They Came From Outer Space – A Deep Dive into the 1972 Cincinnati Comets Championship Season
For many Cincinnati sports fans, the year 1972 is remembered for the Reds’ playoff run that resulted in a World Series loss at the hands of the Oakland Athletics. However, some Cincinnati football fans may remember the Cincinnati Comets’ inaugural season taking place the same year. The Comets played as members of the American Soccer League (ASL), the second tier of soccer in the United States. As the team headed into August, they sat at the top of the table and had yet to lose a game. Many townspeople wondered if the team coached by Dr. Nick Capurro could bring football back to the Queen City by winning the ASL Championship.
August’s first test for the Comets came when team members were suspended for violent conduct against members of their feared rival, the St. Louis Frogs. This violent behavior displayed by the Comets was not a mere arm-wrestling. Instead, the Frogs and Comets players had engaged in an all-out brawl two weeks prior in St. Louis, resulting in the suspension of three players from both sides for their next game. The team initiating the brawl was unknown, but given the nature of St. Louis teams, I think we all know who got involved first. Who were the Comets playing in their next game, you might ask? Ironically, the St. Louis frogs. The rematch saw Dr Nick Capurro take precautionary measures by refusing to allow any of his suspended players to sit anywhere near the bench. Whether or not the players were placed in the 1972 Pitch View or Tunnel Club era remains unknown. Despite the suspensions, the Comets would win the match 3-0 and continue their season unbeaten.
Days after the St. Louis win, the Comets would bolster their offense with the addition of Brazilian left winger Diogo and Argentine midfielder Roberto Aguirre. The two joined the Comets on loan from Miami Gatos of the North American Soccer League (NASL). A buzz started in the Comets community around these players “known throughout South America”. Local media particularly noted Diogo’s prominence, specifically drawing attention to his name alone. This process would be repeated when Brazilian forward Brenner joined FC Cincinnati almost 30 years later. Still, the question remained: would these players be able to give Cincinnati the boost they needed to win the ASL Championship?
Diogo and Aguirre would make their first appearance for the Comets against the Ohio Amateur All-Stars in a friendly game at Western Hills High School Field. The match attracted 5,000 fans and was a clear attempt to capture the interest of the local youth football community. The annual benefit event would continue to be a great success for the organization and would continue for years to come. The 1972 iteration saw Diogo score his first goal for the club in a 7-3 win over the All-Stars. The Brazilian scored what today would have been affectionately dubbed a ‘banger’ from 30 yards out. In just his first game, Diogo proved to be a valuable addition to the already strong Comets squad.
Diogo’s goal in the benefit game would impress his new manager who claimed the Comets’ new attack was “the best we’ve ever had”. The next challenge for the 5-0-1 Comets in the league would be against the 2-2-2 Detroit Mustangs. The Comets could clinch the Midwest Division title with a win over Detroit on their home turf at St. Xavier High School Stadium. However, the Mustangs remained the only team the Comets hadn’t beaten in 1972. Both teams played to a tie earlier in the season, the only time Cincinnati had dropped points all season. The match would ultimately result in a 4–1 victory for the home team, sealing the Midwest Championship for Cincinnati. The title in the Applicant the next day read “Silent Comets Capture Midwest Title”, not the title one would expect after a championship season. History reveals that while the Comets had won their championship, reporters and players were unable to communicate with each other due to an extreme language barrier. Instead, reporters had to rely on the silent emotions the players displayed after the game. With the reporters unable to understand the players and the players unable to understand their own teammates, all that remained were silent smiles on the pitch after the win. Overall, the event made an awkward story on the Sunday sports page.
Nonetheless, the Comets had clinched the Midwest title and booked their ticket to the ASL playoffs. The last game of the season before the playoffs was against the Cleveland Stars. Prior to the game, many stories focused on the artificial turf field the Comets would play on in Cleveland. Would this prove to be a challenge for the undefeated team? The Comets spent the week before the game training at Nippert Stadium to get used to an artificial surface. In the end, the turf monster proved to be too much for the Comets and the Shooting Stars’ undefeated season crashed and burned after the Stars handed them a 3-0 loss. Headlines the following day credited the turf with ruining the Comets’ undefeated season.
Despite losing in the last game, the Comets returned to form in the ASL playoffs. The ASL’s bizarre playoff system saw the Comets receive the coveted two-round bye. Instead of having to play in the first two rounds against the winners of the North and South Conferences, the Comets received a one-way ticket directly to the ASL Championship. These odd rules benefited the Comets and might leave someone wondering whether or not the Comets were the 1972 equivalent of today’s big market MLS teams.
Tragedy struck the Comets when three of their players were involved in a car crash the week of the league game. The players’ injuries kept them out of the final game of the playoffs. Despite the loss, the Comets won the ASL Championship game against the Philadelphia Spartans thanks to a 54th-minute winner from University of Cincinnati student Charley Roberts. The game started in panic as Comets starting keeper Augusto Quesada forgot his shirt and had to rush home. The goalkeeper was eventually replaced after returning with the correct equipment.
The victory on September 9, 1972 brought the Comets their first championship in as many years and cemented them in the middle of Cincinnati sports history. However, the future for comets was not as bright as they might have hoped. In 1973, the Comets would make Nippert Stadium their home ground. They would go on to win another Midwest title but ultimately fell in the ASL Championship to New York’s Apollo. 1973 also saw Comets player Ed Roberts attempt to join the Cincinnati Bengals as a place kicker. In the years that followed, the Comets would never return to their former glory, failing to win a title in 1974 and 1975. A failed bid from the NASL in 1975 forced the Comets to fold and another Cincinnati football team has been lost to history.
The 1972 Comets race was a story I had never heard before, but one that immediately captivated me. The professional nature of the team and its winning culture mixed with antics such as the uniform debacle proved exciting for the search. While the Comets existed in their day, there are many similarities to the modern FC Cincinnati team. Both franchises knew they needed to capitalize on the city’s vibrant youth soccer culture. The two brought world-class talent to the Queen City, increasing the city’s diversity and growing its culture – though the Comets might have done better by hiring a translator for the team. Finally, the two have brought exciting, championship-winning football to the city, developing the game we love in the city we love. FC Cincinnati owes a lot of credit to teams like the Comets who dared to try football in Cincinnati. The successes proved that it was possible and the failures proved that there was still a lot to learn if a professional side wanted to exist in this market. Today we see FC Cincinnati draw capacity crowds that are 26,000 instead of 5,000, a testament to the progress of the sport in our city. They say history is repeating itself and with our own American-Brazilian-Argentinian attacking trio, it’s debatable whether we could be on the precipice of another championship. The year 2022 is the 50th anniversary of the dominant race of comets. Could the stars – or rather the Comets – line up for FC Cincinnati at the end of the year? Only time will tell.
We are not the first site to write about Comets. For more history, check out the work of Friends of CST Ronnie Salerno and Cincy shirts.
Ronnie also talks about Comets in episode 29: good places still available
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