US Soccer History 2

Continued from Page 1

US soccer history generously reposted on my website, courtesy of Dave Litterer

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The Doldrums, 1895-1913

It was not long before the powers that be attempted to follow on the ALPF's footsteps at a more financially responsible level. The National Association Football League was formed in 1895 from premier teams of the New York City and New Jersey regional leagues, and struggled through four seasons. By this time, there was a waning enthusiasm exacerbated by the infighting among the various associations. Fan interest and participation were falling, and the NAFBL and the American Cup were both suspended in 1898. Other sports were becoming popular such as Polo and Boxing, and suddenly soccer did not look so important anymore. This would not last for long fortunately.

In 1904, US teams participated in the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, winning the gold. This must have sparked some enthusiasm, as the St. Louis Soccer League went professional in 1906, the same year as the NAFBL and the American Cup were revived. By this time, New England was beginning to wane as the premier hotbed of the country and most American Cup winners would come from New Jersey/New York or Philadelphia. The revived National Association Football League, formed by a group of people from regional state and local leagues, consisted of teams, which had previously played in municipal leagues. Originally operating out of the New York-New Jersey area, it eventually added Bethlehem Steel, a powerhouse from eastern Pennsylvania, and the league operated until 1921. This was the first truly successful pro league in the US.

The formation of FIFA in 1904 left the USA on the outside looking in due to the lack of a truly national organizing association. However, the addition of Soccer as an official medal sport for the 1908 Olympics led to increasing interest in international competition (following the hugely successful 1906 tour by Pilgrim FC from England in 1906). FIFA would not recognize either the AFA or the AAFA as a legitimate national body, locked as they were in a bitter war. By this time, the AFA was allied with the English FA, but their actions angered many, and a number of key regional associations switched allegiance to the AAFA. Finally, after FIFA had rejected an American application for membership at their 1912 congress, the rapidly growing AAFA members met on April 5, 1913 and formed the United States Football Association, which was accepted by FIFA. The AFA threw in its towel at this point, but the American Cup until 1929. One objective of this new association was to end the struggle between amateur and professional soccer organizations for hegemony, a struggle that would last well into the 1960's until the Association became more professionalized under the direction of Werner Fricker.

The First Dynasties, 1913-1921

The ethnic influence affected the course of the game through the early 1900's -- it was still clustered mainly in working-class communities along the northeastern part of the United States, as well as some selected cities such as St. Louis, Chicago and Pittsburgh. Leagues were mostly amateur and semi-pro, usually very localized and based on state associations. Eventually its growing success resulted in attempts to establish national leagues. At this time, due to the United States's large size and the difficulty of transportation, there were no true national leagues, even major league baseball was entirely situated in the northeast and Midwest, although minor leagues operated all over the country. The same occurred with Soccer, with true major leagues earning that title mainly through their higher level of professionalism, rather than the amount of territory covered. Soccer went into a mini-decline around the turn of the century, which was reversed by the re-establishment of the NASFL and American Cup in 1906, and the decision of the St. Louis Soccer League to turn fully professional. The tide started to shift from New England to the New York/New Jersey region, as the NAFBL gained strength and the cup was won primarily by New York-based teams. The Southern New England Football league formed in 1914, out of some of the stronger of the local semi-pro teams in New England. By this time, soccer was also established in Eastern Pennsylvania, St. Louis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, and had made its re-entry at several dozen colleges.

Probably the most important developments to follow the establishment of the USFA (Now the USSF) were the establishment of an official national championship tournament (the National Challenge Cup), which was first played in 1914, and the debut of sanctioned international competition. The Challenge Cup, open to any club that wished to enter, amateur or pro, was the first truly national competition, and did much to increase the prestige of the game. Now known as the US Open Cup, this is the oldest continuous team sport tournament in the country (outside of the World Series and Hockey's Stanley Cup), but in later years, the cup struggled to be taken seriously by the ISL and NASL in the 1960's.

