Howard Ends St. Louis Dream of 3-in-a-Row Soccer Dynasty

Paul Gardner
Date Published: 
The Sporting News

MIAMI, Fla.--Giving notice that it is dissatisfied with its secondary status among NCAA sports, college soccer moved its 1971 championship tournament into the bigtime world of the Orange Bowl.

The result was a game that was worthy of the occasion, but a crowd that was not. Only about 6,000 people were sprinkled around the endless benches of the stadium as Howard University upset favored St. Louis University, 3-2, December 30.

One goal was also the difference in each of the semifinal games. In the first, Howard and Harvard waged a stern defensive struggle for 80 minutes before Howard's Ian Bain scored the only goal of the game. Harvard's attack could make little impression on the tight Howard defense, which turned in its fourth consecutive shutout. Shep Messing's acrobatics in the Harvard goal, however, earned him the tournament's Most Valuable Defensive Player award.

San Francisco Falls

In the other semifinal, the University of San Francisco, studded with talented Latin-American players,took on defending champion St. Louis. St. Louis, with its smooth, relentless, quick-passing game, twice went ahead and twice USF, with flashes of brilliant play, tied it up. The game was settled with five minutes to go, when Mike Seerey volleyed in an unstoppable curling shot from 30 yards out to give St. Louis a 3-2 victory.

The final game matched a team of native St. Louisans against Howard's all-black team made up of eight players from Trinidad, nive from Africa, two from Bermuda and one from Jamaica.

At the dinner before the game, Howard Coach Lincoln Phillips praised the Billikens, looked slowly up from the microphone, grinned impishly and in his Trinidad accent wished them "the worst game you've ever played."

St. Louis U. Coach Harry Keough laughed along with his team, their confidence solidly based on a record of 44 games without defeat, embracing the 1969 and 1970 NCAA championships. One more game and they would be the first to win three in a row.

But then Howard also had an extra stimulus. A victory would let Howard become the first black college to take a major national NCAA title (a number of college-division titles have been won by black schools).

Only nine minutes after the game started, Howard's defense cracked for the first time in the playoffs. A misheaded clearance landed at the feet of Seerey, who banged it unceremoniously into the net.

Within three minutes, Howard pulled even when Alvin Henderson raced in and beat St. Louis goalie Al Steck to a sinking cross from the right. He was knocked down but was still able to hook the ball in while lying on the ground.

Four minutes later, St. Louis was in front again, the result of a perfect piece of execution by Seerey, who took the ball into the middle of the penalty area, drew the defense out and then slipped a pass to Denny Hadican, who gave Howard goalie Sam Tettah no chance. Near the end of the first half, Howard evened the score when Mori Diane sneaked in behind the St. Louis defense and beat Steck from the narrowest of angles.

The first half had seen St. Louis successfully playing its steady, one-touch, ball-control game, while the intelligent off-the-ball running of their forwards definitely had upset Howard's attempts at tight marking. But Howard, with the tireless Ian Bain popping up everywhere, had shown that the Bison, too, could control the ball with precise passing in midfield.

Bullet Shot by Henderson

And it was from a superb piece of midfield interpassing that, just after the interval, they took the lead. Henderson and Stan Smith performed two consecutive give-and-go passes that ended with Smith pushing the ball square across to Henderson, who was unmarked 25 yards out in from of goal.

Henderson hit the ball with all he had, sending it crashing past the diving Steck into the top left hand corner of the net. It was a picture goal, the one that was to decide the championship.

St. Louis continued to press and the Howard defense was hard put to contain Seerey, the Billikens' big center forward. Seerey won honors as the Most Valuable Offensive Player in the tournament. Seerey's father, Pat, once hit four homers in a major league game.

When the elated Howard players at last returned to their locker room, there was no call from President Nixon awaiting them, so they faked one.

"Ah, Mr. President," said Lincoln Phillips into the dead phone, "I'm disappointed. I thought you would call sooner."

That was the only cause for disappointment Howard was to experience that day.