It’s 1971. Richard Nixon is President. Disney World just opened for the first time. And Penn has one of the best soccer teams in the nation.
For the first time in its history, Penn men’s soccer was able to dominate the Ivy League with an unblemished conference record.
Under coach Bob Seddon, the star-studded roster boasted talent from the most experienced veterans to the greenest rookies. Since freshmen were ineligible to play varsity soccer in the 1970s, Penn’s rookie class was made up of sophomores getting their first taste of Division I competition.
“Penn’s soccer squad fields a starting unit in which sophomore representation is over 50%,” the Daily Pennsylvanian wrote on Oct. 14, 1971, “yet the Quakers' 4-0 ledger shows that they have experienced little, if any, in the way of growing pains normal to this situation.”
The national rankings shared the DP’s faith in the young team. Penn was ranked the No. 3 soccer program in the country that year, only behind San Francisco and Saint Louis.
Among the rising stars of the rookie class was Larry Houston, who started the season at halfback but was moved to the forward line by Seddon for a game against Swarthmore. Seddon’s gamble paid off, as Houston netted two goals to help the Quakers trounce the Garnets by a score of 5-0 for their fifth win of the season.
Houston went on to finish second in scoring for the Red and Blue in 1971 with nine goals and earned a second team All-Ivy designation at the end of the season for his efforts.
The sophomores had the support of the three senior captains. Stan Startzell, Tom Lieberman, and Bob Watkins provided experience and stability to the starting lineup.
Penn suffered its only loss of the regular season on Oct. 16 against Navy, a narrow 2-1 contest that snapped the team's five-game winning streak.
The Red and Blue didn’t have much time to mourn the loss of their undefeated season, however. Their focus quickly turned to the biggest game of the year, when they would host Harvard, the reigning Ivy champion.
At the time, the soccer program shared Franklin Field with the football and lacrosse teams. The stadium housed 11,150 spectators that evening, breaking collegiate soccer attendance records at the time.
The Crimson were riding a 17-game Ivy win streak, and the Red and Blue were desperate to prove themselves against the best competition in the conference.
“After a first half played at a speed that only artificial surfaces can provide, both teams returned to the sidelines with characteristic attitudes,” the DP wrote on Nov. 1, 1971. “The Quakers exhibited their determination with clenched fists, knowing well that they could not let up for a minute against the explosive Crimson attack. The Harvard players lounged comfortably, confident that their superior size and speed would make the difference once again.”
But this time, Harvard’s superior size and speed weren't enough. The Quakers came away with a 5-3 victory. They celebrated with champagne in the locker room as if they’d just won the conference, having finally bested the Ivy soccer giant.
The next week, a victory over Cornell gave Penn its first outright Ivy title. But the season wasn’t over — the Quakers had their third-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament to prepare for.
The selection for the tournament was a much different process than it is today. A panel of judges, including Seddon and the coaches of Lehigh and Rider, would select four teams from the Mid-Atlantic Region to play for the regional title. Selection criteria would be based on strength of schedule, win percentage, and overall level of competition.
To no one’s surprise, the Quakers were seeded first, and the first round was set against No. 4 East Stroudsburg. Penn easily knocked off the Warriors by a score of 2-0 and turned towards its next opponent, Penn State.
After a nail-biter of a game, scoreless until the final 31 seconds, the Red and Blue fell at home. Just their second loss of the year brought with it the end of their season.
Penn State advanced to the quarterfinals, where it would be bested by Howard. The Bison would ultimately be the 1971 national champions, although their title would later be vacated following disputes of player eligibility.
Following the end of the season, Startzell was drafted in the second round of the North American Soccer League draft by the New York Cosmos, and he later played for the Philadelphia Atoms. Lieberman also went on to play professional soccer with the Boston Minutemen and the Delaware Wings.
While the Penn State loss would mark the final collegiate game for the Quakers’ three captains, the stellar sophomore class indicated that the Red and Blue would be able to recoup their personnel losses and try to defend its conference title.
And this time, they were out for revenge. After going on a 6-0 tear to start the 1972 season, scoring 37 goals and only allowing four, the Quakers got their chance for a rematch against Navy.
“No one on the current squad has ever beaten Navy,” Seddon told the DP before the game on Oct. 20, 1971. “Last year they were very aggressive and forced us into their type of game. If they outhustle us, we're in trouble.”
Navy’s coach Glenn Warner had less faith in his team, remarking, “It’ll take an act of God for us to win.”
There was no act of God on the Franklin Field that evening, but there were plenty of fans. Smashing the NCAA record set the previous year in the Penn-Harvard game, a crowd of 12,000 witnessed the Quakers thrash Navy, 5-1. Sophomore forward George Otieno, who had been a standout all season, notched three goals.
After shutting out both Princeton and Drexel to win their next two games, it was time for Penn's highly-anticipated Harvard rematch, this time hosted in Boston. Neither team would come out on top, however. While Harvard was first on the board, Otieno tied it up in the second half with his 19th goal of the season. Scoreless through two five-minute overtimes, the Quakers returned home unsatisfied for the first time that season.
After again securing the first seed in the Mid-Atlantic region, Penn matched up with Drexel for their first contest of the 1972 NCAA Tournament. Otieno, playing on a sprained ankle, only needed 48 seconds to open the scoring, and the Quakers didn’t stop until winning by a score of 4-0.
A victory over Dartmouth secured Penn’s second outright Ivy title in as many years, but the crown was almost an afterthought, as attention had already turned to the second round of the NCAA Tournament — set for a rematch against Penn State.
Penn State opened the scoring, but it only took 13 seconds for junior forward Steve Baumann to net the equalizer. After that goal, it was a new game. The DP described it as “their best soccer of the season,” a tall order for arguably the best year the Quakers have ever had. Ultimately, the Red and Blue got the revenge they’d sought all year long, besting the Nittany Lions by a score of 3-1.
The Quakers entered the quarterfinals ranked second in the nation, with their opponent, Howard, the only team ahead of them. Howard was also still riding the high from the previous season's national title.
After failing to capitalize on several key chances and two impressive goals by the Bison, Penn’s legendary season ended there with its first loss.
“Nobody likes to lose, but we have nothing to be ashamed of this year,” senior captain and goalkeeper Jim Miller told the DP. “They were a fine team and they never lost their composure.”
Howard would continue to the semifinals, where it were knocked out by Saint Louis, the eventual 1972 champion.
As for the Quakers, their dominant 1972 season lives on in the Penn record books. Baumann put up the most assists and most total points in a single season with 18 and 44, respectively, both of which still stand today. Baumann would graduate the following year, when he would earn the mark for most career points with 99.
Otieno’s 20-goal 1972 season tied a Penn record, as did Miller’s seven shutouts that year, though the latter mark has since been broken. The 1972 team still holds the record for most consecutive wins in a season with 14.
Penn has never made it further in the NCAA Tournament, nor have they ever had a higher national ranking. The 1971 and 1972 Quakers were truly the greatest men’s soccer teams Penn has ever had take the field.