By this time, the first true dynasties were beginning to emerge, among the Fall River Rovers, Bethlehem Steel, Kearny Scots and others. The NAFBL in its second incarnation was much more solid and soon stood out over the regional leagues, as did the SNESL. Important steps were being made toward the professionalization of the game. With the weakened American Cup still competing with the National Challenge Cup, a couple of teams went on to win the first "doubles" in the US, by copping both cups.

The balance of power shifted during this era from southeastern New England to the New York/New Jersey region, and New York based teams often took the American Cup home during the WWI period. Kearny sported several teams that were perennial contenders, including the Kearny Scots and Kearny Clark, with frequent competition from the Paterson True Blues.

On the professional front, the recognition by FIFA allowed the US to field an official National Team in sanctioned competition. Their first games, in 1916, included a 3-2 win over the new Swedish team, and a 1-1 draw with Norway. Sadly, World war I derailed the international tours, and the US did not field a national team again until the 1924 Olympics.

Three of the early dynasties of American Soccer were the Fall River Rovers, winners of the American Cup in 1888 and 1889, and Bethlehem Steel, who won the American Cup in 1914, 1916, 1917, 1918, and 1919 (finalist in 1920), and winners of the National Challenge Cup in 1915, 1916, 1918, and 1919 (finalist in 1917). Bethlehem won the first "doubles", copping both cups in 1916, 1918 and 1919. In fact, Bethlehem won a "triple" in 1919, by virtue of also winning the NASFL title that year (followed by league titles the next two seasons).

The Golden Era, 1921-1933

The 1920's were widely considered the first Golden Era in American Soccer. With the founding of the American Soccer League in 1921, there was finally a league with enough prestige to compete effectively for European players, and even perform on a par with the early National Football League.

During the 1920-1921 season, the Southern new England Football League and the National Association Football League were suffering financial difficulties. Although both leagues had powerhouse teams such as Bethlehem Steel, New York F.C., J&P Coates and Fall River, both leagues were split among haves and have-nots, and the richer teams felt they were subsidizing the poorer ones to their detriment. They solved this dilemma by pulling the plugs on both leagues, with the richer clubs joining together to form the nucleus of a new league, the ASL. They intended this to be the first truly top class professional league in the US.

The ASL rapidly established itself on the strength of influential backers and committed administrators. Such companies as Bethlehem Steel, Robins Shipyards, and J&P Coates were large manufacturing concerns with the financial clout to establish the league on a competitive level and bid successfully for the best players. In its inaugural season, the ASL featured Archie Stark with New York F.C., and Bobby Geudart, continuing a US history of successful native-born goalkeepers. Pete Renzulli joined Todd Shipyards, and Findlay Kerr began a long ASL career with Philadelphia F.C. Brooklyn Wanderers and Paterson Silk Sox joined the next year, expanding an already strong lineup, along with the Fall River Marksmen, founded by Sam Mark who built his stadium just across the state line in Rhode Island to avoid the Massachusetts Blue Laws which would have banned Sunday games. The Marksmen would go on to become the most dominant team in US Soccer history, winning championships three consecutive years (1924-1926), and again in 1930 and 1931 The Marksmen also won the Lewis Cup in 1930 as well as the US Open Cup in 1924 and 1930. This gives the Marksmen the distinction of having been the first US team to win the first DOUBLES in US history (top league championship and top cup in 1924 and 1930). Sam Mark signed major players from England and Scotland, by offering better salaries than the often-stingy European clubs. His signings included hall of famer Harold Brittan, from Bethlehem Steel, fullback Tommy Martin and winger Tec White from Motherwell, and fullback Charlie McGill from Third Limark.

Bethlehem Steel followed suit, signing up fullback Jimmy Young of Dundee United, center half Tommy McFarlane, forward Daniel McNiven from Patrick Thistle, among others. McNiven immediately paid off, leading the league in goals for 1922-23, with 28. Meanwhile a new club, the Brooklyn Wanderers was owned and managed by hall of famer Nathan Agar, who also scored 7 goals as a wing forward. He would later be instrumental in attracting foreign teams to tour the USA playing ASL teams under their sponsorship.

In he fall of 1922, a unique event in US soccer history occurred as the Dick, Kerr Ladies, the famous English women's team, toured the United States, playing against four ASL clubs. They eventually went 1-1-2 on the tour, their one victory against New York Field Club, 8-4.

