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DIGGING UP THE AMERICAN SOCCER PAST
THE START OF SOMETHING GREAT
It’s 1895, the first season ever of the National Association Football League, more commonly known as the NAFBL, is under play. Teams located around the NJ/NY area fluttered the league. The first ever season was a success, and Centerville A.C. won the league over one of America’s first ever dynasties (something you’re going to hear a few times in this blog), the Kearny Scots.
Soccer and America seemed to be bonding well. After all, America is a country of immigrants, and soccer is the most popular sport in the world. Everyone can play.
The whole theory on why soccer is the world’s most popular sport isn’t a theory. It’s a fact. It’s something I just said.
Everyone can play.
All you need is a few socks, some rocks, and you’re set. It’s what makes the beautiful game, beautiful. So it only made sense that the game was growing in America. Records for the 1895-1896 are nearly non existent. However, it’s known that the Scotish Americans won the 1896-1897 season. Then the Paterson True Blues, arguably the first dynasty, won two seasons in a row, beating two teams from Kearny, the Scots and Arlington.
It may be safer to say that the Scots were the Buffalo Bills of the league, and not a dynasty. Losing in the finals was the norm to them. While the Scots lost, the Paterson True Blues did the unthinkable and two-peated, but the league collapsed due to a recession in 1899, this was also side by side with the Spanish-American War, and the first leg of the league was merely a preview for what has yet to come.
Starting off Fresh… again
In 1906 the league re-opened, with a lot of teams! Teams from all over the east coast came to play, and soccer was truly, the immigrants game.
The rejuvenated league ran for years, up until 1921. Teams like the Bethlehem Steel (name sounds familiar, right…) dominated the league.
The league ran on, but in 1921 teams got frustrated with the semi pro status of the league, and thus began the American Soccer League. To give some background on the ASL, it was a merger of the NAFBL and the Southern New England Soccer League (SNESL) these teams were dominated by the whaling industry, one of the most popular industries at the time in the New England area.
For instance, the New England Whalers were on the league's top teams, winning the league trophy 2 times. J&P Coats was also a top team, owned by J&P Coats Company based in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
When the ASL launched, the economy was booming. Top companies that owned the teams were luring players in from all over the world. They were giving players wages such as $50 a game+$50 a week if they were to work in their factories. Players just didn’t see this money where they were at, and so began a cross contientla war about player transfers. A meeting organized by FIFA was set, and a player transfer rule was put into place.
Crazy how $50 for a top star is now $160 million.
All these companies owning teams really showed what the beautiful game was about. People from around
the globe came to America to find work, and when not working they did something that they did back home.
Kick a ball.
The ASL had some of the world’s best players, such as Harold Brittan, a player who had played for Chelsea, and nearly averaged 1 goal per 1 game. Britain is now a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Werner Nelson was also one of the highest scoring players in American history, he won 5 National Challenge Cups in a row (now US Open Cup) and played at the 1934 World Cup.
This success of the ASL was showing, drawing thousands of people in the crowds, doing amazing at World Cups, coming in third at the 1930 World Cup (the first World Cup ever), the highest finish to date for the USMNT.
Meanwhile, teams like the Fall River Marksmen were becoming infamous for winning, winning, winning. Fall River won 6 league titles in 8 seasons. They also won the first ever double in the ‘23-’24 season, winning both the ASL and National Challenge Cup. On March 24, 1924, they played the St. Louis Vesper Buick and won 4-2. I only forgot one thing. They played that game in front of 14,000 fans. While winning 6 league titles, they also picked up another National Challenge Cup title, winning 7-0 against Holley Carburetor F.C in front of 10,000
In 1930, the Marksmen finally won their long awaited treble led by Alex McNab, one of the first legends of American Soccer.
The ASL also saw a lot of baseball teams own clubs, most notably the New York Giants, who are now the San Francisco Giants. The Giants and Marksmen actually merged in 1931 due to a reason discussed soon. Sam Mark, owner of the Marksmen moved to New York in hopes of a bigger market (not the main reason). While in NY they merged with the New York Soccer Club and became the New York Yankees (that name sounds quite familiar.)
The Soccer Wars
Before this happened, something much bigger happened. Something that would set the scene for years, and I mean years to come. It was called the Soccer Wars. It all started when the United States Football Association, the governing body of the ASL, required teams to play in the National Challenge Cup (as stated before, it’s now the US Open Cup) but owners claimed the travel expense and time was overwhelming. In 1928, the league decided to boycott the tournament, telling all the teams to not play in the tournament. As ordered, every team followed that rule. Except three, the Newark Skeeters (what an awesome name) Bethlehem Steel, and the New York Giants. The ASL then expelled the three teams, and FIFA then decided to call it an “outlaw league”.
Then FIFA decided that the USFA was to form its own league. The Soccer Wars finally reached peace in 1929, October to be exact.
Two weeks later…
The Stock Market crashed. Since the stock market crashed, companies didn’t have money to sponsor the teams. After all most of these teams were only staying up because they had companies. It’s almost as if they were all just a bunch of New York Red Bull’s, whose name comes from the sponsor. Another issue was that fans couldn’t buy tickets to the games. This was the reason Sam Mark moved the Marksmen out of Fall River.
After all of this, the ASL folded in 1933, however a mini soccer boom has hit America. The success of the USWNT had America on the tips of their toes (and Megan Rapoine). Now the USMNT has plenty of talent in Europe, with Christian Pulisic leading the way many more are to come. Players like Weston McKennie, who is the captain of Schalke at 20, and Tyler Adams are just a few young American players thriving in Europe. With plenty of more players like this, they could all be in their prime by 2026, the year America hosts the World Cup. This may create the biggest soccer boom the country will ever have, and it’s only taken 93 years to get it...
After all, look at the MLS. Atlanta United vs Portland Timbers drew over 73k for MLS Cup, more than the Super Bowl. However if America wants a brighter future in soccer, they need to fix some things, but that’s a topic we will discuss later.
Big ups if you made it this far, leave suggestions in the comment section below for things I could do later on in the blog’s future! Stay tuned and follow The Sports Court on Instagram (the.sportscourt)
We want to shoutout these links for helping us learn about the American Soccer Past!