The University of San Francisco athletics community lost one of its most treasured members on Sunday, when former head men’s soccer coach Steve Negoesco passed away at the age of 93.
A former player who starred for Gus Donoghue from 1947 to 1951, Negoesco coached for the Dons for 39 seasons, beginning in 1962. His teams captured four national championships and 22 conference championships. He had a career winning percentage of .725.
“I don’t like to lose,” Neogesco said of his record. “I don’t care about winning; I just don’t like to lose.”
He was the team captain for the 1949 National Collegiate Co-Championship team, where he refused the referee’s request to continue play after a dubious hand ball penalty that allowed Penn State to tie the game at 2-2. That decision led to the game ending in a tie.
“Coach Stephen Negoesco’s personal story is forever intertwined with that of his longtime academic home, the University of San Francisco,” said USF President Fr. Paul Fitzgerald. “He will be forever remembered and long missed.”
The namesake of the Dons’ soccer field on the Hilltop, Negoesco was on hand for games several times last season, and liked to frequent men’s practices, despite his advanced age, and would occasionally attend women’s games.
“I just remember when I was in high school as a player, USF was always one of the best college teams in the nation year in and year out and produced so many pro players,” said USF women’s head coach Jim Millinder. “The reason is Steve. He was a legend and will always remain a legend in college soccer.”
Considered one of college soccer’s all-time greatest coaches, Negoesco is a member of the USF Athletic Hall of Fame, as well as a National Soccer, National Soccer Coaches Association of America, and Bay Area Halls of Fame.
Negoesco amassed a record of 540-172-66 (.725), which still ranks ninth-most all-time for any coach at any collegiate level, and second most by coaches at the Division I level. He was the first collegiate men’s soccer coach to reach the 500-win plateau.
“Steve was a pioneer, visionary and legend of soccer at USF, Bay Area as well as the entire country,” said former men’s head coach Erik Visser, a four-time letter-winner under Ngoesco, and his assistant for 19 seasons before taking over the head job in 2001. “He has impacted and made a difference in thousands of lives. His passion and knowledge for the game was unparalleled. He was able to unify teams with student athletes from more than a dozen countries and played a brand of soccer that is now being emulated in the country.”
“Coach Negoesco made me feel like family from my very first day at the Hilltop,” said current men’s coach Eddie Soto. “His love for the program and players young and old were evident. I saw him happiest when he visited our training sessions and games. We had great conversations about his teams of the past, but what really stuck was how proud he was of all his players. His courage to compete led to a legacy that will be remembered forever. God Bless you coach, and may you rest in peace.”
Negoesco’s coaching style emphasized skill development and game savvy during practices, and he empowered his team to run itself during actual matches.
The 17-year period spanning 1966-82 was dubbed “The Third USF Golden Age of Soccer” by Fr. Joe Egan, USF Hall of Famer and famed USF soccer historian. During that time, the Dons amassed a record of 291-34-24, scoring 1,316 goals while only allowing 323. The Dons won four national championships, 10 conference championships, and had 15 All-Americans.
The national championship teams, starting in 1966, relied heavily on international players, including seven born in Hungary, Russia, Poland, Peru, Guatemala, Germany and Indonesia, prompting Sports Illustrated to title their article on the Dons, “USF Wins One for the U.N.”
“I told the boys to expect insults from the people in the stands. They called us a bunch of foreigners and much worse,” Negoesco told his team in 1975. “I’m proud of the way we played. The boys won with style and flair. They answered the insults with ball handling that made the other team look foolish. The 1966 championship was excellent but this 1975 team is a quality team, solid in all respects.”
Appropriately enough, Negoesco got his soccer education abroad. Born in Jutland, New Jersey on Sept. 12, 1925, Negoesco was sent to Romania to live with relatives as a child, following the death of his mother.
In 1940, he was interned by the Germans after they discovered his American connections, but managed to escape the concentration camp and made his way to Bucharest, Romania. The Germans were so impressed with his soccer skills they allowed him to continue to compete. After the war, he returned to New Jersey before settling in San Francisco. It was in 1982 that USF’s on-campus soccer facility was named in his honor.
“As a kid all I ever wanted to do was play soccer for USF,” said USF soccer play-by-play announcer Joe Dugan, who played for Negoesco from 1988 to 1990. “Steve was a legend and an icon across the US Soccer landscape. I was very attracted to how Steve blended the best local talent with international student-athletes. When I got the chance to play for Steve at USF it was a dream come true.”
“USF was the team and Steve was the coach when I was growing up,” said former U.S. Olympic and former Virginia head coach Bruce Arena. “It would have been great to have the opportunity to learn from him.”
Negoesco was predeceased by his wife of 60 years, Mercedes. He is survived by his children Stefan, Sandra, Sonia, Stuart, Sylvana, Sergio, 17 grand-children and 19 great grand-children.