Thursday, August 21, 2014
The late 80s/early 90s were a heady time for Green White, and one of the reasons for that was one of the best teams Green White has ever assembled.
The team was led by Illinois Soccer Hall of Famer Alex Gyurko. It began very early on, when some of the boys were quite young. Chris Salatino was one of those boys.
"I met the Gyurko family when I was only eight years old," he recalls, "and I'm very thankful for that. They introduced me to Green White when I was nine, and Maggie Gyurko (Alex's wife) picked me up and drove to every practice and game until I got my driver's license."
Throughout the 80s, the youth team kept adding pieces. Along with Alex's sons Peter & Mark, and Chris (Sal), when they reached the U-14 level, additional players came aboard. Erik Bender was one of those players.
"I joined G&W after having won the State Championship with Arlington Aces - Brian McBride was my goalkeeper," he remembers. "Mr Gyurko was a good recruiter and got along famously with my father who immediately got involved with the club."
Gus Bender (Erik's father) was a good recruiter too. With both Gyurko and Bender (another Hall of Famer) on the case, more and more pieces were added to the puzzle.
"Around the end of our U-14 season," Peter Gyurko recalls, "we knew we were getting there. We picked up a few key players like Erik and Blake Rodgers."
But their real success came during their U-16 season. Green White stormed through the regular season and made it to the State Cup. By now, Tom Czop was part of the team too.
"Our first year as a team at the U-16 level was the beginning of knowing how special our team could be," he says. "We lost in very controversial fashion in the U-16 State Cup Semi-finals to Sockers FC."
Salatino agrees. "Sockers had just started to become the 'power' club that it is today. They put together a team that was a year older than us and loaded it with great players at every position. They really had to scramble and dig deep, but ultimately beat us at the end. It was at that point that we thought, here is the best team in the state (they went on to win the tournament that year) and we were just as good. After that, we had a confidence that allowed us to compete with anyone, anywhere."
"That loss really focused our team," Czop concurs.
The trips they took together also brought the team together. Some even went overseas.
"Our team traveled to Germany our first year of U-16 with GW's U-19," Tom Czop remembers. "Peter & Mark Gyurko, Erik Bender, Peter Ternes, Blake Rogers, and Mike Byrne. I may be missing a few though."
"I remember all the guys got earrings on that trip except me," Bender says. "Today, I am glad I didn't."
"There are all kinds of stories from every tournament we went to," Salatino adds, ticking off some of their locations. "Kalamazoo, Dallas, Sioux Falls, Omaha, USA cup in Minnesota, St. Louis."
When the statute of limitations expires, some of those stories may even be told.
"Our team chemistry and friendships were what made all of our trips memorable," Tom Czop says, getting serious for a moment. "We probably did not have the most top or best players from our area, but we had such a tight-knit group and chemistry that made us such a successful team. Not only did we play and practice as a team, but we were friends off of the field as well."
But this tight knit group continued to add pieces. And a lot was asked of the new players.
Goalkeeper Shaun Fogarty explains what the new players faced. "There was a dedication there...training in the cold, playing through the pain and injuries, not skipping practices, being there for one another. From my perspective we also played as a team where new members had to adapt to the team more than the team having to adapt to new players."
Nate Osicka joined the team when he was in high school, and remembers being impressed. "I played at Stevenson High School up north with Blake Rodgers and he convinced Mr. Gyurko to take a look at me. By the time I joined the team it was already clear that this was a special group of guys. I remember Mike Byrne teaching me to step over the ball when I first arrived at practice. I really was pretty far behind a lot of the other guys at first and I really appreciated the couple of minutes he took to show me how to do a couple of things."
When the team played at U-17, they could no longer be stopped. Tom Czop recalls the first championship. "The 1989 U-17 State Cup title win over Sockers FC was special as we won our first state title and avenged the previous year's U-16 loss to them."
But it was just the beginning of their hardware.
"The following year's (1990) U-19 State Cup semi-final win over Sportsclub (now the Magic) was also very memorable," Czop adds. "Sportsclub had come out of nowhere with a south suburban all-star team and jumped out to a 2-0 lead on us in the opening 15 minutes. We managed to score two goals toward the end of the first half to tie the game up and then scored two second half goals for a dramatic 4-2 win and lead us to the eventual state title and berth to our first Midwest Regionals in Kalamazoo, Michigan."
Salatino has fond memories of one of their regional appearances, but for a different reason.
