The 1923-24 Fall River Marksmen, winners of the National Challenge Cup. Sam Mark is seated to the far left.
The Lamar Hunt US Open Cup has been determining the United States’ national champion in the sport of soccer since the 1913/14 season. There have been 104 champions in the tournament’s history and there will be a 105th crowned in Houston, Texas on Sept. 26 when the Houston Dynamo host the Philadelphia Union. Out of all the clubs that have won the tournament over the last 105 years, only three of them have won the tournament five times.
However, often when an article is written about the teams that hold the record for most US Open Cup titles, there are only two teams mentioned among the five-time winners: Bethlehem Steel (1915, 1916, 1918, 1919, 1926) and Maccabee AC (1973, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1981). Upon closer inspection, there are actually three teams that have lifted the trophy five times.
It’s not the fault of the authors of those articles. Anyone who looks up a list of US Open Cup champions will find the Fall River Marksmen winning the tournament in 1924, 1927, 1930, and 1931. In 1932, a team called the New Bedford Whalers won the National Challenge Cup. According to TheCup.us research, the Whalers and the Marksmen are the same organization and we recognize them as such, thus making them a five-time champion.
However, before we make that argument, let’s start with a brief history of the Marksmen.
The Fall River Marksmen made their debut on the American soccer scene in 1922, taking over for the Fall River Rovers, who had battled Bethlehem Steel in three straight National Challenge Cup finals from 1916-18, winning the title in 1917. The Rovers disbanded in 1921, and for the inaugural American Soccer League season in the fall of 1921, Fall River United was created. The new team was a failure on the field, only managing five wins and one draw over 24 games.
After the dismal debut season, Sam Mark took over and the club’s fortunes instantly changed. The first move Mark made was to build his own stadium just over the Massachusetts state line in Tiverton, Rhode Island. This allowed the team to circumvent Massachusetts Blue Laws which prohibited charging admission for sporting contests played on Sundays, which in that era, was the only guaranteed day off everyone had from their jobs.
Mark’s next move was signing a slew of new players, including Harold Brittan from Bethlehem Steel, as well as group of players from Scotland. James “Tec” White and Tommy Martin (Motherwell), Charlie McGill (Third Lanark) and Bill McPherson (Beith) all crossed the Atlantic to become part of Mark’s men.
After a lackluster campaign in 1923, the Marksmen took off, winning the American Soccer League championship three years in a row from 1924-26. Their first National Challenge Cup title also came in 1924, as the Marksmen bested St. Louis’ Vesper Buick 4-2. The Marksmen once again captured the Open Cup championship in 1927, thrashing Holley Carburetor of Detroit 7-0.
From Fall of 1928 to 1930 the Marksmen once again held reign over the American Soccer League, winning three league championships in a row. Open Cup success had to wait until 1930 however, as the Marksmen, along with most of the ASL clubs, boycotted the 1929 Cup due to the league’s dispute with the United States Soccer Football Association. The Marksmen rolled over Cleveland’s Bruell American Hungarian SC twice to win the 1930 Final. They won both games 7-2 and 2-1. Werner Nilsen and Jimmy McAuley each scored hat tricks in the first game.
The Fall River Marksmen defeated Cleveland’s Bruell Insurance 7-2 in the first leg of the 1930 National Challenge Cup Final in front of 10,000 fans at the Polo Grounds in New York City. Credit: NY Daily News
The Marksmen continued their cup dominance in 1931, winning their fourth title over three legs, defeating Bricklayers FC of Chicago in the opening game at the Polo Grounds in New York City, followed by a 1-1 draw in Chicago and another Fall River win in the Windy City. Bert Patenaude scored five goals in the Marksmen’s 6-2 first leg win, a single-game Open Cup Final record that still stands today, tied only by Mike Noha of the Ukrainian Nationals in 1960.
In the middle of the 1931 tournament, Sam Mark moved his club to New York and renamed them the New York Yankees. With the Great Depression in full effect, attendance for Marksmen games began to drop. Speculation swirled through the latter months of 1930 that Mark would merge his club with the New York Soccer Club, another struggling ASL entry, and play their home games in the Big Apple. In the days leading up to Fall River’s quarterfinal match against Galicia, an amateur club from New York City, it was confirmed that that the team would indeed uproot and head to New York for the 1931 Spring ASL season. However, since the club had entered the National Challenge Cup as the Fall River Marksmen, the USSFA required them to complete their cup run under their old name, all while wearing Yankees uniforms.
It’s at this point where the story gets muddied up a bit, and we begin our explanation as to why the Fall River Marksmen should be credited with five Open Cup championships.
The Fall River Marksmen are presented with the Dewar Trophy after winning the 1931 National Challenge Cup. Photo: National Soccer Hall of Fame
When Sam Mark left Fall River, he announced that his stadium in Tiverton was available for anyone who wished to put a team there. Former Marksmen and future Hall or Famer Harold Brittan took him up on the offer, buying the Pawtucket club and moving them in as Fall River FC. The new Fall River club survived a mediocre 1931 Spring season finishing mid-table, and afterwards merged with the New Bedford Whalers, the former fierce rival of the Marksmen who had also fallen on hard times.
