Victor Gerley played goalkeeper for the United States National Team from 1965-1966, gaining six caps in total. Without much available information about Gerley, I spoke to him hoping to learn more about his time as a soccer player. Gerley opened up about his club career, his with the national team, and the 1966 World Cup Qualifying.
How did you end up playing goalkeeper? Was it something you always did or it did just fall in your lap?
No, no, no, I was always a goalkeeper. I could have gotten a scholarship to go to Princeton to kick the football, to kick! Kick field goals, kickoffs, all that. But I chose soccer because of my background. Soccer was in my blood. My brother was also a very good player. He’s a doctor. He was not available for any of these Unites States games because he was always studying or in a hospital working. He would have been a wonderful addition to the time. He is very, very talented. Very talented player.
What teams did you play for?
I started playing in New York for the Junior Hungarian Team as a goalkeeper. Then I went into the reserve team and played there. I started playing when I was 18 years old. And by age 19, I was goalkeeper for the New York Hungarians, a first division team. In 1962, we won the US Open Cup. We beat San Francisco 2-0. I didn’t play. I was a reserve but anyway I got a trophy.
So the whole selection process, we had a western group and we had an eastern group. And then we went and played in New York [for the US Open Cup final], the east versus the west. And based on the performance, that’s how the [National Team] selection was based on the players.
When did you play for the US Men’s National Team?
I played for the national team in 1965. We played in Los Angeles Coliseum and we tied Mexico 2-2. We went down to Mexico City and played in front of 90,000 people and we lost 2-0 but I saved a penalty. Then we went to Honduras and we played to a 1-1 tie and then we beat them 1-0. We planned to qualify and go to London in 1966 World Cup. That was the objective. We lost and we didn’t make it. Mexico made it. Then we tried later on. I also was a backup goalkeeper in 1970.
I played in friendly games against Bermuda and Haiti. Let’s see, we played in Haiti and we lost there 5-2. And then Bermuda, we lost in Bermuda 1-0. And again these are all out of country games. And not many American spectators. So we were the underdogs, you know? Some of the names I can recall, Willie Roy was one of the players. And Walter Schmotolocha was a Ukrainian fellow.
What was the game like in Los Angeles?
At Los Angeles, we had 25,000 spectators in the Coliseum. And of the 25,000, I can guarantee that 20,000 were Mexicans. They were rooting for Mexico and not the US. At one point, I made a foul in the 18. One guy was harassing me and I hit him with my elbow, very lightly. He fell down to the ground and the referee, a Canadian referee, gave a penalty, which I didn’t save, you know. And we were leading at that time 2-1. So basically it was my fault but the referee overreacted. This guy was playing like an actor, you know? I hardly ever touched him and he fell to the ground, throwing the penalty.
What do you mean by “harassing”?
Well he was trying to get the ball out of my hand. He was chasing me all around. I’m turning, he follows me. I’m turning, he follows me. Like, harassing me to not release the ball. The ball has to be released normally within ten seconds. If you don’t release the ball, it’s not a penalty but it’s a free kick. So as I said, I was pissed off and all I did was hold the ball in my hand and in my chest. And I moved with my shoulder left and right. I tried to shake him off. So I just brushed him, barely touched him. And he fell to the ground, faking it. Faking it! And the referee gave a penalty kick which I didn’t save. I should have saved but I didn’t. It would have been wonderful to make it to England.
So anyway, the president and the big honchos of United States Soccer Football Federation went down to the referee after the match and told him that “You will never ref in this country ever again!” Yeah, they were very upset. I was upset too, obviously. What they tried to do was get a neutral referee [for the game]. You don’t want an American referee. You don’t want a Mexican referee. You want a neutral referee. Well this neutral referee looks like he sided with the Mexicans.
Why did the US schedule a game in LA if there was going to be a large Mexican crowd?
I don’t know! That’s ironic, isn’t it? I think we would have been better off playing in New York somewhere. But again the atmosphere was very pro Mexican. Very pro-Mexican. So it was very disappointing for us players. Here we are, home team, home grounds and we’re rooted against.
Where else did you play?
I played for the Hungarian team from 1962 to, about, 1970. We went down to Mexico to play against [Club Deportivo] Oro, which is in Guadalajara, because we were the United States champions and Oro was the Mexican champions and we were doing this playoff. Like a Central America versus North America playoff. We beat Oro 3-2 and then about a month later they came up to New York and we tied them 2-2. Then I got sick and someone took over for goal. We played against Guadalajara and we tied them 0-0 and then we lost the other game 1-0. But I didn’t play in those games, I was sick.
I also played for the German-American League all-star team in New York. I was a goalkeeper. I played against many, many international teams. We toured in Guatemala. We played against German teams, Greek teams. So I was considered the number one goalkeeper back in those days, 1964-1970, so a long career. Meanwhile I was going to college. I became an engineer, a structural engineer. And then I graduated a half year late because of all my soccer adventures. So, anyway, very happy memories.
What were some of your strengths as a goalkeeper?
I had tremendous reflexes! Very quick reflexes. Not only did I play soccer, but I also played Team Handball for the United States. I was a goalkeeper. Team Handball is six players on a small court like basketball court and a goal the size of maybe three meters by two metres and then you use a ball, a little bit bigger than a softball. And you dribble, you pass, you dribble, you throw the ball at the net.
So I played for the United States National Team and I went in 1970 to Paris for the World Championship of Handball. It’s a big, big sport in Europe, you know? We didn’t win but I played a tremendous game against Yugoslavia who was a World Champion at that time. Then we lost, like, 26-21. But then during all the playing there I hurt my back. I was jumping around too much and falling on the hard floor. So we had two other backup goalkeepers who played the next two games and I was just a spectator. So I had a wonderful career.
Have you tried googling me? You can find more information on Google, I’m sure.
Well I have but honestly there’s not too much information on the US team from before 1990. I can’t even find your birthday. Can I ask that?
June 17th, 1943.
And do you have any memorabilia left from your playing days?
I do, I do. I have my shoes, my soccer shoes. I have my jersey that i played goalkeeper in. It has the US emblem on the front and the number one on the back. I think I have the gloves I used.
Victor was kind enough to send some old newspaper photos of him action, so check them out below.