Whenever you see a list of the top single game individual performances in U.S. sports history, you often see some very familiar feats. Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game, Gale Sayers’ six touchdowns, Reggie Jackson’s three home runs in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, to name a few.
One moment you never see among these feats, hidden by the obscured history of soccer in the United States is Mike Noha’s five-goal performance in the 1960 US Open Cup Final for the Ukrainian Nationals against the Los Angeles Kickers. The 21-year-old single handedly won the the Nats’ first of four US Open Cup championships. It is a record that still stands today.
Noha was born in 1939 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the son of Ukrainian immigrants from Kamianka-Buzka, Ukraine. He started his soccer career with Chacarita Juniors, then in the Argentine Primera Division (now in Primera B Nacional). Aside from his stint with the Nationals, Noha worked as a dental technician and had hoped to eventually resume his medical training.
In 1961, Nationals general manager Alec Yarmenko told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he considered Noha the “(Mickey) Mantle of soccer” [NOTE: For those who are not baseball savvy, Mantle was the New York Yankees outfielder who is widely considered one of the game’s all-time greatest].
As far as the American Soccer League was concerned Noha came close to fulfilling Yarmenko’s comparison. Noha lead the league in goals in 1960 and won the ASL MVP award in 1961. Noha made just one appearance for the United States National Team as part of a 10-0 defeat to England in New York on May 27, 1964. His lack of national team appearances was more likely due more to the infrequent schedule the United States team kept at the time. From 1960-67, only thirteen games were played by the U.S. National Team.
On May 29, 1960, the 5,500 fans who were at Edison Stadium in Philadelphia certainly had no idea they were about to witness one of the greatest feats in US soccer history. They were also witnessing the beginning of the Nationals’ dynasty in American soccer, as well as the first team from Philadelphia to win the Open Cup since the Philadelphia German Americans in 1936.
The Kickers took a 1-0 lead after fifteen minutes on Al Zerhusen’s goal, but Noha responded five minutes later with his opening tally, dribbling past four defenders for an eight-yard shot to beat the goalkeeper. L.A. took the lead once again on Walter Staacke’s penalty kick, but Noha scored his second two minutes before the break when Kickers goalkeeper Vic Ottoboni fumbled his shot on target.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, the Nationals found themselves trailing again when Eberhardt Herz scored from a twenty-yard shot. The 3-2 score stood for another 18 minutes when the Nationals were awarded a penalty on a Hugh Evans handball. Noha stepped up and tied the game at three.
In the final minute, Noha’s extra-time heroics were almost made unnecessary, when Mike Campo scored what looked to be the winning goal for the Philadelphians, only to be called back for being offside.
The initial 30 minutes of extra time passed with no scoring, so an additional 30 minutes were called upon (penalty shootouts were not used in the Open Cup until 1972).
With 20 minutes remaining, Noha struck for his fourth, an 18-yard blast off a pass from Alex Falk, giving the Nationals their first lead of the game. Six minutes later, Noha sealed things with his fifth, once again with the help of Falk.
What made Noha’s feat even more impressive is that the Nationals needed every one of his five goals in the 5-3 double extra time win, with the Ukrainians not taking the lead until the 130th minute of play.
The Ukrainian Weekly newspaper reported that Noha was carried off the field by jubilant supporters, and celebrations at the Ukrainian club in Philadelphia lasted well into the night. Highlights of the game were set to be shown on June 4 on a local Philadelphia television station on the Rambler Sports Digest.
The five goals in the Final brought Noha’s 1960 Cup total to 13 goals in seven games, including four goals in a 9-0 thrashing of Newark Portuguese. The win also extended the Uke Nats’ 22-game unbeaten streak in ASL and Open Cup play in the 1959-60 season. The 1960 Open Cup championship was the first of the four the Ukrainians would win in the next seven years. The Nationals were also ASL champions four years in a row from 1960-64.
Noha’s performance in the Ukrainians’ 1961 Open Cup run was almost as good, scoring 12 goals in six games, including another five-goal performance in the 6-0 quarterfinal win over Detroit’s St. Andrews. However, the 1961 Final didn’t end well for Noha as he was sent off in the second half of a 2-2 tie in Los Angeles and caused a commotion by initially refusing to leave the field. In the 1963 tournament, he scored four goals in a 13-0 demolition of Baltimore’s Italian Sports Association, a game in which Hall of Famer Walt Chyzowych also scored four times.
To sum up the rather obscure level of Noha’s achievement, in the same newspaper article in which he was compared to Mickey Mantle, he was asked if he had ever heard of the Yankees legend.
“No, has Mickey Mantle ever heard of me?”
If you didn’t know who Mike Noha was before, now you do.