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It Happened in Jersey: Soccer



After the Red Bulls lost goalkeeper Jon Conway to a 10-game PED suspension in 2008, fans in the Meadowlands held their breath as unknown Danny Cepero took the field in his MLS debut, against the Columbus Crew. Cepero was drafted in 2007 as an All-Ivy as a senior for Penn, and inked a developmental deal with club. He bounced around Europe and the U.S., gaining experience in anticipation of making the big club. Which he finally did, in the autumn of 2008.

Just before the half, Cepero made a nice save, deflecting a header by Ezra Hendrickson over the crossbar o preserve a scoreless tie. After Juan Pablo Angel scored for the Red Bulls, Columbus tied the game at 1–1. Angel made it 2–1 with a goal in the 76th minute. Seven minutes later, the Crew pushed a ball over the back line, giving the Red Bulls a goal kick.

Cepero’s kick took off, sailing over the Columbus defenders and landing inside the front of the penalty box. Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum either misjudged the distance of Cepero’s kick or its high bounce (probably both) and the ball bounded over his outstretched arm and into the goal. It was the first goal by an MLS keeper in the league’s 13-year history.

At first, Cepero was confused by the roar of the crowd; he had no idea what he had done. When he asked teammate Kevin Goldwaithe, “Did that just go in?” and was told Yeah, Cepero wondered, “Do I get credit for it?”

“Absolutely!” said Goldwaithe.



The Italian national soccer team wasn’t used to facing elimination in group play, but that’s exactly where coach Arrigo Sacchi found himself after the Italians were upset 1–0 by Ireland in their opening match. With a solid Mexican team in the same group, a loss to Norway would have punched Italy’s ticket home. The two teams took the field at Giants Stadium on June 23rd before 74,624 fans, all chanting I-TAL-IA throughout the game. Both countries were known for their stingy defenses, playing conservatively until an opponent left an opening to counter-punch. Italy was especially adept at thwarting attacks with its off-side trap.

Norway hadn’t produced a single shot in the first 20 minutes when their best player, Erik Mykland passed through the trap to Oyvind Leonhardsen, who was speeding unchecked toward the Italian goal. Gianluca Pagliuca had no choice other than to go out and meet him. The keeper dove horizontally with his hands out. He deflected Leonhardsen’s shot with his left hand and tripped him in the process. It was a great play except for one problem: Pagliuca was outside the box.

The referee gave him an automatic red card (and automatic ejection)—the first ever bestowed on a goalkeeper since the World Cup began 64 years earlier. Italy was allowed to replace Pagliuca, but had to take another player of f the field. To the horror of most of the fans, the player trotting to the sideline was superstar Roberto Baggio. Across the Atlantic, an entire country was certain Sacchi had lost his mind.

Baggio was playing on a sore Achilles tendon. Still, the move was a huge risk. Sacchi was benching the team’s slowest (but also its most feared offensive) player in order to solidify the defense. He also was saving Baggio assuming the team would need him at 100% if they made it out of Group play. When two other Italian stars—Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini—limped off the field, Norway was almost guaranteed a 0–0 tie and possibly a victory. The only was Italy could score would be on a set play, which meant the Norwegian defense simply couldn’t commit a foul near the goal.

Which is just what it did. The referee whistled Norway for a rough play about 10 yards to the left of the penalty area. Giuseppe Signori, bent a perfect free kick into the goal mouth, where Dino Baggio (no relation to Roberto) headed the ball in for the game’s only goal. Italy survived to play another day. In fact, they made it all the way to the final, where they lost on penalties to Brazil.



One of the most consistent powerhouse teams in New Jersey soccer was Elizabeth SC. The team was formed in 1924 by German-Americans, and over the next three decades absorbed other clubs in Union County and also expanded into other sports, including bowling, fencing and track—and began a women’s sports division. Continued growth in the years after World War II led to its first national soccer championship, the 1949 National Amateur Cup.

ESC’s state soccer titles included seven New Jersey State Cup champions—the first in 1950 and the last in 1989. The club also won the Cosmopolitan League crown seven times between 1938 and 1973. In 1970, ESC captured the National Challenge Cup, now call the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The team won again in 1972. Elizabeth’s Under-19 soccer team won national titles in 1987 and 1988. In 1999, the club sold its playing field to a land developer and discontinued its soccer program.

Patersonfc1923The first New Jersey Club to win a national title was Paterson FC (right), which captured the National Challenge Cup in 1923. The club was started in 1917. The publicity of the 1923 victory attracted the attention of furrier Maurice Vandeweghe. He purchased the club and moved it to the Bronx, where it played as the New York Giants from 1924 to 1930, and as the New York Yankees for a year before relocating to New Bedford Massachusetts. Vandeweghe’s son, Ernie, was a basketball star for the Knicks in the 1950s. Ernie married Colleen Kay Hutchins—Miss America 1952—and fathered NBA All-Star Kiki Vandeweghe and his sister Tauna, who swam in the 1976 Olympics. Her daughter, Coco, is a Top 20 tennis player.

In 1937, the Trenton Highlanders became the first New Jersey team to win the National Amateur Cup. They were invited to play in a three-team tournament held in Dallas at the Pan-American Olympics, forerunner of the Pan-American Games. The Highlanders were joined by the Winnipeg Irish club from Canada, and the national team of Argentina. The Argentines dominated, defeating Winnipeg 8–1 and Trenton 9–1. The Highlanders lost their game with the Irish, 3–2.


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