Men’s soccer team looks back to championship team 50 years later

Blake Faith, Men's Soccer Reporter

The Eastern men’s soccer team’s history started 50 years ago: In 1969, an Eastern Illinois men’s soccer team won the NAIA National Championship.

Eastern was the underdog going into the championship game. Its opponent was Despite Davis and Elkins College of West Virginia. Freshman Gerado Pagnani scored a goal in a 1-0 double overtime win.

Members of the 1969 team will be honored at homecoming weekend and meet with the current team on Oct. 25.

The 2019 team is similar to the 1969 team, in that it is called an underdog. For head coach Kiki Lara and his players those words are never heard.

“These guys for the last couple years have gone out with the understanding that they have been training like a championship program for an extended period of time,” Lara said. “If I were to draw parallels to the 1969 team to us is that no matter where we come from, what we’re ranked, or what our name has been its still very possible for us to leave our mark. Leaving the reputation of being a gritty, hard-nosed, and special program and that’s what we try to do and create everyday like the guys in (1969) did.”

The Panthers outscored their opponents 76-9 in all competition in 1969. Those 76 goals still stand as the record for most goals scored in the history of the program in one season.

Pagnani later went on to be a three-time first team All-American in the NSCAA from 1970-1972. He also still holds the school record for most assists in one match with five. Pagnani later was inducted into the EIU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990.

That team has other members who still hold significant places in the record books. The team had two members who scored 20 goals in a season, tied for second most in a single season, in Tony Durante and Carmelo Rago.

Durante was only a freshman that season and played his whole career for Eastern. Durante scored 48 goals in a Panther uniform and ranks second all-time in goals scored.

Rago was not only a goal scorer on that team: In 1969 Rago recorded 17 assists for the season. Rago recorded 31 assists in three years for the Panthers, and his assist total currently sits in first place in school history.

“Everyone I’ve interacted with from that generation is still a very big part of EIU history, their pride, and they have an overwhelming sense of pride for what they’ve done for EIU as an institution,” Lara said. “It’s extremely important for us to celebrate and it’s humbling to see that team’s members still have so much pride. It’s a reminder to the youngsters here to leave their marks and that these memories last a lifetime.”

Lara believes it is important when his current team gets the chance to talk to their players at the reunion that they make the most of it and take away as much as possible from that team.

Lara has been the head coach since 2015 for the men’s program.

For him and his coaching staff it has been important for them to improve the areas they need to and keep the tradition of the things that are really good in the program because they know their time is finite and so is their players’ time at the program.

“We want to make sure these guys (the players) have the opportunity to leave their mark and have influence on lives here,” Lara said. “Whether that is their peers, student-athletes around them, the youth in the area, or soccer players around them, or on the field and getting the big (win). It’s about improving the program and leaving it in a phenomenal place.”


Blake Faith can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]