Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kristine Lilly, the Washington Warthogs, and Olympic Gold

On August 1, 1996, the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) defeated China 2-1 and captured the first women’s soccer gold medal in Olympic history, avenging their disappointing third place finish at the 1995 Women’s World Cup. At the time of the women’s victory in Atlanta, the USWNT was the apex of women’s professional soccer in the U.S. as playing for a club professionally was not always a viable option. Due to the lack of professional opportunities globally, many of the U.S. Women’s National Team players did not play for a professional club prior to the 1995 Women’s World Cup and 1996 Olympic Games. Instead, players trained and found games with amateur clubs, college teams, or in the case of Kristine Lilly, with a men’s professional indoor soccer team, the Washington Warthogs.

At the time of her signing with the Warthogs in the summer of 1995, Kristine Lilly was already the USWNT’s most capped player and arguably the best player in the country. She earned the first of her world record 352 international caps while still in high school at the age of 16 in 1987. She was one of five U.S. Women’s U-19 players including Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, and Mia Hamm that would emerge as the golden generation of the USWNT, which won the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991.

Photo: Getty Images
Washington Warthogs and Lilly’s Signing

The Washington Warthogs were a professional indoor soccer team that competed in the Continental Indoor Soccer League (CISL) from 1994 to until the league’s collapse in 1997. Prior to the debut of Major League Soccer, the Warthogs were the only professional club in Washington D.C. The Capital outfit featured some of the country’s and area’s top talent in Phillip Gyau, Goran Hunjak, and Dante Washington. The club also made national headlines during their first season in the CISL by signing the club’s first female player in local product Colette Cunningham. The Warthogs signing of Cunningham proved instrumental in Lilly’s signing during the summer of 1995 as it proved the club was willing to sign talent no matter the gender of the player. During the clubs existence, US international Jim Gabarra - who also happened to be married to USWNT forward Carin Jennings-Gabarra - coached the Warthogs and was heavily influential in obtaining Lilly’s signature.

It was during the Women’s World Cup in Sweden, that Jim Gabarra began gauging Lilly’s talent and judging whether she could bring anything to the Warthogs. Travelling to support his wife Carin, Gabarra decided over the course of the tournament that Lilly was just what the Warthogs wanted. The club sought to sign a female player prior to the 1995 season. Lilly fit the bill, and just happened to be one of the best female players in the world and without a club after the tournament, which provided Gabarra with a win-win scenario in approaching Lilly to sign with the indoor club. Gabarra described what he saw in Lilly to The Washington Post, “she has great skills, she has an exceptional work rate, and she’s a competitor…. in the right situation a woman can play with guys, and I know Kristine can do it.” Gabarra singled out Lilly for these qualities and decided against pursuing any other USWNT members after the tournament as none of the players stood out more than Lilly, and their schedules were not compatible with that of the Warthogs.

Lilly, understanding that Gabarra and the Warthogs offer was not a marketing ploy, signed with the Warthogs shortly after the USWNT exit from the Women’s World Cup. She signed with every intent to compete and raise her level of play for the 1996 Summer Olympics stating, “I am really excited about playing indoors…. I really think this will help my game.” Lilly’s signing offered her an arena to compete at a high level as she admitted she “didn’t have anyone to work out with” when she was not with the USWNT. The opportunity to play in the CISL also forced her to improve her ability on the ball and helped sharpen her mental and physical quickness. Her debut for the indoor club had to wait until late August while she honored her commitments with the national team. Just a month after the Women’s World Cup, the USWNT committed to compete in the first womne’s edition of the US Cup which was an annual tournament sponsored by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) that pitted three other international teams against the US in a round robin tournament to spur interest in the game within America (the USWNT won the tournament).

Lilly playing for the Warthogs
Source: Sports Illustrated
Photo: Ted Mathias
Lilly began training with the Warthogs in late August 1995. She saw her first action not take long after her arrival making her Warthogs debut on August 27 coming on with 7:52 remaining in a game against the Monterrey La Raza registering one shot in a near minute on the field. Gabarra limited her time in order to gradually introduce her to the pace and physicality of the indoor game. Her appearance garnered significant media attention nationally that culminated in a short article in Sports Illustrated, in which she reiterated her commitment to compete and improve her game for the USWNT bid for Olympic gold. Following her debut, Lilly made a handful of other appearances for the Warthogs never notching a goal.

