A Brief Overview of American Soccer

David Wangerin, author of Soccer in a Football World, explains why his favorite sport has taken its time to catch on in America.

1985_regIn 1981, the fourteenth year of its existence, the North American Soccer League started to crumble. Membership fell from 24 to 21 teams, crowds thinned and a prized network television contract with ABC had been cancelled. Three years later, the league died – and twelve years passed before another took its place.

Major League Soccer is showing rather more promise in its fourteenth year. It operates with more teams than it’s ever had; attendance is still tracing a (modestly) upward path; and though it still loses money, one or two teams are apparently starting to come out ahead.

A quarter-century may have passed since the NASL kicked its last ball, but its legacy has proved surprisingly enduring. This season marks the arrival of MLS’s newest team, the Seattle Sounders, a name that stretches back to the NASL’s heyday. MLS intends to add two more teams in 2011: one will be called the Portland Timbers, a name of similar vintage, and the other, probably, the Vancouver Whitecaps, who won the NASL in 1979. First, though, the league will also add a team from Philadelphia. A well-marshalled lobby is pressing for it to be named it the Atoms, NASL champions of 1973.

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