Three-peats are rare in any sport.
Now imagine doing it in a knockout format tournament, while calling three different cities home and claiming the third title after losing your top goalscorer and starting goalkeeper.
That’s exactly what the Fall River Marksmen/New York Yankees/New Bedford Whalers did in the U.S. Open Cup from 1930 to 1932. Three raisings of the Cup in three different home cities.
In doing so, they became the first team in Open Cup (then called the National Challenge Cup) history, to win the title three years in a row. In all, the club won five titles including in 1924 and 1927.
The Marksmen opened the 1930 campaign with three easy wins, cruising past Lusitania Recreation 5-0, the New Bedford Whalers 5-2 and the Pawtucket Rangers 5-2 – all at home at Mark’s Stadium.
The Eastern final against Bethlehem Steel in front of a crowd between 13,000 and 17,000 at New York City’s Polo Grounds, was no such cakewalk. The Ironworkers had already won five Cup titles, a record the Marksmen would equal in 1932, and this was their third meeting in five years for the Eastern crown.
The men from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania gained the advantage early in the second half, when a cross from Sandy Dick glanced off the head of Fall River’s Bob McCauley and into the net.
Fall River tied the game with eight minutes to go. Alex McNab – twice capped for Scotland before coming to America – got on the end of a cross from Bill McPherson, went around a Bethlehem defender and fired a left-footed shot that goalkeeper Tommy Fraser had no chance of stopping.
Bethlehem thought they had the winner in the dying moments when legend of yesteryear Archie Stark had the ball in the net. But after much arguing by the Fall River players and a discussion between referee Charles Creighton and linesman Fred deGroof, the goal was chalked off due to a handball.
Thirty minutes of extra-time did not settle the matter and, according to the custom of the day, a replay was arranged at Battery Park in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Second Try Ends Bethlehem’s Reign
The replay differed considerably from the original. Despite a tight 3-2 finish, the game was dominated by the Marksmen. Two of American soccer’s biggest stars opened the scoring for their respective teams. Adelino ‘Billy’ Gonsalves found the net three minutes into the second half for a Fall River lead. Stark then responded to tie it a few minutes later, but Dave Priestly once again put Fall River on top. Stark’s second goal equalized again, setting the stage for Bobby Ballantine’s game-winner.
That victory set the stage for the first of three straight Finals for Fall River, while the loss was the last hurrah for the great Bethlehem dynasty, crowned Open Cup champions five times between 1915 and 1926. The steelmaker, a giant of American industry, announced not long after that it would discontinue its all-conquering soccer team.
The championship series opener against Bruell’s Insurance of Cleveland at the Polo Grounds was all but a walkover. Fall River’s Jimmy McCauley bagged a hat-trick before the game was seven minutes old. McNab added a fourth and Werner Nilsen three more before the first half was up. The Clevelanders scored twice in the second half as Fall River let up after taking a seven-goal lead.
The second game of the best-of-three set, a rain-soaked affair at Cleveland’s Luna Park, was tighter – but Fall River emerged 2-1 winners thanks to a late free-kick. After Fall River native Bert Patenaude (in stripes and jumping in this story’s lead photo) was fouled, McNab hit the post with his shot, which completely fooled Cleveland goalkeeper Alfred Ramsay. The ball rolled across the mouth of the goal, finally settling into the other side of the net.
Cleveland had taken the lead on a late first-half goal by George Phillips. Jim MacCauley scored the equalizer shortly thereafter.
A New (In Name) Soccer SuperpowerIt was indeed the Fall River Marksmen who entered the 1931 U.S. Open Cup competition in the fall of 1930. But by the time they were competing in the Semifinals and the Final, fallout from the era’s so-called Soccer War and financial difficulties due to the Depression had forced owner Sam Mark to merge his team with the New York Soccer Club and move it to the Empire State.
There they played under a new (and familiar) name: the New York Yankees.
Although Mark was a promotional genius, and had built a stadium for his soccer club just yards over the Massachusetts state line in Tiverton, Rhode Island to avoid the Bay State’s blue laws, the Great Depression had a devastating impact on the city. The mills it depended on were already moving south in the late 1920s, and the 1929 stock market crash all but sounded the death knell for Fall River.The Massachusetts city itself would declare bankruptcy in 1931.
The newly named Yankees advanced to the Open Cup Final with a 6-1 rout of the Newark Americans in front of a crowd of 8,000 at the Polo Grounds.