Though she never made a significant impact on the club, she achieved her stated goal of finding consistent competition to raise her level of play for the Olympics. Gabarra’s wife, and Lilly’s USWNT teammate, Carin joined the Warthogs at training on a handful occasions giving the Warthogs another connection – albeit a tenuous one – to the USWNT and Olympic gold. In the end, Lilly’s stint proved nothing more than a brief stop with the indoor club that provided her with a scheduled training regimen and guaranteed high-level competition outside of her USWNT appearances. Her limited number of games and frequent training kept her fit and aided in honing her already world-class skills for international competition.

Lilly along with Brandi Chastain, Joy Faucett, Julie Fowdy, and Mia Hamm in 2004
Source: Sports Illustrated
Photo: Michael O'Neil
Following a brief contract dispute with the USSF, Lilly, Carin Jennings-Gabarra, and seven other players joined the USWNT in January 1996 in preparation for the Atlanta games. The USWNT went on to win gold at the Olympics attracting a world record crowd of 76,481 to the gold medal game, firmly establishing the women’s game in the United States in the process. The USWNT’s success at the 1996 Olympics was the precursor to the more famous 1999 Women’s World Cup victory starring a shirtless Brandi Chastain that definitively cemented women’s soccer in the US, and gave birth to the first fully professional women’s league the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) in 2000. Lilly went on to compete for the USWNT for twenty-three years playing in five World Cups and three Olympic Games. In 2014, she was a first-ballot inductee into the United States National Soccer Hall of Fame and a member of the USWNT All-Time Best XI. Her time with the Warthogs serves to highlight the difficulties professional women soccer players faced during the game's infancy and the growth of women’s soccer in the United States since the 1996 Olympic Games.

In writing this article, I relied on numerous sources. I am indebted to Jim Gabarra and Carin Jennings-Gabarra for taking time out of their coaching schedules to acquiesce to my interview requests. I also relied on articles from Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. In addition to these sources, I also consulted The New England Soccer Journal and, as always, The American Soccer History Archives.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Earl Clark and the Fashion Shop Forfeiture

Earl Clark - Boston Braves
Source: The Sporting News Archive

Led by British and Scottish expatriates, soccer aficionados in Washington D.C. championed the beautiful game in the American capital throughout the early 1900s. Efforts to establish city amateur leagues, inter-city leagues, and the professional Southeastern Soccer League all failed, though the game thrived within Washington’s public schools. The lack of a legitimate amateur league or professional club left the city’s best players no option but to give the game up, or attempt to find meaningless pickup games with local elevens. Finally, in 1925, local advocates created the city’s first permanent soccer league, the amateur Washington Soccer League (WSL).

This newly established league gave Washington’s soccer players a legitimate arena to display their skills, compete, and eventually gain entrance in National Amateur Cup tournament – known today as the US Amateur Cup. It took three years from the creation of the WSL for Washington’s first clubs to enter the tournament. By 1930, the city fielded numerous teams who clamored for national silverware by entering the amateur competition. One team, the comically named Fashion Shop S.C., proved the most ambitious of Washington’s clubs in that year’s incarnation of the tournament as the club rounded up the best talent available in the District regardless of the rules surrounding the amateur nature of the competition. Fashion Shop S.C.’s strong desire to compete on the national level and indifference towards the competition’s rules led to the club’s eventual banishment from that year’s tournament due to one name on the team’s roster: Major League Baseball player and Boston Braves center fielder Earl Clark.

Earl Clark’s Playground Exploits and the Washington Soccer League

Monroe A.C. Eleven
Earl Clark is center in bottom row. To his right are his brothers Tom and Abner, respectively
Source: The Washington Post

Fashion Shop S.C. was not Earl Clark’s first or only soccer club. The Braves outfielder grew up in Washington and excelled at baseball, soccer, and track throughout his youth. He ascended to local fame in 1919 when, at age twelve, he led the Monroe School – of the Columbia Heights neighborhood - to the city elementary school soccer championship. The achievement had several foreign soccer players playing amongst the embassies proclaiming Clark as a future professional. Had Washington had a professional soccer franchise during Clark’s career, their declaration may have come to fruition. Nonetheless, Clark continued his playground dominance as he led the Monroe School to several other city championships in baseball and soccer during the first half of the 1920s. Shortly after leaving school, Clark earned the reputation as the best amateur player in both sports within the District. Clark’s athletic prowess eventually garnered significant attention from the Richmond (Virginia) Colts minor-league baseball club, which led to a professional contract in the spring of 1926, but not before Earl - and several of his Monroe School teammates - competed in the Washington Soccer League’s inaugural season.

