Ehrlich’s American Dream Is Allentown’s Reality Show


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America has long been famously known as the Land of Opportunity for those born both here as well as abroad. And so, once upon a time in a blue collar, industrial city called Bethlehem, a local Hungarian immigrant businessman named WILLIE EHRLICH dared to pursue his own particular vision of American Exceptionalism. A feat many of his contemporary countrymen would have been inclined to believe impossible — to capture a championship in professional soccer using a good supply of homegrown players from right here in the Lehigh Valley.

The upstart PENNSYLVANIA STONERS — employing a trio of products from the local high schools of Freedom and Liberty in Bethlehem as well as Louis E. Dieruff in Allentown — spectacularly made Ehrlich’s dream a reality in just two years’ time when the club captured the American Soccer League title in 1980.

Professional soccer’s popularity in the United States had already peaked by the time the Pennsylvania Stoners contested their first league match and Ehrlich, who was named the A.S.L. Coach of the Year twice, would incur financial losses of almost a million dollars in only three short seasons. But the logo of ALPO, a local dog food manufacturer, delightfully decorated the team’s jerseys while a memorable bumper sticker — “Fifteen Games On One Tank Of Gas” — colorfully adorned the backs of many cars in the area to celebrate the shoe-string budget. And the team was triumphant on the pitch most of the time, as well; in short, it was a whole lot of fun while it lasted.

There can be no question that Ehrlich’s long-gone creation left a lasting legacy which exists to this very day in the Lehigh Valley by fostering an affinity and appreciation for The Beautiful Game to an entire generation of fans in the region — including a certain, unnamed 11-year-old kid who would later play his high school soccer in the very same stadium where the Pennsylvania Stoners used to perform and then, many moons on down the line, get his hands on a blog.

The memories are quite numerous and include a special, rain-soaked evening in April of 1980 on which a franchise record 8,300 people braved the elements at the since-remodeled as well as renamed Allentown School District Stadium (which had a capacity for 20,000 at that time) in the West End to witness the city’s own Polish cannon, ROMAN URBANCZUK, fire the game-winning goal in double overtime as the Pennsylvania Stoners dispatched the visiting Miami Americans 1-0 to open the A.S.L. title-winning campaign. The 21-year-old native of eastern Europe had been honored as a high school All-American at Dieruff on the East Side of town before signing his first pro contract to play the 1978/79 season with the Cleveland Force of the Major Indoor Soccer League. Urbanczuk, who also appeared with the Philadelphia Fever in the old M.I.S.L. during his playing days, would become the one and only player to play every season with the Pennsylvania Stoners during their four-year stay in the since-departed American Soccer League.

Urbanczuk went on later that season to score the only goal of the game at ASD Stadium when the eventual A.S.L. champion shutout the incoming Golden Gate Gales in early August, but that would be another Stoners Story for some other day …

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