95 years ago the citizens of Mansfield got their first taste of “the beautiful game” when the local German-American Society, the Mansfield Liederkranz, created an independent team to challenge some of the better teams in the area. The 1920s are generally considered the golden era for soccer in America. Prior to this time, many immigrants came to America bringing their passion for the game with them. Teams were largely localized playing in city or state leagues. This popularity led to the first professional league, the American Soccer League (ASL), being formed in 1921. The sport had grown so much by the mid-1920s that European teams were performing US tours, playing some of the top ASL teams. Sparta Prague and Vienna Hakoah came to America to play in front of record-breaking crowds. The highlight of the tour was on May 1, 1926, when an exhibition game between Hakoah and the ASL all-New York team drew 46,000 fans to the Polo Grounds in New York. “Pete Renzulli, then playing for the New York [team] remembered Hakoah controlling the ball for 87 minutes, but the ASL all-stars counterattacked on three opportunities, scoring each time to win 3-0.” Soccer continued to thrive in the 1920s, but financial hardships and the Great Depression were too much for many teams and professional soccer would not be seen again on the same level for nearly 40 years in the United States.
A field at the Richland County Fairgrounds was prepared for an exhibition match between Mansfield and the Cleveland Banaters, which took place on May 2, 1926. The Mansfield News described the game as “being played on much the same principles as hockey,” but “instead of using sticks, the ball is propelled by the feet, head, or body. The use of the arms and hands is barred entirely except by the goalkeeper who may use his hands within the goal area.” A large crowd of spectators arrived at the fairgrounds to see the Mansfield eleven, managed by Alphonso Barnsteiner, take on the Cleveland side. The Cleveland team came out on top winning 5-2, Barnsteiner and Bill Auer scored for Mansfield. Despite the loss, the outing was considered a success and many more matches were scheduled. The Mansfield eleven didn’t see much success in their inaugural season. They played 16 matches, winning 4, drawing 4, and losing 8, but they gained the respect of many clubs in the area.
The following season they were invited to join the Central Ohio Soccer League, which was comprised of two teams from Dayton, two teams from Columbus, and one team from Springfield. Mansfield entered two teams in the league, an “A” team and a “B” team. 1927 also saw the dedication of a dedicated soccer field in Hergott’s field east of Mansfield. Prior to this, games were played at the fairgrounds and Davey Field. The Central Ohio Soccer League split the season in half. In the first half, Mansfield showed promise. The “A” team came in second to the Columbus Kickers, with the “B” team barely staying out of the bottom, just above Springfield. Mansfield did even better in the fall campaign, which resulted in a three-way tie, in points, between Mansfield “A,” the Columbus Kickers, and Kissel Motors (Columbus), though Mansfield had the strongest claim to the title having gone undefeated winning 8 games, with 4 ties. The Columbus sides each lost a game.
In May of 1928, Alphonso Barnsteiner resigned as manager of the club and P. J. Mayer, an assistant under Barnsteiner, was voted to replace him. Mansfield continued to play strong, but in October of 1928, the Ohio Central Soccer league was broken up. According to Mayer, Mansfield and the Kissel Motor’s team were the only good teams in the league and this took the competition out of the games. Mansfield continued to play independent matches throughout the year and, in 1929, they joined the Akron-Canton-Youngstown League. Success was hard to come by in this league under Mayer’s watch and the Mansfield club disbanded in October due to a lack of players. A team was once again organized in 1932, but the excitement for the game found under Barnsteiner was never matched.
- The Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 02 May 1926, p. 9.
- The Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio), 12 December 1927, p. 12.
- The Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 03 October 1928, p. 14.
- The Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 13 October 1929, p. 12.
- The Mansfield News (Mansfield, Ohio). 08 May 1932, p. 15.