League soccer found a permanent home in Washington D.C. when the Washington Soccer League kicked off in the fall of 1925. The inaugural WSL campaign featured six clubs including the Monroe Athletic Club (MAC) headed by Earl Clark. Joining Clark on the MAC roster was alumni of the Monroe School among them were two of Earl’s brothers, Abner and Tom. The Monroe club was both the youngest, and the only all-American team to compete in the newly formed league, which proved a challenge to the former playground champions as the young club finished the ten-game season fourth out of six teams with a record of three wins, six losses, and one draw. Clark drew a fair share of the press coverage surrounding the club during the 1925 season as MAC’s de facto captain. Though the team struggled, and Clark had his share of missteps during the campaign - including getting sent off for fighting during a game against the German-American Reserves - the future Braves center fielder proved the attention well warranted in the short time he was with the club as he was consistently the focal point of the Monroe attack. Clark was able to feature in most of MAC’s league games, but left the club prior to the end of the season to pursue a professional baseball career with the minor-league Richmond Colts. Clark’s play with the Colts eventually caught the eye of the Boston Braves who paid the Richmond club $15,000 (nearly $200,000 today) for Clark’s services in August 1927.

Earl Clark Goudey Card

The 1925 WSL season would only prove to be Clark’s first foray in Washington’s soccer leagues. Clark returned every fall –during baseball’s offseason - for the next several years to compete amongst the city’s amateurs, despite the fact that by the time of him signing with the Braves many felt he could have played professional soccer if he wanted to. The growth of the game within Washington, the creation of an area governing body (the Washington and Southeastern District Association), and the USFA’s recognition of the District’s soccer leagues meant that city’s amateur clubs were able to enter the National Amateur Cup with the famed Walford S.C. and Clan MacLennan clubs becoming the first Washington teams to do so during 1928 competition. By the 1930 tournament, seven Washington clubs entered the competition including, Fashion Shop S.C.  who signed the professional Earl Clark before entering the competition. Perhaps not understanding the fifth rule of the national tournament that stated “anyone who is or has been a professional in soccer or in any other sport is not eligible to compete,” Fashion Shop’s signing of Clark set up the club’s banishment from the tournament.

The Fashion Shop Upset and the Locust Point Rangers

Aerial view of the Washington Monument and the Monument Grounds in 1919.
Part of the Library of Congress' Harris & Ewing Collection
Source: Library of Congress
As amusing as Fashion Shop S.C. moniker is, the club was named after their sponsor Fred Pelzman’s Fashion Shop - a local haberdashery -  and  was one of the most ambitious Washington clubs entering the 1930 National Amateur Cup. The club formed as a collection of former players of the Rosedale and Arcadian clubs who sought to compete in the 1929-30 WSL season, including the Clark brothers. By all accounts, the club was expected to prove a formidable challenge to the other clubs in the league, but started the WSL season rather disappointingly and struggled to win games. Fashion Shop’s lamentable start to their WSL campaign led The Washington Post to label the club underdogs in their first round National Amateur Cup match against the local WSL favorite, the Washington Soccer Club (WSC). The first round match took place on December 8, 1929 as the two teams met on the Monument Grounds in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Up to that point in the WSL season, no league team complained about Earl Clark’s professional status as he was able to compete in the District league without any dispute. His hat-trick performance in the cup game proved the turning point as the Washington Soccer Club filed a formal complaint with both the Washington and Southeastern District Association and the USFA following Fashion Shop’s 6-2 victory. Earl was joined on Fashion Shop’s front line by both of his brothers, Abner and Tom, in the dominating win. The victory secured Fashion Shop S.C. a game against the Locust Point Rangers of Baltimore, MD in the second round of the National Amateur Cup, but not before a rousing round of delays due to WSC’s protests.

