on March 4, 2014 - 4:50 PM
, updated March 4, 2014 at 5:54 PM
Aug. 10, 1931 – March 2, 2014
When people think of the long-defunct Buffalo Stallions indoor professional soccer team, they immediately recall many of its star players, including Jim May, Eddie Azevedo, Dennis Mepham, Ernie Buriano and Oscar Pisano.
But the person who brought all those players to Buffalo – and earlier helped bring the Major Indoor Soccer League franchise to town – was Sal DeRosa, the team’s first coach and later its general manager.
Mr. DeRosa, the man behind the bench at Memorial Auditorium, died Sunday night in Weinberg Campus after a long illness. He was 82.
A native of Italy who came to the United States at age 36, Mr. DeRosa, along with Stallions owner Michael C. Geraci, was credited with landing the Buffalo franchise in 1979.
He coached the team for its first 1½ seasons, compiling a 22-25 record, before moving into the general manager’s role in late December 1980. Mr. DeRosa left the team in the spring of 1982, and the team folded in 1984.
During his three seasons with the team, Mr. DeRosa, with his vast soccer contacts in both Europe and the U.S., was responsible for acquiring many of the Stallions’ best players. He was considered a players’ coach, often referring to them as “my boys.”
“As a coach, Mr. DeRosa at times possessed a Casey Stengel-like aura about him,” former Buffalo News sports reporter Tony Violanti wrote in 1982. “He could regale reporters or associates with stories about his experiences in soccer. DeRosa always stuck up for his players and was rarely, if ever, critical of them in print.”
He also had a flair for the dramatic, signing aging or controversial international superstars Eusebio and Paolo Rossi for brief stints and putting fans in the Aud seats. The team claimed an average attendance of 8,600 its first year and 9,600 the second season.
After leaving the Stallions and settling in Amherst with his family, Mr. DeRosa worked to develop soccer at all levels, including the development of youth soccer clinics throughout the area.
“It wasn’t only about the Stallions,” said his son, George. “He would do anything to promote soccer, and he was passionate about developing the sport at the youth level.”
Mr. DeRosa later served as attaché for the Italian delegation to the World University Games here in 1993. Later that year, the local Federation of Italian-American Societies named him its Man of the Year.
He came to Buffalo with the Stallions in 1979 after having emigrated from Italy to Syracuse and then Rochester, coaching professional soccer in both cities.
While in Syracuse, he persuaded the state Motor Vehicles Department to allow Italians who couldn’t speak English to take their driver’s test with the help of an interpreter.
Surviving are his wife of 47 years, the former Carmela DiPeso; his son, George; two daughters, Philana Martin and Tracy Witman; a sister, Carmela Peluso; a brother, Gaetano; and six grandchildren.
A memorial Mass will be offered at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, 200 St. Gregory Court, Amherst.
– Gene Warner