St 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 St Louis Kutis Club – 29 years rushing like the Mississippi in between.
“It all started with the Italians up on the Hill,” said the late Bill Eppy [top row, fourth from left in the photo above] who won the Open Cup in 1957 with St Louis Kutis and passed away last September at the age of 89. “We played on Sundays against guys from up there like Frank [Pee Wee] Wallace, Gino Pariani and Frank Borghi.”
The city’s first flirtation with the Open Cup came in 1920 when St Louis Ben Miller shocked favorites Fore River Rovers of 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 St Louis and its century-strong romance with the beautiful game.
Birth of the St Louis Style
St 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 integrated into St Louis’ traditional sports landscape like 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. And those teams paved the way for the all-conquering St Louis Kutis SC of the 1950s.
“When we started out we were known as the St Louis Raiders,” former U.S. National Team defender Eppy recalled (in 2019) of his first games with the club that later became Kutis SC. He grew up watching the tail end of the St Louis Soccer League’s heroes at Sportsman Park.
“In those days you worked a job and played soccer on the side,” Eppy added. “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 local 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 player 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 that year’s 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,” he added. “It wasn’t the most exciting Open Cup Final ever played.”
The late Eppy had a knack for understatement. He didn’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.
“If I played around with the ball back there, back then, I would have heard it from Harry…”
A Legend’s InfluenceThat 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 St 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 in Brazil – came from the city’s local league.
“Back then we played with four attackers and we had some really good forwards,” Eppy remembered during an interview in 2019, 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,” Eppy added.
A man of precious little ego, modest and quiet, Bill Eppy preferred 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 talked too much about his achievements,” said 61-year-old Joe Eppy, one of Bill’s six kids and an Open Cup Champion with that same St Louis Kutis club in 1986. “He was the silent type. Talking to him, you’d never know he had a basement full of trophies and played in the National Team.”Joe Eppy grew up in a house where soccer mattered, steeped in the traditions alive and maturing in the city of St Louis. “I remember my dad playing when I was little,” said Joe, who makes his living as a certified public accountant.
“Soccer was really engrained here in St Louis and not just in my house, but everywhere,” he added. “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 St 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 St 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.”
The Cup Returns in 1986That 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.
“It was a hot day in June and we played the Semifinal the day before,” Joe Eppy recalled of that summer day in 1986 when it finally came together again 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].”
That ‘86 trophy still sits on proud display in the late Sam Kutis’ funeral parlor, operated now by his own kids and grandkids – and where Bill Eppy’s services were held when he passed in September of last year.
“It’s there. The Cup with the game ball stuck inside it,” said Joe Eppy. It’s not far from where trinkets of his 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’.”
Happy @opencup Third Round Draw day 😊— St Louis CITY SC (@stlCITYsc) April 6, 2023
Joe Eppy didn’t remember a wild celebration after the 1986 win over those West Coast Yugoslavs. “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.”
Fontela is editor-in-chief of usopencup.com. Follow him at @jonahfontela on Twitter.