Initially, the Washington and Southeastern District Association agreed with WSC and negated Fashion Shop’s win due to the participation of Earl Clark. Officials at the Cleveland, Ohio headquarters of the USFA did not agree with the local body’s assessment of the National Amateur Cup’s rules regarding Earl Clark’s eligibility and upheld the 6-2 Fashion Shop victory. The time between the initial ruling by the local body and the USFA’s conflicting decision caused extensive confusion and considerably postponed the second round game. In fact, on January 5, 1930 the day before the second round fixture, the Locust Point Rangers were expecting the meet the Fashion Shop eleven, but were prepared for both Washington teams to come to the site of the game at the Maryland Baseball Park. In the end, Earl Clark and Fashion Shop S.C. made the forty-mile trip to Baltimore to meet the Rangers on January 6, 1930.

Aerial Photograph of Baltimore and the Maryland Baseball Park in 1927
The Park was also the home of the Baltimore Black Sox Negro League baseball team.
Source: An incredible article by MASN about the discovery of the photograph.
The much-anticipated second round National Amateur Cup match proved disastrous for Fashion Club S.C. The Locust Point Rangers were the top club in Maryland Soccer League and had already dispatched a Washington club in the tournament’s first round – the Silver Spring Soccer Club. The Rangers made quick work of Clark and the Fashion Shop eleven defeating the Capital City club 4-0. The Baltimore outfit dominated the first half and racked up a 3-0 lead by halftime on goals by Ducks Kenney, Lou Cox, and C. Reichenberg. Fashion Shop shored up their defense in the second half, but failed to score. Neil Schmidt scored the fourth goal off of a free kick in the second half padding the Rangers lead and ensuring the Baltimore club victory and advancement to the third round of the tournament, or so they thought.

Just days after Clark and Fashion Club S.C. drubbing at the Maryland Baseball Park, the USFA reconsidered their initial decision and inexplicably reversed course and agreed with the Washington and Southeastern District Association and upheld the Washington body’s banishment of Fashion Club S.C. for the use of a professional athlete in an amateur cup fixture. The USFA’s abrupt about-face negated the Locust Point Rangers victory and further prolonged the tournament’s second round by scheduling a cup match between the Rangers and Washington Soccer Club on January 20. The Washington club did not matter, nor did the use of professionals, as the Rangers walloped the visiting WSC eleven 9-0 to finally advance to the third round of the amateur competition. The Rangers eventually lost in the Eastern Quarterfinals of the tournament to McLeod Council of Jersey City, NJ, while Clark and the Fashion Shop eleven continued in the Washington Soccer League.

The banishment of Fashion Shop S.C. in the National Amateur Cup did not end the club, or Clark’s participation in the Washington Soccer League. Although the tournament was the first and last nationally sanctioned soccer tournament that Clark played in, he continued to compete in the District’s leagues for the next couple of years making appearances for the Fashion Shop eleven, and other Washington clubs during the baseball offseason. Ultimately, injuries hampered Clark’s professional baseball career, which led to his early retirement at the age of 27. He moved back to Washington following his playing career and and worked within different government institutions while still competing in city baseball leagues and refereeing local soccer matches until he tragically lost his life in a car accident at the age of thirty in 1938. Both Clark’s exploits on the fields of Washington and his role in Fashion Shop S.C.’s banishment from the 1930 National Amateur Cup tournament are now long forgotten, but his name remains relevant due to his Major League Baseball career and his place as the co-record holder as a player with the most putouts in a single nine-inning game in the league’s history with twelve– a record he shares with Jacoby Ellsbury and Lyman Bostock.

Addendum (or other interesting information):

Earl set his put out record on May 10, 1929. Bostock did not tie the record until 1977. Ellsbury equaled the mark in 2009. Clark is the only player in National League history to accomplish the feat. 

Earl's brother, Tom, became a professional baseball player in 1931 after he signed with his hometown Washington Senators. He never made a Major League Baseball appearance.

The Washington Senators hosted the Boston Braves at Griffith Stadium in an exhibition game on April 8, 1931. The Senators deemed the day Earl Clark Day honoring the Washington native, and presented Earl with a gold watch.

Clark was always known for his speed both on the baseball diamond and the soccer field. He was reported as the fastest member of the Boston Braves during the team's Spring Training drills in Florida. In January 1932, Clark was recognized once again for his speed this time in a manner not associated with athletic competition when he used his speed to catch a thief on the streets of Washington. 

In writing this article, I relied heavily on the archives of The Washington Post. I also used articles from the Boston Globe during my research. In addition to these dailies, I consulted several websites including, and