Stoners Expansion Season Lays Foundation For Title To Follow


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ORMAND CUMMINS on the ball for the Pennsylvania Stoners seeks to split the pair of Columbus Magic defenders as Stoners forward ROMAN URBANCZUK (far left), who made his professional debut with the Cleveland Force in the Major Indoor Soccer League, anticipates a pass during the 1979 American Soccer League contest at the Franklin County Stadium in the capital city of Ohio.
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PENNSYLVANIA STONERS founder WILLIE EHRLICH, a survivor of the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp, was absolutely no stranger to overcoming adversity. In direct comparison to some of life’s other, by far, more difficult challenges that the Hungarian immigrant businessman had already had been forced to contend with, the task of putting together a professional team from scratch to compete in the American Soccer League must have seemed to be not much more than a relaxing walk in the park, really. A former professional player, himself, some twenty years earlier, Ehrlich would prove to also be an astute judge of talent while also serving as the trainer of the expansion club.

MATT BAHR, an All-American placekicker for the powerful Penn State University football team, was easily the player with the highest profile to sign on with the fledgling Stoners in the spring of 1979. The soon to be 23-year-old had already spent the summer of 1978 on the backline for the Colorado Caribous (24 games, 3 assists) and Tulsa Roughnecks (2 games) in the North American Soccer League before returning to Happy Valley for his senior season on the football gridiron as well as the soccer pitch. Bahr’s stay with the Pennsylvania Stoners in the ASL would last only into July, however, when the 6th round draft pick (# 165 overall) of the Pittsburgh Steelers departed the West End of Allentown for his first training camp with the National Football League club.

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Future Pennsylvania Stoners fullback MATT BAHR (3) of the Colorado Caribous can not deny the ball to New York Cosmos attacker GARY ETHERINGTON (21), the English-born winger who moved to Virginia while in high school and ultimately earned six caps for the national team of the United States, during a 1978 North American Soccer League match at Giants Stadium on the other side of the Hudson River in that state of New Jersey.
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Two recognizable local products from next-door-neighbor Bethlehem were also quickly recruited by the Stoners with the additions of Liberty High School aulum BOBBY EHRLICH, who had been a teammate of Bahr with the successful Penn State soccer program, as well as Freedom High School graduate RON OST, who had gone off to New England to pay his collegiate soccer at Harvard University. Another homegrown talent to be found on the first year roster for the Pennsylvania Stoners was 20-year-old ROMAN URBANCZUK, who had cut his professional teeth with the Cleveland Force during the 1978/79 Major Indoor Soccer League season, from Dieruff High School on the East Side of Allentown.

Logically, Ehrlich looked to strengthen his new team with players already having at least some professional experience and nabbed versatile ART NAPOLITANO, the 23-year-old who played eight NASL games with the Houston Hurricane in the summer of 1978 and then spent the subsequent winter in the MISL with the Pittsburgh Spirit. It had been Napolitano who scored the headed the first goal of the championship match when little Hartwick College from upstate New York defeated the mighty University of San Francisco 2-1 to win the 1977 NCAA Tournament Final. The Pennsylvania Stoners also inked the very same winger who had scored the all-important second that day for Hartwick College, STEVE LONG, the native of Zaire who had grown up in Brazil.

BLAZ STIMAC had been a star at East Stroudsburg State College in northeastern Pennsylvania and then netted eight goals in 17 games for the Cleveland Force during the 1978/79 season. 22-year-old KEITH TOZER (State University of New York at Oneata) had just completed his rookie pro season for the Cincinnati Kids, whose owners included Cincinnati Reds baseball superstar Pete Rose, during the 78/79 MISL campaign. And, the Pennsylvania Stoners also acquired 23-year-old midfielder FLORIAN KEMPF (University of Pennsylvania), like Bahr, another future National Football League placekicker who had gotten four games for the Philadelphia Fury during the 1978 NASL season.

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Would-be 1980 United States Olympic goalkeeper SCOTT MANNING, who enjoyed an excellent rookie season in the American Soccer League with the fledgling Pennsylvania Stoners, minds the net for the Buffalo Stallions during a Major Indoor Soccer League match at the since-demolished Buffalo Memorial Auditorium in the winter of 1979/80.
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The would-be American Soccer League Coach of the Year both 1979 and 1980 also made some astute signings from the collegiate ranks, as well. Goalkeeper SCOTT MANNING (State University of New York at Cortland) was brought in by Ehrlich as first choice between the sticks for the Stoners and finished third in the eleven-team ASL circut for save percentage in his rookie season. Liverpool native JEFF TIPPING, who had been chosen as Defensive MVP for Hartwick College at the 1977 NCAA tournament, also arrived in Alentown and would become an all-star defender while wearing the captain’s armband and anchoring the backline for the Pennsylvania Stoners. Another find was, 19-year-old JOHN O’HARA, who had just two seasons under his belt at the University of Pittsburgh but, ultimately, went on to play seven seasons of pro ball in the MISL with the Pittsburgh Spirit, Cleveland Force and Minnesota Kicks.

The player who would actually pace the Pennsylvania Stoners in scoring for the maiden voyage across the sea of professional soccer in the United States did not arrive in Allentown well after the 1979 ASL season had already started. CHRISTIAN NWOKOCHA, who eneded his career at Clemson University in South Carolina as the ACC school’s all-time leading scorer with 61 goals, had first signed a contract with the Memphis Rogues of the NASL. But the Nigerian managed to strike but once in five matches for Memphis and so it was off to ASD Stadium in the city’s West End.

Nwokocha quickly found his form in a Stoners shirt, however, and ended up tied for third-best in the league having shot 13 goals in just 21 ASL contests; the expansion Pennsylvania side, in the meantime, saw off the visiting Cleveland Cobras 3-1 in front of 6,224 spectators (the second largest crowd of the season) at the old Allentown School District Stadium to conclude their inaugural professional campaign. A mark of 13 wins and 10 losses with five draws was sufficient to earn Ehrlich’s club a berth in the playoffs, but that is another Stoners’s Story …

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Striker CHRISTIAN NWOKOCHA (right) was just the first of several talented, one-time Clemson University products to travel north and sign with the emerging Pennsylvania Stoners of the American Soccer League … no fewer than four ex-Tigers would take part in the Stoners’ title-winning campaign of 1980.

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