Bill McPherson began the Yankees’ onslaught with a goal inside the first minute and another one seven minutes later. Patenaude made it 3-0 before 15 minutes were up, and James White and Gonsalves – born in Fall River and dubbed the Babe Ruth of American Soccer – made it 5-0 before the half was over.After two successive corners to open the second half, Johnny Rollo finally pulled one back for Newark, but the free-scoring Patenaude added his second of the game for the final count.
The Yankees continued their goal-scoring onslaught into the opening game of the Open Cup Final series against the Chicago Bricklayers on April 5 in front of a crowd of 12,000 at their Polo Grounds home base.
Patenaude, a star on the 1930 United States World Cup team and scorer of that tournament’s first hat-trick, had perhaps one of the finest individual performances in the history of American soccer that day. He scored five of the Yanks’ goals, giving them a 3-0 advantage by halftime.
Overall, Patenaude scored 19 goals in 10 Open Cup matches that year.
The Brickies came back in the second half, getting goals from Clem Cuthbert and Johnny Greenlees to close the gap to 3-2. But a disallowed goal by Cuthbert, and two more by Patenaude left the result at 6-2.
Scoring was at more of a premium a week later, on April 12, when the two sides met at Mills Stadium in Chicago and played to a 1-1 draw in front of 9,500 fans.
Five minutes before halftime, Yankees captain McNab sent a cross to Gonsalves, who headed past Brickies' goalkeeper Vic Neate to make it 1-0. Neate made a pair of great saves on Gonsalves to open the second period. Chicago got on the board twelve minutes into the half, when Greelees was fouled and fullback Bob Gregg converted the penalty kick. The score remained tied at 1-1 following a 20 minute added period, setting up a decisive third game the following week.Playing with ten men because McNab suffered a broken arm in a game the previous day in Detroit, the Yankees took the lead 15 minutes in on another goal by Patenaude, who shot just out of the reach of Neate. Later, after Patenaude was fouled near the edge of the box, Gordon Burness scored from close in.
The 2-0 win gave the former Fall River Marksmen their second straight U.S. Open Cup title. The team moved back to Massachusetts in the fall of 1931 and played as the New Bedford Whalers, winning a third straight Open Cup title in the spring of 1932.
And they did it without their key offensive weapon of the two prior Cups, as Patenaude decided to stay in New York and sign up with the New York Giants.
Three-peat Complete as the WhalersWith the steady presence of Reder between the posts, the Whalers gave up only one goal in their first three Cup contests, beating the Boston Bears 5-1 and the Pawtucket Rangers and Hakoah All-Stars (1-0).
The Cup Final against Stix, Baer and Fuller of St. Louis, who were a year away from starting their own three-peat, proved to be the toughest battle of all.
The Whalers rolled past Patenaude’s Giants 5-3 in the Eastern Final at the Polo Grounds. Goals by Tommie Florie, Gonsalves and Johnny Caldwell made it 3-0 before halftime. New York’s McGhee got one back just after the interval, but McPherson made it 4-1 and Gonsalves added a second to make it 5-1. New York was awarded two penalty kicks in the final minutes. Gallagher hit the bar with the first one, and Slaven sent the second past Reder, who was making his last appearance with the Whalers before signing a contract with the Boston Red Sox.
Werner Nilsen gave the Whalers a 39th-minute lead at Sportsmen’s Park. Within two minutes however, the home side tied the game through Eddie Hart. Jack O’Reilly put Stix up 2-1 before the half.
Late in the first half, McPherson equalized, forcing two periods of extra-time. The first 15 minutes were scoreless, but McNab – his arm fully healed – gave New Bedford the lead in the second period, only for Willie McLean to equalize late.
With the replay scheduled for Sportsman’s Park, the entire New Bedford team, save for Johnny Caldwell, remained in the Mound City for the week.
The Whalers came out in the second game with a vengeance, outshooting the St. Louis side 27-11, including 15-3 in the first half. Even with that, the game was scoreless through the first 45 minutes. But the New Bedford onslaught finally paid off with goals by Tec White, Werner Nilsen, Gonsalves, McPherson and Florie – the game ending in a 5-2 rout.
Even as they were on their way to winning a third straight championship in as many different markets, the Whalers were again seeking greener pastures, this time eyeing a move back to the New York area to take up residence in the borough of Brooklyn.
While the foundering American Soccer League (ASL) was in favor of the move, the United States Soccer Football Association wouldn’t allow it. Not long after the Whalers hoisted the Cup for the third time in as many years, they, and the original American Soccer League, ceased to be.Charles Cuttone is a writer/author, historian and three-time winner of the National Soccer Coaches Association writing award.