With two Rochester teams – Rochester New York FC and Flower City Union competing in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup this week – we look back on the Ukrainian-American teams that had great success back in the day and how the team came close to winning the Amateur Cup title in 1957.

By Michael Lewis
FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Rochester teams participated in the Amateur Cup early in the 20th century. The best documented accounts started in 1935.

Several teams – the Celtics, Thistles, Rangers, Italian Americans, German Americans, Sports Club of Rochester, Kodak Park and the Ukrainian-Americans, among others – were eliminated in various rounds along the way.

In 1957, the Ukrainian-Americans became the first Rochester side to reach a national final against the powerhouse Kutis side from St. Louis. En route to the championship game, the Ukrainians dispatched the Morgan Sports Club (Morgan, Pa.), the German-American Sports Club (Cleveland) and Baltimore Pompei.

In the sixth round of the cup, the Ukrainians recorded a 2-1 victory over the Morgan Sports Club of Morgan, Pa. in the mud at Bridgeville Park near Pittsburgh, Pa. on March 10. Nick Shawchyshyn scored on either side of halftime (seventh and 65th minutes) while Nick DiOrio had the lone tally in the second half for the hosts against goalkeeper Walter Drewnytzkyi.

In the Eastern semifinal two weeks later, the Ukes squandered a home-field advantage in a 2-2 draw against the German-American Sports Club (Cleveland) at Edgerton Park, forcing a replay in Cleveland the next week. Vytas Grybauskas and Daniel Zawadiwsky scored for the hosts as 800 fans watched. At halftime of the second Cleveland match before a 2,000 spectators, life did not look so good for the Ukrainians, who found themselves with a 2-0 deficit. It didn’t matter as the visitors struck three times in the final half behind Ostap Steckrw, Myron Bereza and Grybauskas to turn the tables on March 31 (note: sometimes first names were not available in newspaper accounts).

The regional final turned out to be two-leg total-goals affair.

Not unlike the the previous encounter, it did not start well for the Ukrainian-Americans, who dropped a 3-2 road decision to Baltimore Pompei in front of 1,000 at Kahler’s Park in Baltimore behind a pair of Bob Swinski long-range strikes on May 15. Only three minutes after kickoff, Myron Bereza tallied for the visitors past a screened keeper John Mullen, but Joe Speca knotted it up in the 18th minute. Swinski found the range in the 26th minute and added a much-needed insurance goal in the second half before Bereza tallied his second goal.

It turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory for Pompei, which lost standout striker Dick Malinkowski with a knee injury in the opening 15 minutes. Needing at least a two-goal victory at Edgerton on May 12, the Ukrainian-Americans peppered the Pompei goal with a reported 30 shots. It worked as the hosts walked away with a 4-1 win and a coveted spot in the final. With Malinkowski watching and wearing a knee brace on the sidelines, the Ukrainians grabbed a 20-minute lead as Lev Dyzkiwiwskj caught goalkeeper John Mullen napping with a 30-yard blast. Several minutes later, Dyzkiwiwskj suffered a leg injury and was taken to a hospital. It didn’t matter. The hosts dismantled the Baltimore side’s hopes with three quick goals realtively early in the second half. Bereza, Vitas Grybaskas and Walt Zakaluznyi. Jim Cross cut the margin to three with 10 minutes left but Rochester held on.

Next stop was Kutis, the defending champion and a national powerhouse that boasted several legendary American soccer names. The St. Louis club was in the midst of a nine-year run in which it secured seven Amateur Cup titles (it has won 10) and while vying to become only the third team to win an Open Cup crown in the same year.

Harry Keough, a member of the U.S. squad that upset England in the 1950 World Cup and a future member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame, anchored the club at center halfback. Another future Hall of Famer, center forward Bill Looby, a member of the 1956 Olympic team who also tallied six goals in nine full internationals, inside left Ruben Mendoza (952 and 1956 Olympic squads and two international goals in four appearances) and outside left Elwood (four national team matches) were among the team’s weapons.

Translated: the Ukrainian-Americans had their work cut out for themselves at Public Schools Stadium in St. Louis. Ukes secretary-manager Roman Kucil, who coached the Rochester Lancers in their exhibition games in 1967, protested that the final should have been a two-game series, with a match in Rochester, according to a story by Dent McSkimming in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (McSkimming was the lone American journalist who covered the U.S. upset in Brazil in 1950).

The St. Louis team was coached by Joe Carenza, Sr., a well-respected soccer coach in the St. Louis area, who was inducted into the National Hall of Fame in 1982.

Despite these overwhelming obstacles, the Ukrainians acquitted themselves well, although they dropped a frustrating 1-0 decision before 1,500 spectators.

The visitors outplayed Kutis in the midfield, but could not solve a defense that was spearheaded by Keough, who made several key blocks, and goalkeeper Leroy Franks. Early in the opening half, Keough slid into the ball to knock it off Bereza’s foot just as he was shooting from close-range.

The Ukes forced action in the second half, finishing with a 10-5 corner-kick advantage. But Frank was up to the task, coming out to smother shots or fisting out a couple more. Cook gave Kutis all the scoring it needed in the 32nd minute on a play that started with a Tommy Julius thrown-in to Ruben Mendoza. Mendoza and Looby worked some nifty pass work before the former set up Cook, who scored into the lower right corner.

Kutis held off the Ukrainians for its second consecutive title – en route to six straight – and joining Ponta Delgada of Fall River, Mass. (1947) and the German-Hungarians of New York (1961) to pull off the rare double.