The San Francisco soccer scene is one of great tradition and history. That history includes National Team players, US Open Cup champions, NCAA champions and National Soccer Hall of Famers from multiple generations dating back more than a century. In a city with so many legends, you would be hard pressed to find a bigger, more recognizable or more impactful name than Stephen Negoesco, known by some as the “King of West Coast Soccer.”
Among his any accomplishments, Negoesco led the University of San Francisco to five NCAA championships (1966, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1980) and made history when he won the US Open Cup championship in 1976 with the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club. It was the first time that a Northern California club lifted the US Open Cup trophy and he became the first coach in history to win a US Open Cup and an NCAA title.
On Sunday, Feb. 3, Negoesco passed away at the age of 93.
Born in New Jersey, Negoesco returned to Romania with his father at a young age following the passing of his mother. While he was in Romania, he was put in a Nazi camp in 1940 when they learned of his American connection. It was there that he started to learn the game of soccer by playing with the guards who he later escaped from.
Negoesco was eventually able to return to the United States in 1945. In 1947, he would settle in San Francisco where he began to put the University of San Francisco on the soccer map. He enrolled at the university as a biology major and began to play soccer for the USF Dons. He helped lead the Dons to the 1950 co-national championship, while earning All-American honors in both his junior and senior seasons.
While Negoesco had an impressive playing career, he is best known for his coaching career as the head coach of his alma mater. He took over the Dons program in 1961 and held the position until his retirement in 2000. In those 40 years, Negoesco built a legacy that may never be matched in the college game again. He won 544 games, 22 conference titles and five NCAA Division I national championships in 1966, 1975, 1976, 1978 and 1980 (The 1978 national title was later vacated due to the use of an ineligible player). Only six-time winners Jerry Yeagley (Indiana) and Bob Guelker (St. Louis) and five-time winners Bruce Arena (Virginia), and Harry Keough (St. Louis) have more titles than Negoesco’s NCAA-recognized four.
“Steve Negoesco leaves a legacy with the influence he has had as a coach, mentor, and friend,” said Director of Athletics, Scott Sidwell in a statement. “We were blessed to have Steve guiding our programs on The Hilltop, where his quest for excellence inspired and motivated championship players and teams. Coach Negoesco truly lived his life to the fullest and was active with our university and his former players up until his final days. We mourn his passing, will miss him dearly, but will always be grateful for the countless lessons he has left for us. Coach Negoesco will live in all of us who were fortunate to be touched by his strong and guiding hand.”
While coaching at USF, Negoesco was also an active coach in the San Francisco Soccer Football League (SFSFL), the oldest continuously-operating soccer league in the country (Est. 1902). He was in charge of the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club (SFIAC) from 1963-1977, winning five SFSFL titles during that span.
Negoesco also helped the club win the 1976 US Open Cup title. To date, San Francisco IAC is one of only five Northern California clubs to win the tournament (Greek American AC in 1985, San Jose Oaks in 1992, CD Mexico in 1993 and Greek American AC in 1994).
Since Negoesco became the first coach to win an Open Cup and an NCAA title, only two other coaches have accomplished that feat: Bruce Arena won five titles at the University of Virginia (1989, 1991-94) and the 1996 US Open Cup championship with D.C. United in 1996 and Sigi Schmid, who won three national titles with UCLA (1985, 1990, 1997) and is the US Open Cup’s all-time leader in championships with five (2001 with Los Angeles Galaxy, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014 with Seattle Sounders FC). Schmid recently passed away last Christmas.
To capture that 1976 US Open Cup title, Negoesco’s Italian Athletic Club defeated two other SFSFL teams to kick off the club’s run to the Final. They defeated the Sons of Italy in the opening round, followed by a 3-2 extra time win over the San Francisco Scots to advance to the Quarterfinals (West Finals).
There they faced off with the defending champions from Los Angeles, Maccabee AC in a two-leg series to determine who would advance to the final four. San Francisco would stun the two-time champions, 2-1, on their home field at Daniels Field in L.A., and then return back to the Bay Area and hold them to a scoreless draw to advance.
It would take a lot of travel, but San Francisco IAC would finally bring the trophy back to the Bay Area. They traveled to Illinois to face off with St. Louis club Big Four Chevrolet. After a 2-2 draw, the Italians would have to earn a spot in the final at the penalty spot, winning the shootout, 4-2.
A couple weeks later, San Francisco would make a cross-country trip to the Metropolitan Oval in Queens, New York where they would edge the home team Inter-Giuliana by the score of 1-0. The game-winning goal was scored from “40 feet out” (according to the San Francisco Chronicle) by Andy Atuegbu, who also played for Negoesco at USF and scored the NCAA championship-winning goal that season as well.
Despite his impressive resume of more than 500 college wins and all the trophies and accomplishments, many readers, especially those in the Bay Area might be surprised to learn that Negoesco is not a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. However, he was a 2003 inductee into the United Soccer Coaches Hall of Fame.
According to San Francisco Soccer Football League president Leo Shoomiloff, he applied to get Negoesco on the National Soccer Hall of Fame ballot multiple times, but he has yet to make the cut.
“It is sad that both Steve Negoesco and the Rally brothers haven’t been inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame like past predecessors from the Bay Area who greatly contributed to this beautiful game,” the SFSFL board wrote in a statement to TheCup.us. “The SFSFL submitted applications on their behalf but they were not accepted. Both Steve Negoesco and John and Jim Rally made a powerful impact on soccer at both the local and national level. Their contribution to the game will be greatly missed but their stories and legend will live on – both off and on the field for generations of soccer enthusiasts.”
In his career, Negoesco coached prominent players including John Doyle, Koulis Apostolidis, Mike Ivanow, and even Alejandro Toledo who would go on to become the President of Peru. In 1982, USF named the soccer stadium in his honor.
Josh Hakala also contributed to this report