Decades ago Harrison, New Jersey, was a key part in the growth of American soccer, the region of northern New Jersey that was known as West Hudson. The last professional team to play in Harrison was in 1923, the same year as the last U.S. Open Cup final was played there.
Although the area was not the birthplace of soccer in America, It may have been just to the south in New Brunswick, N.J., where the game that has often been called the first game of American football, but which actually was soccer, played between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869. Or it may have been Boston, where a game was played in the early 1860s that could have been an early form of soccer.
American college students were very enthusiastic about soccer in the early 1870s, particularly at Princeton (NJ) and Rutgers (NJ). But as the colleges were abandoning soccer in favor of American football, the recent immigrants like the British in New Jersey and New England and the Irish in St. Louis were there to take up the slack.
How the Kearny-Harrison area became a center of American soccer is connected to the story of the American Industrial Revolution and was built on the foundation of the immigrant population. In Kearny, it was the Clark Thread Company, which started in Newark in 1866 and expanded to Kearny in 1880, a huge Scottish company, from Paisley, Scotland.
Clark Thread Company formed a team named ONT, that stood for Our New Thread, a product whose name was a cornerstone of Clark's marketing efforts through the 20th century. ONT was the first champion of the American Football Association (AFA) formed in 1884 in Newark, New Jersey. Thomas Hood of Kearny was chosen as the first president of the AFA, which at the time was the only "national" soccer association in existence outside the British Isles. In 1885, ONT became the first winner of the AFA Cup, beating the New York Club, 2-1. It won again in 1886 and 1887.
Also in 1885 the United States played Canada in Kearny in the first full international game ever played outside the British Isles. This game, on Nov. 28, 1885, is not today recognized by the United States Soccer Federation has having been a full international, because it was played before the formation of the USSF in 1913.
Although Kearny's heyday as a focal point of American soccer ended more than 50 years ago, it has continued to produce good soccer talent right up to this day. Two of the greatest names in American soccer, current New York Red Bulls Assistant Coach John Harkes and current New York Red Bulls Goalkeeper, Tony Meola, grew up there and were teammates at Kearny High School.
Prior to 1922, the top league was possibly the National Association Foot Ball League, which had teams primarily in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The West Hudson Club was formed in Harrison which was more varied in its ethnic makeup than Kearny and in 10 seasons, won either the AFA Cup or the NAFBL title 8 times. West Hudson is the first team to win "the double," which means winning the country's top professional league title and its national cup title in the same year. West Hudson won both the AFA Cup and the NAFBL in 1912. In the cup final, it beat Paterson Rangers, 1-0. West Hudson won the AFA Cup in 1906 and 1908. The team from Harrison won the NAFBL a total of six times in 1907, 1909, 1910, 1912, 1913 and 1915.
In its last few seasons, West Hudson made its home at Federal League Park, a 20,000-seat stadium built in 1914 for the Newark Peppers of the Federal Baseball League, which folded in 1915. The stadium was converted to soccer and in 1918 hosted the replay of the U.S. Open Cup final between Bethlehem (PA) Steel and Fall River (MA) Rovers won by Bethlehem, 3-0. In 1923, Paterson (NJ) FC won the U.S. Open Cup over Scullin Steel of St. Louis. The stadium burned down in August 1924.
Other Harrison area clubs included the Kearny Irish who won their only ASL title in 1934, the ASL's Lewis Cup in 1944 and the Erie AA Club, which continued in to the original American Soccer League as Harrison SC.
Harrison SC produced one of the biggest stars in American soccer during the 1920s in Davey Brown, gained his greatest fame with the New York Giants, for whom he scored 52 goals in the 1926-27 ASL season. The goalkeeper for that Harrison team was George Tintle, a Harrison native who had been a member of the U.S. national team in 1916.
The area also produced one star player, who was born there but gained his greatest fame elsewhere. Tom Florie, who was born in Harrison in 1897, but played in New England. Florie, a forward, was the captain of the United States team at the 1930 World Cup at which it reached the semifinals, and he played again in the 1934 World Cup.
Red Bull Parks construction in Harrison will mean a new life for the soccer history of the Harrison area.
Harrison, New Jersey and its neighboring communities of Kearny and Newark's, Ironbound are densely populated with diverse international residents rich in soccer heritage. Harrison is located 8 miles to the west of New York City, and is sandwiched between Newark (the state's largest city) to the west and Jersey City (the state's second largest city to the east. Harrison High School owns 21 state championships in soccer, most in state history.
It was during 1994 FIFA World Cup that the town of Kearny, N.J., became known affectionately as "Soccertown USA," because, as every single commentator pointed out at least a dozen times a game, American stars John Harkes, Tab Ramos and Tony Meola all came from the town.
In Newark, New Jersey, St. Benedict's Prep is one of the finest high school soccer programs in the country. The school has been ranked #1 in the country in 1990, 1997, 1998 & 2001 and 2005 along with winning 19 New Jersey state championships. Producing players such as Tab Ramos and U.S. National Team Captain Claudio Reyna.
Newark's Ironbound is known for being a Portuguese neighborhood. Portuguese roots in the area run deep, with the first immigrants having arrived in the 1910s. Today, immigration is led by Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico. There is a Portuguese festival every June and a Brazilian festival in September. The Ironbound is one of Newark's most vibrant neighborhoods. Along Ferry Street, its commercial heart, features a mix of well-known Portuguese, Spanish, and Brazilian restaurants, cafes, bakeries, sports clubs.
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