During the mid 1920's, the crowds for games were large, with 10,000 a not uncommon attendance figure. This was on a par with the NFL for much of the 1920's. In 1925, the league expanded, adding the Boston Wonder Workers, and New Bedford Whalers, both of whom would earn distinction in the league. The Wonder Workers made an immediate impact by signing Glasgow veteran and Scottish international Tommy Muirhead from Ibrox to serve as player-manager. Then, using Muirhead as a contact, they stunned the world by signing Scottish international Alex McNab from Morton. McNab was signed for $25 a week to play and work at the Wonder Works factory. . Boston also caused some controversy by signing Johnny Ballantyne from Patrick Thistle, even though he had already signed with thistle. They also snatched Mickey Hamill, who had already been signed by Fall River from Manchester City, even though he had already played two pre-season exhibitions with the Marksmen. The result of this was an unprecedented amount of talent within the league. The 1924-25 season also saw Archie Stark set a world record for most goals scored in a season for a 1st division club, 67 in 42 games - a figure that stands to this day. This can be partially explained by the fact that soccer in the 1920's was a much more open, offense-oriented game than today, played often with a formation of five forwards, three halfbacks and two fullbacks. Archie also scored an unprecedented five goals in an International for the US National Team in their 11/28/1925 victory over Canada.

By the mid 1920's, the ASL had reached such a level of prominence that major foreign teams were enticed to perform major tours of the US playing against top ASL and other clubs. Sparta Prague and Vienna Hakoah, an all-Jewish side both toured the US in 1926, to record-breaking crowds. Hakoah's first three games drew 25,000, 30,000 and 36,000 spectators respectively, culminating in the famous May 1 1926 match at the polo grounds in front of 46,000 spectators, a crowd record that stood until 1977 when three consecutive records were set by the Pele-led New York Cosmos. Pete Renzulli, then playing for the New York Giants remembered Hakoah controlling the ball for 87 minutes, but the ASL all-stars counterattacked on three opportunities, scoring each time to win 3-0.

In 1926, the success of the league led the ASL to help establish the first International Soccer League, which began play at the end of the 1926 ASL season, with three ASL and five leading Canadian clubs. The one season of the ISL showed clearly the superiority of the US clubs, and was an interesting experiment, but looked upon by most of the participants as an off-season excursion, and it was not continued. In 1927, the ASL shifted the focus slightly towards American players, with Davie Brown scoring 52 goals for the New York Giants, setting a record goal-scoring feat for American-born players, which stands to this day. The ASL experimented with rules changes, allowing substitutions for the first time. Also, goal judges similar to those in hockey were used. They also instituted a "penalty box", with offending players required to serve their time by remaining behind their teams' goal line. These changes were abandoned after this season. Touring teams included Uruguay's Olympic team, who suffered their first defeat in three years at the hands of the Newark Skeeters. Meanwhile, Indiana Flooring was purchased by New York (Baseball) Giants owner Horace Stoneham. Since there was already a New York Giants in the ASL, he renamed his team the Nationals.

In 1927-28, the league adopted a split season. Philadelphia who had been recently bought struggled and was dropped from the season. In order to balance the unbalanced schedule the league abruptly dropped Hartford, another struggling team. This didn't set well with some of the owners but was indicative of the structural and administrative problems the league was now experiencing. The season finished with a unique playoff situation complicated by the close finish of the top teams. Boston finished atop the 1st half standings with Bethlehem Steel and New Bedford Whalers tied for second. This required a special playoff game, won by the Whalers. At the conclusion of the 2nd half, New Bedford was in 1st place, followed by Fall River. Consequently, Boston, New Bedford (which had qualified in both halves), and Fall River were assured of playoff spots, while one spot remained open. This was settled by the third and fourth place teams from the 2nd half (Bethlehem Steel and New York Nationals) playing for the spot. Bethlehem won that game. The league then proceeded to the semifinals. These series were won by Boston defeating Bethlehem 3-1 and 4-0, and New Bedford playing Fall River to 3-1 and 0-4 scores (winning 5-3 aggregate). This set up a final between Bethlehem and New Bedford. But another problem developed: In its second game, Bethlehem with its goalkeeper injured, borrowed Brooklyn Wanderer's goalkeeper Steve Smith without league authorization, and the league overturned the result, awarding the game to Boston. This resulted in a championship between Boston and New Bedford, the 1st and 2nd half winners, won by Boston. This season had lasted nearly nine months! Admission prices in New York City and Brooklyn were $1.10 for the cheapest seats, and $0.75 in Boston.

