SOUTH ORANGE/WEST ORANGE, NJ – When Marty Berman, the veteran head soccer coach at Seton Hall Prep, was competing for Columbia High School in the 1960s, not all that many people in the area paid that much attention to the sport.
True, people might have heard of Pele, the great soccer star from Brazil, but sports fans had interest in games with an American touch. In the Greater Metropolitan area alone, people like Jets QB Joe Namath, Mets pitcher Tom Seaver, and Knicks guard Walt Frazier were in the spotlight. The Jets and Mets won championships in 1969, and the Knicks won a title in 1970, just a month before Berman graduated from CHS in June of 1970.
But as the recent World Cup proved, soccer interest is now very big in the U.S. Even though the United States did not qualify for the World Cup in Russia, the event was talked about by a host of American sports fans. England’s Harry Kane, and a budding teenager star from France, the World Cup champ, were in the national headlines for a good month or so.
“Soccer has really come a long way from when I competed,” said Berman, who has well over 400 wins at SHP. “Hosting the World Cup in 1994 did a lot for the sport in this country, and the same will be true in the summer of 2026.”
For years, Garden State soccer fans have known about the likes of such top players as Tony Meola from Kearny, Claudio Reyna from St. Benedict’s Prep, and Elson Seale from Columbia. A youngster Berman coached at SHP, South Orange native Mason Toye, is now a guy in the spotlight. Toye, who scored 21 goals and had 12 assists for SHP as a senior in the fall of 2016, is now enjoying a fine rookie season with Minnesota United in Major League Soccer.
“I got to see Mason play when the Red Bulls hosted Minnesota earlier this year in Harrison,” said Berman. “I think he can achieve an awful lot in the game. Heck, in his one year in college at Indiana University, he did exceptionally well. Mason is the kind of player that can do so much on the pitch to help a team be successful.”
In his senior campaign at Seton Hall Prep, the West Orange parochial school went 19-3-2. SHP bowed to East Side in the Essex County Tournament championship, and lost a 1-0 thriller to Christian Brothers Academy in the state finals.
Berman feels that unlike the old NASL, the new pro soccer league in the U.S. is here to stay and will continue to grow.
“The old league had stars like Pele with the Cosmos, but it wasn’t enough,” said Berman, who saw Pele play in games at Yankee Stadium and Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City when he suited up for Santos of Brazil. “The MLS is very well run, and it has a great fan base for sure.”
Berman, who enjoyed playing for and later coaching against the legendary Gene Chyzowych of Columbia, has built one of the state’s top soccer programs at SHP. This fall, look for senior Jon Ned and junior Aidan Dunphy to be the leaders for SHP. Ned is already committed to Columbia University in New York.
“Players from New Jersey have done a lot for the game,” commented Berman. “Hey, at the World Cup, Meola was a fine analyst for Fox. Tony was a great goalie for Kearny, but he also proved to be very good when he played as a forward.”
CORNER KICKS – Berman thought the quality of play at the World Cup was superb… In rating superstars Ronaldo and Messi, Berman gives a slight edge to Ronaldo because of his physical strength on the field… The SHP mentor was very impressed with World Cup finalist Croatia, particularly with its players in the midfield.