.”

  • Bill Eppy – far right – coaching Kutis in the 1970s

Eppy, enjoying his retirement, has a knack for understatement. He doesn’t make a big deal of the fact that his Kutis side was so good in 1957 that the U.S. Soccer Federation simply signed them all on the spot to represent the United States in World Cup qualifying. All they had to do was change their shirts.

What Bill Eppy remembers best are the differences from then to today. “The game’s so different now,” he said. “I see guys today passing the ball around their own penalty area. The last thing I wanted to do was jack around with the ball near my own goal. You make a bad pass back there and it’s Good Night Irene, so I’d just get it the hell out of there. If I played around with the ball back there, back then, I would have heard it from Harry…”

That Harry is one Harry Keough, legend of the American game and a teammate of Eppy’s in that outstanding Kutis team of 1957. Such was the quality of soccer coming out of Saint Louis at the time, five members of the Starting XI of the USA’s 1950 World Cup team – the one that famously beat the English – came from the city’s local league. The likes of hero goalkeeper Frank Borghi, Captain Keough, enforcer Charlie ‘Gloves’ Columbo, Gino Pariani and Frank Pee-Wee Wallace all hailed from Saint Louis.

  • The 1986 Open Cup-winning Kutis team

“Back then we played with four attackers and we had some really good forwards,” Eppy remembers, not laboring much on the celebrations and the lifting of the Cup or the one-sided 6-1 scoreline in the 1957 Final. “Harry [Keough] ran the whole show and we had it set up so that we scored a lot of goals.”

Bill Eppy hung up his boots at the age of 38. “I had five kids by then!” he said of his decision to quit the game that had brought him so much. “It wasn’t fair on my wife to stay home and look after all those kids while I went off the Germany or Mexico or wherever to play. Enough was enough and I had to give her a break!”

A man of precious little ego, modest and quiet, Bill Eppy prefers to rattle off the names of his teammates. “Ruben Mendoza, he was some player. We had Butch Cook. God knows what his real first name was. And there was Harry [Keough] of course and Looby and Herman Weckie,” he pondered the names, his voice drifting back in the mists of those old days. “I don’t remember lifting the [Open Cup] trophy, but I can bet you it’s back there in Kutis’ funeral parlor with all the rest.”

Second-Generation Eppy & Cup Winner

“My dad isn’t the kind of guy who talks too much about his achievements,” said 57-year-old Joe Eppy, one of Bill’s six kids and an Open Cup Champion with that same Saint Louis Kutis club in 1986. “He’s the silent type. Talking to him, you’d never know he’s got a basement full of trophies and played in the National Team.”

  • Another team photo of the 1986 Open Cup champion Kutis team

Joe Eppy grew up in a house where soccer mattered, steeped in the traditions alive and maturing in the city of Saint Louis. “I remember my dad playing when I was little,” said Joe Eppy, who makes his living as a certified public accountant now. “Soccer was really engrained here in Saint Louis and not just in my house, but everywhere. I’d go to my dad’s games growing up and then when he was coaching Kutis, I’d go see those games too. Seeing that kind of molds you a little bit and you get a sense of what it’s all about.

“My father was there at the Saint Louis Soccer Park [the venue hosted six straight Open Cup Final Fours from 1984 to 1989] when we won the whole thing in ’86. He came down on the field after it was over,” said Joe Eppy, of that moment when two generations of Saint Louis’ soccer history were joined. “He didn’t say much except to congratulate me and say we had a good team and that we did a fine job. But thinking back, it was a pretty amazing thing to have climbed the same mountain he did like that.”

That 1986 title didn’t come easy. Joe Eppy had to work at it. “We were desperate to win it,” he said, relief still in his voice recalling their two losing trips to the Final in 1983 (a 2-0 loss to a NY Pancyprian Freedoms side that Eppy said “defended us to death” and then again in 1985: “That time it was a the Greek Americans, from California, who beat us.”)

  • Banner from the San Pedro Yugoslavs, who Kutis beat in the 1986 Open Cup Final

“It was a hot day in June and we played the Semifinal the day before,” Joe Eppy recalls of that summer day in 1986 when it finally came together for Kutis. “We were pretty gassed from playing two games in two days, but I still remember how good it felt to get that monkey off our back [Kutis beat the San Pedro Yugoslavs 1-0 for the 1986 Open Cup crown].”

The 1986 Open Cup trophy still sits on proud display in the late Sam Kutis’ funeral parlor, operated now by his own kids and grandkids. “It’s there. The Cup with the game ball stuck inside it,” said Joe Eppy. It’s not far from where trinkets of his own dad’s glory days still sit, behind glass and taken out only for a respectful dusting now and then. “It’s kind of weird. Someone will die and I’ll get a call from someone telling me ‘Hey I saw your picture and the old trophies up there in the funeral home’.”

Joe Eppy doesn’t remember a wild celebration after the 1986 win over those West Coast Yugolsavs. “It was a Sunday and we all had work the next day,” he said, remembering back. “But I think I remember going into work with a hangover on Monday. I think a lot of us did.”