Town that built US soccer from immigrant legacy

Manchester United's new American goalkeeper made his home in a place which has produced a succession of outstanding talents

Manchester United's pre-season tour of the United States takes the club to New Jersey to play Juventus at the Giants Stadium tonight. The game is being held in one of the few regions of the America that has a footballing, or soccer, tradition.

It is a quiet legacy, little known even in New Jersey, which was built by Lancastrian and Glaswegian immigrants who formed mill and factory teams in the same way, and at the same time, as others formed clubs such as United. Many of these immigrants, particularly the Scots, settled in the New Jersey town of Kearny. Starting with the Glaswegian immigrant Archie Stark, who is the highest-scoring player in the history of American soccer, through to John Harkes, Tab Ramos and Tony Meola, key players in the national team of the Nineties, this small town (population 35,000) has been home to many of the America's best players. It was also, until recently, home to Tim Howard, United's new keeper.

One of Kearny's best players is Meola. Now the goalkeeper for the Kansas City Wizards, Meola attracted attention as part of the US team in the Nineties. His impressive performances helped convince the world that America could produce quality players, particularly goalkeepers. The latest of these seems likely to be Howard, who Meola knows well from their time together at the NY MetroStars. When Howard joined the MetroStars, it was Meola who suggested he should live in Kearny, because, as he puts it; "it is a soccer town and a great place to live".

Talking to Meola, it is clear that he has a pride in his home town. He laughs at the portrayal of Kearny in the television programme The Sopranos (some of the show is filmed in the town). "TV tends to exaggerate", he claims, though he does admit that "he has friends back home, cops, who would rather be in that show than just riding around in squad cars."

Meola describes Kearny as a town of two halves. The Kearny he recommended to Howard is the few square miles of residential area, where Meola grew up; which he describes as "having a great sense of community, a real friendly place". The other Kearny, the outskirts which border on to Newark and Morgan Park, is a decaying industrial landscape similar to that which Tony Soprano drives through in the show's title sequence.

The origins of Kearny as a soccer town lie in these industrial outskirts. Kearny grew rapidly in the years following the American Civil War. With the North's victory much of the South's lucrative cotton trade switched from Lancashire to New Jersey and factories sprang up in the towns along the Hudson River. This boom attracted Scottish workers who poured into New Jersey. They brought with them their love of soccer and soon established works' teams. In 1885 these teams, along with others in the industrial north-east, formed a league, one of the first outside the UK. Many of the best clubs in this league were from Kearny.

In the Eighties a generation of players emerged from this tiny soccer enclave who would begin to challenge the notion that America was incapable of producing decent players. The first signs of this came in the early part of the decade with Kearny High School winning both state and national championships with a team that featured Meola and Harkes. These players would go on to play an important part in the US national team, which, to the surprise of many, gradually moved up the world rankings. The team are now ranked ninth.

Mike Rusek, who, along with a Scottish immigrant John Millar, coached the Kearny High School team, has no doubt that the success enjoyed by this generation of players has its roots in the town's Scottish community. Influences such as the annual fixture against Celtic's youth team gave "Kearny players a reputation of being real competitive with a quite aggressive approach to the game".

At the same time as Harkes and Meola were winning success with their high school, Ramos, another young Kearnyite to feature in the national side, was making his reputation at St Benedict's, a Catholic School in the neighbouring city of Newark. Following the success of Ramos, and with the players support, the school has developed what Rusek believes is the best high school soccer programme in the country. "The future looks good for St Benedict's", he says. He believes that in the same way as Scottish immigrants helped develop soccer in Kearny, St Benedict's is able to draw on the newer generations of Catholic, Latin American immigrants. He is probably right. Claudio Reyna, Sunderland's highly rated midfield player was another St Benedict's product.

The legacy of soccer in Kearny and New Jersey is one in which Sir Alex Ferguson could see a distant reminder of his background, and has a faint echo of United's origins.

More importantly, with Howard, the New Jersey-born, former Kearnyite, expected to make his debut for his new club in tonight's match, it is a legacy that may have some bearing on Manchester United's future.

Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing