We The Italians | The Italian American stars in US sports: Soccer 1 of 2

The Italian American stars in US sports: Soccer 1 of 2

The Italian American stars in US sports: Soccer 1 of 2

  • WTI Magazine #99 Jan 20, 2018
  • 1174

XX century, 20s and 30s

Peter Renzulli (born in 1895 in New York), goalkeeper, in the 1920-21 season began playing in the semi-pro tournament NAFBL (National Association Football League) with the Brooklyn Robins Dry Dock, who faced 7 other teams from New York, Bethlehem, Kearney, Philadelphia. Harrison, Bayonne and Bunker Hill.

In the same years there were other territorial leagues in the rest of the country, such as the St. Louis Soccer League (SLSL), the Southern New England Soccer League (SNELS) and a series of ethnic and amateur leagues that organized an infinity of matches. In 1921 the Renzulli team won the National Challenge Cup and the US Open Cup.

In the 1921-22 season the semi-pro American Soccer League (ASL) was born, organizing an 8 team tournament along the Atlantic coast; Renzulli went on to defend the goal of the Brooklyn Todd Shipyards, who came in third place. In 1922 Renzulli & co. were defeated in the final of the US Open Cup. 

In the 1922-23 season Renzulli passed to the Peterson Silk Sox; meanwhile ASL improved its bills and opened up to new franchises: the Bethlehem Steel hired some Scottish immigrants from Dundee, Falkirk and Dumbarton, while other teams took some good players from college football to use them in defense!

In September 1922 an all women English football team arrived in the States and on the 24th, in front of 5,000 spectators, the Renzulli's Silk Sox faced the Dick&Kerr Ladies. Men won the first game 6 to 3 but, after 4 games, the tough ladies of the Old Continent closed the tour with 1 victory, 1 defeat and 2 draws. In 1923 Renzulli and the Peterson's team won the National Challenge Cup against a St. Louis Soccer League team. In 1925 Renzulli passed to the New York Indians: while in ASL the average weekly players' pay was 60 dollars (one miner earned 10-15 dollars), the average audience was of 9,000 spectators per game, and new franchises (Boston, Providence, Newark) and new professional footballers from the Rangers Glasgow and Scottish national team arrived. In the same year, the first American Professional Soccer Championship was played, between a team from ASL and one from SLSL. The year 1926 was marked by the incredible success of attendance, following the arrival of European teams to face the ASL teams: 40,000 spectators watched at the Polo Grounds the game Sparta Prague vs All-New York Team Selection. Peter Renzulli from New York Giants (his 5th team since 1920) was the goalkeeper and at the end of the game declared to the journalists: "The ball was on my part of the field for 87 minutes!”.

In 1927 Real Madrid, Tel Aviv's Maccabi and Uruguay's national team arrived on American soil on tour; in 1928 the New York Nationals with Renzulli as goalkeeper won the National Open Challenge Cup. In 1929 on the East Coast the soccer war exploded, with the teams split into two sections: the old ASL and the new Eastern Soccer League (EBL). At the end of the year they will merge into the ACL-Atlantic Coast League, which in 1930 will once again be called ASL.

In the same year Peter Renzulli played the last tournament of his career. He had come out of the goal once only to play as a wing, and scored his only goal of a defeat for 1-3 against a Philadelphia team. It happened in 1928.

Ralph Caraffi (born in 1901 in Pennsylvania), midfielder, played from 1917 until the early thirties in a series of semi-pro leagues from New England to Midwest and for a season in ASL with the Fall River United in 1921-22. The last team in his career was Bruell Insurance (1929-1934). He was a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame and of the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame. A peculiarity: he played for a few years together with his brother George (a center forward) in a Cleveland team: in the twenties they were considered the best Cleveland football players.

Thomas "Tom" Florie (born in 1897 in Harrison, NJ), forward, both parents came from Italy. He soon turned out to be a great player but, before starting a real career, he rolled up in the Navy and took part in the First World War. In the 1921-22 season he played 3 games with Harrison FC in the ASL; after a parenthesis in a team of an amateur league of the West Hudson, in 1924 Florie returned to the ASL where he remained until 1934 winning 2 National Challenge Cup and scoring 1 goal in each of the 2 finals. From 1925 to 1934 he was selected for the US National Team, playing 8 matches and participating in 2 editions of the FIFA World Cup (1930 in Uruguay and 1934 in Italy). He was inducted into the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1986.

Aldo T. Buff "Donelli (born in 1907 in Morgan, PA) was a soccer player and a football player and coach. As a football player he was a halfback and punter and then a prominent coach at Duquesne University (1936-1942) and then in the NFL as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Rams (1941, 1944) and then again in College Football (Boston University 1947-1956; Columbia University 1957-1967).

As a soccer player, he played in the 1934 World Cup in Italy with the US team, scoring 5 goals in 2 matches against Mexico (4 goals, victory 4-2) and Italy (1 goal, defeat 7-1). From 1925 he had played in a Pennsylvania soccer team and then, in 1925, he moved to Cleveland to play with 4 other teams until 1938.

Joe Martinelli (born in 1917) played for 13 years in the ASL from 1934 to 1947. In 1934 he was selected in the US team for the FIFA World Cup but did not play any matches; but he played 3 games with the US national team in 1937.

XX Century, 40s

Joseph S. Carenza Sr. (from St. Louis, MO) midfielder, played from the 40s to the 50s in the St. Louis area, starting with an amateur team from the St. Louis Catholic Youth Council. He later entered the St. Louis Major League playing for Steamfitters, Patterson, St. Louis Simpkins-Ford and Zenthoefer Furs. In 1954 Carenza became the St. Louis Kuts's coach-player and then a full-time head coach; with him the Kuts won the National Amateur Cup in 1956 and 1957 and the National Challenge Cup in 1957.

In 1959 he was hired as head-coach at Washington University to start a soccer program and create a team: he remained at the head of the college team until 1964, with a record of 31-17-6 (.630). Carenza died in 1981 and was included in 1982 in the National Soccer Hall of Fame and, in 1996, in the Washington University Sports Hall of Fame.

Two of his four sons, John and Chris Carenza, will become soccer players: the first will be part of the US team at the Olympics and both will play as professionals in the North American Soccer League.