Heading into the 1931 Fall ASL season, the Fall River FC/New Bedford combination folded. Sam Mark realized the move to New York was not working out as planned and decided to move his team back to New England. In a plot twist that can only happen in American soccer, Mark moved his team to New Bedford to play as the New Bedford Whalers. The new Whalers won the 1931 Fall ASL season and won the 1932 Open cup title over the next American soccer dynasty, Stix, Baer and Fuller of St. Louis. With that win, the Whalers (Marksmen) became the first club in tournament history to win three straight titles.
To date, only four clubs have earned a US Open Cup three-peat: Fall River Marksmen/New Bedford Whalers 1930-32, Stix, Baer & Fuller/Central Breweries/Shamrocks SC from 1933-35, New York Greek American Atlas SC from 1967-69 and Seattle Sounders FC from 2009-11.
Of the 12 players who made Open Cup appearances for the New Bedford Whalers in 1932, eight of them had appeared for the Marksmen in their 1931 title run. Only four players that made Open Cup appearances for the Whalers in 1932 were holdovers from the old Whalers club that played in the 1931 Spring season: Tommy Florie, James Montgomerie, Tommy McMillan and William Watson. The 1932 Whalers were essentially the same team as the Marksmen in 1931, they had just moved twice in less than a year. The many city changes and name swaps during this time no doubt has caused confusion for historians over the years, and lead to counting the 1932 New Bedford Whalers cup-winning team as a separate club from the Fall River Marksmen.
Six players appeared in all three cup-winning runs from 1930-32: Johnny Reder, Bill McPherson, Alex McNab, Billy Gonsalves, Werner Nilsen and James “Tec” White formed the core of the team during this time, making 133 total Cup appearances and scoring 41 goals. McNab, Gonsalves, Nilson, as well as Bert Patenaude (1930 & 31), and Tommy Florie (1932) have since been inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
Of this core group, perhaps none had a more peculiar ending than Johnny Reder. Reder stood in goal for all but the final two of the 22 Cup games played by the Marksmen/Whalers. Just as baseball affected the 1923 Final, the national pastime influenced the Whalers lineup for the 1932 Final. Reder, the club’s regular goalkeeper since 1929, was forced to miss both the initial game and the replay when it was decided the estimated 1,000 mile, 68-hour trip by train to St. Louis from the Boston Red Sox spring camp in Savannah, Georgia would cause Reder to miss too much time with the Red Sox. Midfielder William Watson was forced between the posts in Reder’s absence. While Watson had played a handful of games in goal for the Whalers, he was not the caliber of goalkeeper Reder was, allowing five goals in the two games while Reder only allowed three goals in four cup games that year.
Having played baseball as a high schooler, Reder, 22 at the time, decided to give that game a chance again over the struggling ASL. Reder did not have much success with the Red Sox in 1932. He made only 43 plate appearances in 17 games, in which he recorded a batting average of just .135. It turned out that Reder would never return to soccer after 1932, bouncing around baseball’s minor leagues for a few more seasons before giving up baseball for good at the age of 28. Reder, born in Lublin, Poland, is only one of four Polish-born players to ever play in Major League Baseball.
After the 1932 ASL Fall season the financial burden was too much for Sam Mark to bear, and the Whalers closed shop. The ASL was on shaky ground, as the league was down to just five teams for the 1933 Spring season. After playing an abbreviated schedule, the league folded during the summer and was re-organized in the fall of 1934 as a brand new ASL, a league much smaller in scale and more “semi-pro” in nature.
The former location of Mark’s Stadium
After the failure of his club, Sam Mark stayed away from soccer for decades. He turned up again in Los Angeles in the 1950s, lending a hand in helping the Los Angeles Kickers get started. There is speculation that his stadium was torn down by 1938 to make way for an auto racing track. A smaller soccer stadium was once again on the site by the late 1940s, used by Amateur and Open Cup winning side Ponta Delgada. The Ponta Delgada stadium was torn down in the 1950s to make way for a drive-in movie theater. The site is now an empty lot behind the Atlantic Sports Bar & Restaurant (SEE: Map).
While the name listed on the Dewar Cup for the 1931/32 National Challenge Cup is listed as the New Bedford Whalers, based on the evidence and research that TheCup.us has collected, the Fall River Marksmen organization deserves to be recognized as a five-time US Open Cup champion.
In 1933, the core of Mark’s championship teams, McPherson, Nilsen, Gonsalves and McNab, migrated to St. Louis to join the new American soccer dynasty, Stix, Baer & Fuller. This group of players would create their own personal dynasty, winning five straight cup championships together from 1930-34. Nilsen, Gonsalves and McNab made it six straight in 1935 after McPherson left the team. Incredibly, McPherson faced his old teammates in the 1935 final as a member of the Pawtucket Rangers. Bert Patenaude, another former Marksman, joined his old teammates in 1935. After two name changes (Central Breweries in 1935 and Shamrocks for 1936 and 1937), the Stix dynasty finally came to an end when the team folded months after its sixth straight Open cup Finals appearance in 1937.