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Real soccer history in the United States: Team America

Jan 20, 2013, 3:35 PM EDT

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I have written before, here and there, about how the United States does actually have a relevant soccer history – more and more of it every day.

We still tend to see this as a “new” sport, and it is, relatively so.

This morning comes yet another example of the sport’s increasingly rich history, a wonderful piece in The New York Times Goal Blog pegged to the 30th anniversary of a fascinating idea, but one that perhaps fabulously flawed that certainly before its time.

It really was a “mad scientist” of a creation. Perhaps it was always destined to slide off into the soccer abyss along with a league whose business model was cracked to its core. To borrow the words from Jack Bell, author of today’s NYT piece: “It was a noble, novel — some would say naïve — experiment in engineering a soccer project with little precedent before or since in any sport.”

It was Team America. The idea was to form a professional club of American soccer players, which would serve as the league version of the U.S. national team. It was meant to help solve a couple of developmental conundrums, not the least of which was a lack of prime time and of featuring roles for U.S. players. In the NASL construct, they were almost universally second- and third-fiddle to better skilled, more experienced players from, well, pretty much everywhere else.

Team America played in Washington, D.C. – Where else? – as a franchise in the defunct North American Soccer League. It lasted a just a year, for the 1983 season. Team America collapsed as a wee lad; the league, limping along with just nine teams, died off a year later.

Honestly, the Team American concept never had a fighting chance. Between heavy politics within the U.S. national team pool of the time, stumbles of the U.S. Soccer Federation in marketing concept and the general ship sinking of the NASL, Team America was something of a disaster.

Of course, today we know of disasters and fiascos of domestic soccer past as “history.”

Either way, it was a fascinating exercise, worth reading about (if you haven’t hit your NYT limit of 10 stories a month, at least). Said Team America captain Jeff Durgan in the Times story:

The devil was in the details. The league was in serious jeopardy. It was a last-ditch effort to try to feature American players and energize the national team program.

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