Archie Stark as a guest player on Bethlehem Steel FC's 1919 Scandinavian tour.
Archie Stark as a guest player on Bethlehem Steel FC’s 1919 Scandinavian tour.

The name most often cited as the greatest American soccer player of the pre-World War II decades is Billy Gonsalves, but he has an excellent rival for that designation in the less-famous Archie Stark, who remains today as the most prolific goalscorer the United States has ever produced.

The careers of Stark and Gonsalves, who both were forwards, did overlap a bit, but Stark was 10 years older than Gonsalves. He was born in Scotland in 1898 and moved to Kearny, N.J., with his family when he was 14 years old. His first major championship came with the Scots-Americans of Kearny, when he scored the winning goal of the American Football Association Cup final in 1915.

Perhaps the reason why Stark’s star doesn’t shine as brightly as Gonsalves’ has to do with events of 1930, when Stark passed up a chance to play for the United States in the inaugural World Cup, and then went to Europe as a guest player with a touring Fall River team a few months later. Stark missed out on what could have been a bright feather in his cap, but he had legitimate reasons for his decision. First, while the “first World Cup” has a magical sound about it today, it was not considered that big a deal at the time. Most of the big European powers didn’t enter, and some American newspapers referred to it simply as the U.S. team’s South American tour. Second, the Bethlehem Steel team that Stark had been playing for in the American Soccer League was disbanded in April 1930, and at the time of that World Cup, for which the U.S. team sailed from New York on June 13, Stark was looking for a new livelihood and trying to get an automotive business started in Kearny. By the time of the Fall River tour of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria in August and September, the business was up and running, and he was able to take time off from it.

That was the second time that Stark had been a guest player on an American team’s European tour. Stark didn’t begin playing full-time for Bethlehem Steel, the team with which he gained his greatest fame, until 1924, but in 1919 he had been a guest player on Bethlehem Steel’s tour of Sweden and Denmark.

Stark still holds several important goalscoring records in American soccer. The 67 goals he scored for Bethlehem Steel in the 1924-25 American Soccer League season (a 44-game season) have never been threatened as the single-season record in American first-division pro soccer. Granted, soccer was a more attacking game in that era, but Stark did set his record in the final season under a tougher offside rule that was greatly limiting scoring. The No. 2 goalscorer in the ASL that season had 33 goals.

Stark’s 260 goals in 10 ASL seasons (with Bethlehem Steel and two other ASL teams), also still stand as the career record in American first-division pro soccer, although Giorgio Chinaglia came close with 242 goals in eight NASL seasons (including playoff goals). In addition, Stark still shares the single-game record for goals in the U.S. men’s national team. The four goals he scored against Canada at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn on Nov. 8, 1925 have been matched by Aldo “Buff” Donelli in 1934, Joe-Max Moore in 1993 and Landon Donovan in 2003, but never broken. 1925 was a big year for Stark. He scored five goals in a game in ASL play three times that year, in January, May and December.

After getting his start with Kearny Scots, Stark saw his career interrupted by World War I, in which he served in the U.S. Army in France. After the war, he played for two more New Jersey teams, Erie AA and Paterson FC, in the National Association Foot Ball League, and then for New York FC, Bethlehem Steel and Newark Americans in the original ASL, which was founded in 1921 and lasted until 1931. Before retiring in 1934, he played in his adopted hometown once again, this time for Kearny Irish, in the inaugural season of the second, semipro ASL. It was his final season, but true to form, he scored 22 goals and tied for the league goalscoring title.

A version of this article was originally posted on the BigSoccer.com website in December 2010.

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