"For me personally, I'll never forget the regional tournament in South Dakota," he says. "I had hurt my knee in the spring and wasn’t able to play, but Mr. Gyurko still took me everywhere. At regionals, we were beating a team by three or four goals, so he put me in so that I could have the opportunity to just be on the field. As luck would have it, I hurt my knee again in the couple of minutes I was in there. I remember being on the ground and everyone on the team came over right away. Cesar Alfaro dropped down and just grabbed my hand to console me. Mr. Gyurko came over and literally carried me off the field. The game was over shortly thereafter and everyone hung around me to make sure I was okay. That’s not necessarily a memory of a big game, but a fond memory of how everyone really cared for each other amongst our group."
In 1991 this group reached their highest heights.
"Many of us had finished our first year of college," Fogarty recalls. "Some of us played ball in our first year of college and some of us did not. We picked up where we left off before leaving for college and just played so well. It was fun. We won the state cup. Then we won the regional cup. And then we went on the National Cup in Omaha."
"At the 1991 nationals semi-finals we got to play against Jason Kreis of RSL and now NYC fame who was on the Baton Rouge United Jags, a U-19 Select team," Nate Osicka says. "That was a big deal. I remember they edged us in the semi finals."
"Thanks to some horrible officiating," Erik Bender adds.
Despite the controversy, finishing in the top four of the country, was a tremendous accomplishment--the icing on the cake. In four years this group of Green White players had accomplished something no other Green White team has accomplished before or since. Before they were through playing together, they had won three consecutive state championships.
Their names will forever be connected in Green White history: Shaun Fogarty and Pat Cullnan (the keepers), Erik Bender, Mark Gyurko, Peter Gyurko, Peter Ternes, Rick Anderson, Blake Rogers, Tom Czop, Mike Byrne, Ricardo Tovar, Phil Imm, Cesar Alfaro, Tristan Nepote, Nate Osica, Gary Garcia, Chris Salatino.
The group remains so close to this day, they still knew how to contact each other for this piece.
"Many of us still talk and are good friends to this day," Peter Gyurko says. "We played soccer together but those were also our vacations. We played spring, summer, indoor multiple sessions, practiced all the time. We became a family, even the parents reminisce about those times."
Gus Bender, one of those parents, is still impressed with this group of guys. "This is an extraordinary group of men who realized early on that the game was part of a life-learning experience."
His wife Mary Jane agrees. "The camaraderie and experiences with the players and parents was amazing. A great club and team provide memories for a life time."
And the club is still near and dear to their hearts.
"For me," Erik Bender says, "the club taught me how to work hard. Guys like Mr Zimmer, Mr Kaempfer, Mr Melcher, Mr Gyurko, my father and a bunch of old Germans who used to pat us on the head and say, 'good game,' who worked tirelessly so that teams like ours could have these great experiences. Most of us who hung around the club and worked the tournaments have grown up to be pretty successful. That work ethic may be the best thing the club did for us."
"Alex, Gus and the entire Green White family had a tremendous influence on me during my teenage years," Fogarty says. "The club and the team were my family. I had the opportunity to experience many things that my friends outside of Green White didn't get to do. My fondest memories of youth soccer all involve Green White."
"It truly was our second family," Peter Gyurko adds. "We went to picnics together, holiday parties, dances, dinners, had sleepovers."
"Green White is my connection to a wonderful time in my life," Salatino agrees. "We had a great group of guys that got along well, took great care of each other and accomplished a lot of things together."
Tom Czop is still involved with Green White. "I learned to play for more than the love of the game but for the pride of our club and to support my teammates. It was always great to learn from the older players and teams above you. I believe the Green White club atmosphere was a key to our success."
And there's no doubt about who was most responsible for that.
"Those Green White values were instilled in us from our coach, Alex 'Sandor' Gyurko," Czop says.
"Alex was the catalyst," Gus Bender agrees. "He recognized that it was about kids having fun, but not without responsibility."
A few years ago the team reunited in honor of their beloved coach, and surprised him. Alex Gyurko, who has been with Green White since the 50s as a player, coach, and club member, says that day was the single greatest moment of his time with club.
"Most of the players from many different cities showed up," he says. "Fifteen out of the eighteen, and many parents too. It was so great to see them all one last time."
"One last time?" Salatino retorts. "I expect we’ll have another one. I’m pretty sure everyone is still active in soccer one way or another these days. I don’t think it’ll be too hard to pull it together for another run."