There is no question that the stingy defense corps contributed greatly as the PENNSYLVANIA STONERS steamrolled to the American Soccer League title in the summer of 1980. After arriving from the State University of New York at Cortland a year earlier, shot-stopper SCOTT MANNING wasted little time in establishing himself as one of the best in the all the A.S.L. while keeping balls out of the back of the net at the old Allentown School District Stadium. What remains unanswered, however, as the years pass is what might have been for Hungarian immigrant WILLIE EHRLICH’s home-grown side had the military of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics not invaded Afghanistan on Christmas Eve in 1979?
Now, the triumphant Stoners closed out the regular season having conceded a league-low 29 goals in 28 A.S.L. matches but would that have been the case had world history somehow worked out differently?
Ehrlich’s first choice goalkeeper was formally selected to the final United States squad that had managed to qualify for the Games of the XXII Olympiad to be hosted by the city of Moscow. Fortunately for the Pennsylvania Stoners’ owner and trainer, the second-worst President in the history of the Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave had already publically announced that the good ole’ U.S.A. would officially boycott the 1980 Summer Games before the American Soccer League season even started in late April of that year. And so Manning, who easily paced the A.S.L. with a 1.01 goals-against-average per game while saving an impressive 85.47% of shots faced (25 goals allowed) over the course of the 1980 A.S.L. campaign, did not take a break right in the middle of the Stoners championship run and make a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Soviet Unon for the Moscow Olympics.
It is July 20, 1980 — the very first day of competition for the football tournament of the Games of the XXII Olympiad hosted by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The defending gold medalists from the German Democratic Republic and Spain each score within a minute of each other to draw 1-1 in Group C while 100,000 spectators watch at the Republican Stadium in the Ukrainian city of Kiev. Meanwhile, at the massive Grand Arena of the Central Lenin Stadium (103,000 capacity at that time), the home-standing U.S.S.R. thrash Venezuela 4-0 to open Group A.
Thousands and thousands of miles to the west at the modest A.S.D. Stadium (which had a capacity for 20,000 at that time) in the mid-Atlantic region of the eastern United States, one would-be U.S. Olympic team member is warming up with Pennsylvania Stoners as they prepare to meet the visiting Cleveland Cobras in an American Soccer League match.
Thanks in part to a three-goal effort from ROMAN URBANCZYK, the Polish Cannon produced by Louis E. Dieruff High School over on the city’s East Side, the Stoners strangle the Cobras 5-2 in front of a hearty 3,808 spectators.
The 1980 Olympic football tournament will conclude on August 2 in front of a reported crowd of 70,000 at the Grand Arena of the Central Lenin Stadium in Moscow when the East Germans fail to successfully defend their crown in the Gold Medal Match and fall to Czechoslovakia 1-0 on a goal scored in the last quarter hour.
One day later, at the old A.S.D. Stadium in Allentown, the Pennsylvania Stoners get two goals from ADRIAN BROOKS (Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science) and trounce the in-coming Miami Americans 5-0 before a crowd of 3,851 people. Ehrlich’s in-form side are only just embarking on a streak which will see the second-year team win nine consective matches in a row. And, almost needless to say, the goalkeeper Scott Manning is playing a very integral part.
Even with the benefit of hindsight, it is difficult to assess what the absence of the first choice might have meant to the team. For starters, it is difficult to say with certainty how Pennsylvania Stoners management would have elected to address the situation had the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Summer Games not been enacted before the A.S.L. season began. Also, among other things, it is almost impossible to say for sure exactly how far the United States would have progressed at the 1980 Olympic tournament, itself.
But, then again, it is interesting to wonder what might have been …