Published on April 19th, 2015 | by Staples Soccer0
Pele, Staples And “The Beautiful Game”
Fred Cantor graduated from Staples in 1971. He played for Yale University, played many years with the Manhattan Kickers, and — now back in Westport — is an avid Staples soccer supporter. In the 1990s he followed the Wreckers for a full season, and wrote The Autumn of Our Lives about that high school season. Here, he deftly weaves together several intriguing strands of Staples, college and pro soccer, from when the program was young
Many people trace America’s soccer boom to 1975, when Pele signed with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. He himself viewed his role, in part, as that of a soccer missionary to spread the gospel of “The Beautiful Game.”
But a full decade before Pele’s arrival in the US, the relatively young Staples soccer program was already well entrenched in the Westport sports scene. Thanks to Coach Albie Loeffler it was establishing a pattern of success, not just against Connecticut high schools, but also in the world of college soccer — and beyond (with links ultimately to Pele and future international soccer stars).
In 1965, Brian McCoy, a co-captain of the Wreckers’ 1st state championship team (1963), was making a name for himself as a varsity soccer player at Wesleyan. By doing so, he was part of several trends that became key elements of Staples soccer.
Brian was the first of 3 brothers to play soccer at Staples. Over the years, many brother combinations have followed.
Brian was also a part of a long pipeline of Wreckers to play varsity soccer at Wesleyan — roughly 20, at last count.
In 1967, Brian was named a captain at Wesleyan. That’s another honor many Staples soccer alumni have ultimately earned, at a variety of colleges.
In 1965, former Staples co-captain Denis Colacicco was also demonstrating that success at Staples could be transferred to the next level. He was the 2nd leading scorer on an undefeated Brown freshman team. In another 3 years Denis heralded another Staples soccer trend: alums succeeding in the NCAA soccer tournament. He was a key contributor on an Ivy League champion squad that advanced to the NCAA Final Four.
Finally, in 1965 — 10 years before Pele’s arrival in the US — the Staples soccer team enjoyed its 1st perfect regular season. The Wreckers followed that success with an FCIAC title, the school’s 4th in 5 years. The blue-and-whites were well on their way to an unassailable lead in league titles: 27, or exactly half of all FCIAC soccer championships ever contested.
That 1965 Staples team set the table for future Staples success in another aspect too: at least 9 of its members went on to play college soccer.
In 1967, another Staples soccer squad set new benchmarks. It was the 1st Staples state championship team to feature 2 brothers in the starting lineup: Paul and Steve Baumann. It was also the 1st Staples side with 2 future college All-Americans: Chip Young (Brown University) and Steve Baumann (University of Pennsylvania).
Baumann is still the Ivy League’s single-season and career record-holder for assists. After his outstanding college career, Steve became the 1st former Wrecker to join the North American Soccer League, playing 3 years with the Miami Toros.
The 1970 Staples squad set new standards of success. In addition to becoming the 1st Wrecker team to repeat as state champions, it was the 1st to capture FCIAC and state titles in the same year.
It featured an all-senior starting lineup. Perhaps most remarkable is that 12 seniors went on to play college soccer — and 9 became a captain of their college squads!
Two of those players — Tim Hunter and Steve McCoy — were selected for college soccer’s Senior Bowl in 1974. Tim was also named All-American, and played professionally in the NASL. He also became the 1st Staples alum to play for the U.S. national team, and represented our country in the Pan American Games.
The 1971 Staples squad had a new 1st : Shane Kennedy went on to play for 1975 NCAA champion Babson. He also set an NCAA record for career shutouts (and was drafted by the Cosmos).
The 1972 team made its own mark by becoming the 1st undefeated Staples soccer squad: 18-0-1. As evidence of the strong family component that was now an integral part of the Staples program, 3 starting forwards — Paul Hunter, Dana Hollingsworth and Jeff Williamson — were younger brothers of past Staples stars. A fourth starting forward, Dennis Murphy — yes, there were 4 forwards back then — was the first of 4 brothers to play Staples soccer.
Paul teamed with his older brother, Tim, at the University of Connecticut, and won the New England regional title in the NCAA Division I soccer tournament. Paul also attained All-America status, and played professionally in the NASL.
Dana earned collegiate All-American honors as well. He still holds the St. Lawrence University record for career goals. The Dana Hollingsworth Offensive Player of the Year award is given annually at the school’s banquet.
By the time Pele ended his 3-year contract with the Cosmos, it was inevitable that his path would cross with Staples soccer.
In the summer of 1977, a group of Westport youth soccer players coached by Dan Woog (including future Clemson University coach Mike Noonan) took a bus to Giants Stadium to see the incomparable Pele and his teammates. But a local player proved to be as much of an inspiration to the young Westporters. Against a team of international legends — Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia — Tim Hunter of the Connecticut Bicentennials scored the goal of the match.
A month later, another Staples alum providing another source of inspiration. Paul Hunter was a starting defender for the Cosmos. Playing before a crowd of 73,000 at Giants Stadium, he helped Pele reach the championship.
The long, intricate strands of Staples soccer come together in fascinating ways. A Westport youth player who participated in several preliminary games before Cosmos matches was Mark Noonan. A few years later he helped lead Staples to 2 state titles. Noonan went on to be a key member of Duke’s national championship team — the 1st in any sport for that school. Later, as executive vice president for Major League Soccer, he helped the sport reach new generations of young fans.
One final connection in those strands of Staples soccer going back over 50 years: Tim Hunter coached Kyle Martino in the 1990s. Kyle became Gatorade National High School Player of the Year at Staples in 1999, was named MLS Rookie of the Year in 2002, played for the US national team, and is now a highly regarded analyst. He adeptly explains “The Beautiful Game” on NBC Sports Network’s coverage of the Premier League.