Tuesday, December 25, 2012

25 December 1916 - The Balance Of Power Shifts (Temporarily) To The Midwest

On 25 December 1916, Bethlehem Steel met Ben Millers in a match that was supposed to determine the capital of US soccer. It ended in a draw.

At the time, US soccer was split into two major regions, the northeast and the midwest (specifically, St. Louis), each with its own self-contained league. And although the country had a couple of tournaments open to all clubs, the American Cup and the National Challenge Cup, few teams from St. Louis participated, leaving an open question of which area produced the better football.

In 1916, Bethlehem Steel, the Pennsylvania-based reigning champions of both the American and National Challenge Cups and unquestioned leader of the northeast, made the trip across the country to settle the debate. They arrived in Chicago for a match against a local "best XI" and won 1-2 on 23 December, then moved on to play a St. Louis all-star team on 24 December and lost, 3-1. It was their first loss in 19 games.

On the following day, 25 December, Bethlehem took the pitch again, this time against St. Louis team Ben Millers, the title holders of the St. Louis Soccer League. Playing in front of a crowd of 6,000, the visitors went up 0-1 with a goal from forward Harry Ratican (pictured) (Ratican, coincidentally, had been born in St. Louis and played for Ben Millers from 1911 to 1916). But after a penalty for Ben Millers and a pair of second-half goals, the match ended as a 2-2 draw.

The result did not stop the local press from claiming the soccer title for St. Louis, based on the two-game series (and claiming some credit Ratican's performance).

Bethlehem continued to dominate, however, winning five American and National Challenge Cups over the next three years, while Ben Millers went on to win the National Challenge Cup in 1920.

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