The frustration on Bob Guelker's face was pitiable. The father of two college soccer dynasties and a man with one of the finest coaching records in any sport, he could only wonder why it had to keep happening to him.
"It was a wonderful crowd," he said in anguish. "It was a marvelous game and it was great for soccer, but why does what's great for soccer always have to be bad for us?"
Guelker had just come from Busch Stadium in St. Louis and—well, St. Louis University had just done it to him again. On a cold Friday night last week before 20,112 steamed-up witnesses, the most ever to see a college soccer game in this country, the Billikens had slipped by Guelker's Cougars of Southern Illinois at Edwardsville by the length of an outstretched arm, 1-0. As the soccer-wise St. Louis crowd had come to expect of this series, it was a brilliant game, fast, tough and brutally defensive—and predictable. All SIU-E had gained in six previous tries was a tie.
For Guelker, a dapper man who ordinarily bears up under his burden with admirable aplomb, this latest setback was almost too galling. Going into the game, his Cougars had been one tie short of perfection, though they were starting three freshmen and three sophomores. They were unscored on in 11 straight games—another collegiate record—and they were ranked first in the country, one place ahead of St. Louis.
Most galling of all, it was Bob Guelker who made St. Louis what it is today. The Billikens were his first dynasty. A St. Louis graduate himself, he was doubling as soccer coach at St. Louis Prep Seminary and as executive secretary of the Catholic Youth Council's eight-sport, 45,000-member recreational program when he decided in 1958 that his alma mater could use a soccer team of its own. He called up Athletic Director Bob Stewart and volunteered his services.
"I can get the players for you," Guelker was able to promise with certainty. "All I need from you is some money and a playing schedule."
Soon Stewart responded: "I've got you a budget of $200 and a schedule of two games." Guelker was not ecstatic, but it was a start. The first year, St. Louis won four games and tied one. In 1959 the Billikens, then considered varsity, won 11, lost one and captured the first NCAA championship. In eight varsity seasons, Guelker, playing mostly St. Louisans out of the Catholic high school, youth-council and amateur leagues, won 95 games (with nine losses and five ties) and five NCAA championships.
Then, in 1967, Guelker decided it was time to move—though not far. He went to the Southern Illinois campus that had sprung up modern and gleaming on the rolling fields east of the Mississippi in nearby Edwardsville. He launched a soccer program, became athletic director and developed a spacious three-field practice area and a tidy soccer stadium that seats 4,000. To fill it he brought in the same talent that had made him such a genius at St. Louis U. And he has been a genius again, winning 63 games, tying six and losing only 10 in seven years. Last season he also won the NCAA's first college-division tournament. Guelker is big on those inaugurals.
The record would have been even flashier had the Cougars never heard of St. Louis U., but of course they had. All 22 starters Friday night were St. Louisans and, as everybody knows, hell hath no fury like a brawl between old buddies.
"We've known each other so well and for so long that there are no secrets left," said St. Louis co-captain Dan Counce before Friday's game. "That's what makes our games so hard-fought. No one has a problem getting up for this."
Certainly one who does not is Harry Keough, a former amateur star and junior-college coach who replaced Guelker at St. Louis. Keough works full time as a delivery supervisor for the post office and, it would seem, full time rooting out the best players from the neighborhood. (The source is so rich that 20 colleges as far apart as Brown, the University of South Florida and the Air Force Academy have become powers using St. Louisans.) In seven years Keough's St. Louis teams have won 86 games, lost eight, tied nine, sailed through one undefeated string of 43 straight games and won four more NCAA titles, making it nine in 14 tournaments for the school.
His annual clashes with Guelker's teams have become classic examples of games that coaches euphemistically call "very physical." In 1970 Counce, whose name rhymes with pounce, thumped in the winner in a 2-1 St. Louis victory with only 10 seconds to play. In 1971 the on-field mayhem in the first half resembled a game of linebacker versus quarterback. There were inert forms sprawled all over Cougar Field. Then at halftime Keough lectured his charges on how to be nonviolent and victorious. They won again 2-1. Last year the two teams played before nearly 15,000 at Busch Stadium in what is referred to at Edwardsville as the 3-1 tie. Two apparent goals by SIU Forward Chris Carenza were disallowed, one because he was offside and one because he had fouled a defender.
This year the signs had pointed to a breakthrough at last for Guelker. While Southern Illinois went from shutout to shutout, St. Louis looked sluggish and unimpressive, tying its opener with Missouri-St. Louis, tying nonentity Cleveland State and losing to Wisconsin-Green Bay. Possibly it was because the team was still suffering from an exhausting 15,000-mile tour of South America in August. "Maybe," said Counce, "but I think it's because we've been winners so long it's hard to stay hungry."
Keough was not particularly worried. The day of the game he said, "If we lose it's due to bad coaching. We've got the better players. Bob's got to be the one that's worried. He knows his team is not as good as that shutout record."
The analysis was prescient. Guelker's inexperienced freshmen and sophomores played an aggressive, skillful first half, then let down in the second half. The defense failed to stick close to the St. Louis attackers, permitting deep penetrations, one of which produced the lethal goal. It was struck by none other than Counce, a sturdy, nimble-legged senior forward with a Fu Manchu mustache, long, tousled black hair and a fondness for puncturing Cougar hopes.
Counce's scoring thrusts in the past had been abrupt and dramatic. This time the goal came only after agonizing moments of confusion in front of the Southern Illinois net with about 25 minutes to go. A lobbed pass was headed down and away by a defending back. Billiken Midfielder Bob Matteson then stepped in to the bouncing ball and rifled a low shot goalward. The Cougar keeper, Chester Kowalewski, was partially screened by a melee of flying bodies, but his dive just managed to deflect the ball. Sensing a possible rebound, Counce burst between two defensive backs and barely prodded the ball with his left toe as it skipped by him. The ball bounced softly off the right net post and straight back again onto Counce's left foot. He nudged it into the open net and Kowalewski, flat out, could only look on in anguish as his pristine record vanished to the accompaniment of a huge roar from the crowd and leaps, hugs and shouts from the delirious Billikens.
Ahead 1-0, St. Louis fell back on defense, allowing Southern Illinois to exhaust itself in futile attacks. SIU's high-scoring sophomore striker, John Stremlau, whose dazzling footwork had produced eight goals during the season, seemed confused by the close-guarding defense and had few chances to perform his specialty.
"It sure is frustrating," said Guelker, as he sipped his postgame beer, "but, remember, we have another shot at them."
Guelker expects that both schools will reach the NCAA Midwest Regional later this fall, probably at Edwardsville, which is a pretty fair assumption. Counce would be content to stop this year's clock with Friday's game. "Look," he said, pointing to the bruises on his legs in the locker room. "Typical of what happens in these things. In a way beating them tonight has got me worried. Now they're really going to be hot to get us at the regionals." Well, that goes for Bob Guelker.
In a melee at the net, St. Louis' opportunistic Dan Counce tipped the ball against the post, then nudged in the rebound for the winning score.