American Soccer League (1979-1983)
Born: 1979 – ASL expansion franchise.
Folded: January 21, 1984
Team Colors: Blue, Gold & White
- 1979-1981: Willie Ehrlich, Clifford Vickers et al.
- 1982: Clifford Vickers et al.
- 1983: Dr. William Burfeind at al.
ASL Champions: 1980
This 2nd Division soccer team from the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania is something of a cult classic. Consider:
- There’s the Pennsylvania Stoners name, of course – reputedly a nod to the “Keystone State” rather than an endorsement of other recreational pursuits
- The Stoners were visionaries in the field of corporate sponsorships. In 1980, while other American Soccer League clubs attempted to fill their program books with quarter-page ads, the Stoners sold one of the first jersey sponsorships in American pro soccer. The sponsor logo splashed across the players’ chests? ALPO dog food.
- The 1979 Stoners featured not one but two future NFL placekickers on their roster, Matt Bahr and Florian Kempf.
The Stoners had their roots in amateur clubs organized by Hungarian émigré Willie Ehrlich in the Lehigh Valley region in the 1970’s. Ehrlich organized a group of investors and secured an American Soccer League expansion franchise for Allentown in 1979. Ehrlich served as President, Head Coach, recruiter and front man.
The ASL had a long and obscure history dating back to the early 1930’s. For most of its existence, the ASL was a shifting alliance of ethnic clubs in Northeastern industrial cities. During the 1970’s proto soccer boom, the ASL got ambitious, banned the ethnic identities (sorry, Newark Ukrainian-Sitch) and became an air travel league, expanding to the West Coast in 1976. The Stoners would play opponents as far away as Las Vegas and Southern California.
During the club’s early years in Allentown, the Stoners occasionally played to crowds of 6,000 to 8,000 in the school district’s 20,000-seat stadium. This despite having just 400 season tickets sold for their inaugural season in 1979. The peak came in the summer of 1980, when the Stoners dominated the ASL with a 19-5-4 record and defeated defending champion Sacramento 2-1 in the league championship game in front of 7,237 fans in Allentown. Rookie George Gorleku was named ASL MVP, Ehrlich won Coach-of-the-Year Honors for the second straight season, and Scott Manning was the league’s Goalkeeper-of-the-Year.
The club was a money loser though. By the end of the 1981 season, Ehrlich’s investor group was out nearly a million dollars after three years of operation. Ehrlich resigned in September 1981 to focus on his growing bicycle manufacturing business. With their spiritual leader and chief promoter gone, the Stoners soon fell on hard(er) times.
The Stoners moved to nearby Bethlehem for the 1982 season and attendance plummeted. The team nearly went bankrupt during the 1982 season. Despite qualifying for the playoffs, the Stoners withdrew due to their financial distress. Allentown dentist Dr. William Burfeind rescued the ailing club in the winter of 1982, ensuring the Stoners would return for a fifth season. By 1983, the ASL had dwindled to only six teams. Despite a losing record, the Stoners made it to a best-of-three championship series where they lost to the Jacksonville Tea Men.
The Stoners pulled out of the American Soccer League in January 1984 and the league folded at more or less the same time. Strangely, the ASL was replaced by a successor organization called the United Soccer League in February 1984, which was headquartered in Lehigh Valley with ex-Stoners owner Dr. William Burfeind as Commissioner. Three former ASL clubs joined the USL, but despite Burfeind’s leadership in creating the new league, the Stoners were not among them. The team was dead and gone after five seasons.
Roman Urbanczuk, a product of Allentown’s Louis E. Dieruff High School, scored the franchise’s first goal when the club debuted at ASD Stadium on April 14, 1979. He was also the only original Stoner still on the team five years later when the club played its final match in the 1983 ASL championship series.
In January 2016, an FWIL reader named Mike wrote in, reporting to have spent a summer working as the Pennsylvania Stoners mascot “Stoney”. His mom was so proud that she commissioned some official portraits at the local Olan Mills photography outlet. Check out the slideshow…
Pennsylvania Stoners Memorabilia