Soccer Boils Over With New England Tea Men
After its many futile attempts to establish itself in New England, soccer finally seems to be here to stay. The New England Tea Men, a new professional franchise, consists mainly of British players but also fields one of the strongest groups of American players.
Referring to past soccer teams in New England, Coach Noel Cantwell said at last Sunday's opening game against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, "We're not a loose organization; we have strong financial support, and we have true professionals for players. They're conscious of the crowd and are out to please them." The Lipton Tea Company owns the franchise.
In their opening game, the Tea Men pleased a crowd of over 11,000 at Schaffer Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., their home field, despite a televised Red Sox game and John Havlicek's final appearance with the Boston Celtics.
According to the North American Soccer League (NASL) regulations, at least two American players must be present on the playing field. To keep up with the explosive expansion of the NASL and the accompanying Americanization of the sport, that number will increase by one each year.
Among the Americans is Harvard's assistant varsity soccer coach, Kevin Welsh. When asked about their 2-1 loss to the Rowdies last Sunday, Welsh, who started at left wing, commented, "I think the important thing at this point is to have more playing time as a team; some of our players arrived only this week. The second half of the game was a good example of our potential."
Welsh added optimistically, "By the end of the season, I feel we will be a serious prospective playoff team."
At first glance, some of the most likely "stars" to form the backbone of the team are:
Kevin "Cat" Keelan, voted the best goalie in England by the British press this year. The agile goaltender proved himself worthy of the honor in a number of spectacular and acrobatic saves against Tampa's Rodney Marsh.
The "playmaker" seems to be the experienced Keith Weller from English First Division, Leicester City, chosen to represent England's National team for the past seven years.
At the forward line appears the awesome Mike Flanagan, considered to be one of the best young strikers in the game. His English club, Charlton Athletic, has rejected several $500,000 offers from other clubs for him. New England acquired Flanagan on a year loan.
On defense, one of the most prestigious American players, David D'Errico, rules his zone with authority. D'Errico received All-American honors at perennial soccer power Hartwick College and captains the United States National Team.
To the young solid roster, the Tea Men expect to add a couple of other outstanding players from Europe. Asked if language barriers would be a problem, Coach Cantwell exclaimed, "Soccer is a universal game."
As for Kevin Welsh, a serious candidate for the U.S. National Team, his return to Harvard's soccer program is uncertain. "I would love to return and work with the guys again. I have already been invited but it all depends on the Tea Men...they own me for one year."
If Welsh does return next year, he would definitely be an asset to Harvard's soccer program. This year, with his assistance to head coach George Ford, the team had a winning season, a complete change from Harvard's previous season.
One varsity member commented that while Ford enforces discipline and emphasizes rigorous training, Welsh is responsible for alot of the moral support they receive.