The following season saw the "Soccer War". Although soccer was enjoying unprecedented popularity, a bitter dispute arose between the league, the USFA and a number of the powerful ASL clubs. The ASL clubs had long objected to the playing of National open Challenge Cup games during the regular season because it disrupted the regular season, and in 1924-25 had refused to allow its teams to enter the competition. This led to the ASL being suspended. Now in 1928, the ASL announced that it wanted the Open Cup competition, moved to the end of the ASL season, or its teams exempted until the season was over. The USFA refused, and the ASL ordered its teams not to participate. However, some ASL clubs wanted to participate, and Bethlehem Steel, Newark Skeeters and New York Giants defied the league and participated anyway. Bill Cunningham, ASL President instituted fines and suspensions on these clubs, who appealed to the USFA who ordered the league to reverse its actions. The league refused and was suspended by the USFA. The ASL continued to operate as an outlaw league, and the USFA worked with the three teams to form another league, the Eastern Soccer League, from the three ASL clubs and other clubs from the Southern New York State Association. This in turn led to a dispute between the SNYSA and the USFA, leading the SNYSA to team up with the ASL against the ESL and USFA. During all of this, the New Bedford Whalers jumped mid season to the ESL. The following season, no resolution was in sight, and both leagues took to the field with new Bedford jumping back to the ASL, disappointed in the quality of ESL play.

The ASL and USFA, seeing the battle as a costly one that would leave no victor, reached an exhausted compromise - the ASL abandoned their partially competed fall 1929 season, and merged it strongest teams with the better ESL teams to form the Atlantic Coast League which took to the field in November 1929. This face-saving season was successful, but the league was never to enjoy the financial stability or prestige it had previously enjoyed, and the stock market crash of 1929 followed by the depression wreaked havoc on the manufacturing companies that formed the financial backbone of the league and soon many clubs were failing, with Bethlehem Steel folding in 1930 and Fall River Marksmen in the winter of 1931.

In 1930, the US participated in the first World Cup in Uruguay, and Atlantic Coast league teams dominated the roster. By now the roster included such hall of famers as Bert Patenaude and Billy Gonsalves who performed well both in the World Cup and throughout the 1930's.

The demise of Fall River Marksmen was the culmination of one of the more bizarre franchise transactions in the annals of American Sports. Sam Mark, suffering declining revenues, took a gamble and moved his club south to New York City, merging it with the New York Soccer Club on February 16, 1931, renaming the club the New York Yankees. At the same time, he made Mark's Stadium in Tiverton RI available to other clubs. A group of investors, led by Harold Brittan, bought the Providence Gold Bugs and moved them to Mark's Stadium, as Fall River F.C. Meanwhile, in the middle of the spring 1931 season, the New Bedford Whalers succumbed to financial losses, and merged the team with Fall River. The Yankees meanwhile, were only partially successful. Because they had started the Open Cop competition while still at Fall River, they had to complete the competition under that name, even though they were playing in the ASL as the Yankees at the same time! In the offseason, the new Fall River club failed, and Sam Mark, having failed in New York, moved the Yankees to New Bedford, obtaining the rights to the Fall River players along the way. As a result, his new club (also known as the New Bedford Whalers) was a combination of the old New York, Fall River and New Bedford teams. They won the 1931 fall season, but lost the playoffs, although they won the National Challenge open Cup.

The league struggled on through the spring 1933 season with substantial team turnover and reorganizations, before finally being reorganized out of existence in the summer. What had begun as an exuberant league a decade earlier, ended among the ashes of a fruitless turf war, the ravages of the depression, and the decline of the company-oriented soccer team.

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