Tony Crescitelli recounts path from North Adams State soccer team to playing with Cruyff, Best in NASL

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Tony Crescitelli is one of the most decorated athletes in the history of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. He is now the first athlete from either MCLA or from when it was North Adams State, to be inducted into the Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference's Hall of Fame.

"It's obviously an honor," Crescitelli said. "I believe it's a team effort. I'm sure I had a lot to do with it, but my teammates also were there to help me out. I give them most of the credit to them.

"Without them, I don't think I could have done this."

In the now three years of the MASCAC Hall of Fame, Crescitelli becomes the second MCLA representative to be inducted. The late Joe Zavattaro, who guided the baseball team and then the entire athletics department at the college, was inducted in 2019.

Crescitelli, a Long Island native, played at the school when it was known as North Adams State. The soccer standout spent four seasons in North Adams and then went on to play at the highest level of American soccer during that time. He spent one full season with the North American Soccer League's Washington Diplomats and then played for the NASL's San Jose Earthquakes. The North American Soccer League.

Erase the professional history from Crescitelli's resume, and there is more than enough to be Hall of Fame worthy.

Crescitelli's name is all over the 2019 NCAA Division III record book. He still holds the Division III career record with 258 points, 123 goals and 1.98 goals-per-game. He is second all-time in the record book with 4.16 points per game.

The Long Island native scored 31 goals in his freshman year, topping that with 34 as a junior and 43 as a senior. He averaged 86 points per season.

"God's honest truth, I didn't know how good I was," said Crescitelli, who just retired from teaching and will likely stop coaching high school soccer in New York City this fall. "I had no idea. The first game I played, I scored five goals and thought oh my God, what's going on? Division III, Division I, could I have played Division I and scored that many goals? I don't know."

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In four years at MCLA, Crescitelli and his teammates made three NCAA Division III tournaments, 1975, 1977 and 1978. The 1978 Mohawks reached the Final Four, beating Brandeis 2-1 in overtime and Babson on penalty kicks after a 0-0 draw. The Mohawks lost 1-0 to Washington University of Saint Louis in the Final Four, and then dropped a 2-1 decision in overtime to Cortland State in the consolation game.

In the current college athletics world, coaches from North Adams to Pomona, Calif., know who most of the recruitable athletes are. So, how did Tony Crescitelli get to North Adams to play for Tom Baker and then Ron Shewcraft?

"That's a great question. This is first time I think I'm going to tell the truth," the Hall of Famer said, in a phone interview with The Eagle from his Long Island home. "I was playing for the local soccer team. My dad wanted me to stay behind and he asked me if I wanted to stay home [for college]? I said if you get me a car, I'll stay home. If not, I'm leaving, I'm going away. He never got me the car, so I left. I had no idea where I was going. I never visited North Adams. I got my clothes together and I left.

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"That's how I ended up there."

Crescitelli said he originally planned to play basketball and soccer in North Adams, but ended up playing one sport. That sport earned him a spot in the MCLA Hall of Fame in 1998 as an individual, and again in 2003 with his 1978 team.

"The Berkshires. Loved it, absolutely loved it," he said when asked for a first thought about his time in North Adams. "I took a bus ride to North Adams with a piece of luggage. I walked to the college and I said 'Oh my God, this reminds me of growing up in Italy.' I miss it."

After his career in North Adams, Crescitelli ended up playing for the Washington Diplomats in what was the precursor league to Major League Soccer. The North American Soccer League had clubs across the country and in Canada. Perhaps the best known of those teams was the New York Cosmos. That club had international soccer legends Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer.

"You have no idea" what it was like to play for the Diplomats, Crescitelli said. "Luckily and thankfully, I played with the best player in the world, Johan Cruyff. I played with Johan Cruyff, and the man taught me everything I know. He's incredible. I remember scoring 15 goals in 19 games [in 1980] when he showed up."

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Crescitelli played in San Jose with English soccer legend Georgie Best and stayed with the Earthquakes for three seasons. He spent two more seasons in professional soccer. Crescitelli did have one cap, playing one game for the U.S. National Team in 1983.

"Here I am. I'm so thankful that I was playing with two of the best players to every play the game," the former Mohawk star said. "When I was growing up, [Cruyff] was the Michael Jordan of soccer. Coming out of North Adams, and playing with the best players in the world, it was a dream come true.

"I was pinching myself every day."

Crescitelli played in front of some really good crowds, for Division III soccer, at North Adams. But it was nothing like playing in front of 70,000 in Giants Stadium against the Cosmos, or at RFK Stadium in Washington in 1980, when the Diplomats drew 53,351 against the Cosmos.

"You can't breathe," he said, when asked about playing in front of 70,000. "You're mesmerized. Wow, it's incredible. You definitely get nervous, but as the game goes on, you forget about the crowd and you think about soccer.

"At the beginning of the game, it is nerve wracking."

Joining Crescitelli in the MASCAC Class of 2020 are Ed Grueter, baseball player from Bridgewater State; women's track athletes Cindy Sturm-Menard of Westfield State and Elke Aun of Worcester State; Bridgewater State football coach Pete Mazzaferro; former athletic directors John Harper at Bridgewater and Betty Kruczek at Fitchburg; and the 1994 Bridgewater State softball team.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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