New York, Jan. 10 (AP) -- With completion of the first half of the soccer season, the leading teams throughout the country are preparing for the first round of play for the National Challenge cup, the winner of which is recognized as the champion soccer team of the United States.
Competition is open to all affiliated clubs in the country, but the U. S. Football Association has accepted the entries from states farther west than Michigan and Missouri because of geographical difficulties.
Of the 117 clubs which entered the competition this season 85 have been eliminated as a result of the qualifying rounds which have been in play since last October. The leading professional clubs of the country are exempt from the qualifying rounds and do not enter into actual play until the first round proper.
In the eastern division 16 clubs still are left in the running for honors. Of these, 10 are members of the American Soccer League, which is recognized as the leading professional organization in the game in this country. The other six are the pick of the minor leagues operating in the east.
The first eight games in the eastern division and the first four in the western section are scheduled for January 14 or 15, with the other four in the west to be played the next weekend. Survivors will meet in each division until an eastern and western champion has been crowned. A date and place is then set aside for the playing of the final. Detroit was chosen last year, and this season the match probably will be held in or near New York.
Favorites to come through the Eastern first round successfully include the Bethlehem, Pa., Steelmen, who won the Cup five times and appeared in the final on six occasions; Fall River, Mass., and Boston. All three have the reputation of being good cup-fighting teams.
Fall River won the cup last year when the Bay Staters whitewashed the Holley Carburetors at Detroit, 7 to 0, in the most one-sided victory ever recorded in a final game.
After the first round games in the National Cup play the ten clubs in the American Soccer League are to start their annual competition for the Lewis trophy. Teams of the league play home and home games starting January 21, the winner being determined on the highest goal average.