soccer

Major League Soccer oral history and other new research

In Long-Range Goals (available in print, on Kindle, on Nook, and possibly elsewhere), I said I hoped the book wouldn’t be the only book on MLS history in a few years. The league has plenty of stories to tell.

Complex tells a few of those stories today in “An Oral History of Major League Soccer’s Frenzied First Season,” gathering then-commissioner Doug Logan, founding father Alan Rothenberg, U.S. Soccer’s Hank Steinbrecher, MLS exec-turned-USSF president Sunil Gulati, a few other executives and some of the more notable and outspoken players. (Yes, Eric Wynalda speaks.)

Some of the stories will be familiar to those who’ve read Long-Range Goals or other pieces on the league. We know how FIFA nudged Rothenberg into the picture and how Rothenberg tasked Mark Abbott with devising the single-entity structure. Logan once again tells the great story of Lamar Hunt falling asleep while he was interviewing for the commissioner post.

But some things are new, in part because Complex did what I neglected to do — talk with Kevin Payne. He once asked me why I didn’t talk to him, and I honestly didn’t have an answer. It was an oversight on my part, and I’m glad he got a chance to tell his story from his vantage point as the man behind D.C. United.

I will quibble with one thing, and that’s the characterization that “real soccer people” were not involved in the conversations on changing the rules to suit the American audience. See Long-Range Goals, page 22: Abbott says “serious soccer people” were pushing for quarters rather than halves. And if you go back farther, FIFA was always happy to use the USA as its laboratory, and the foreign administrators and players in the old NASL were happy to oblige. (One of many reasons I find it ironic that the “we must do things exactly as they’re done in Europe” crowd has latched onto the neo-NASL banner. And before you ask, no, the Complex story doesn’t address promotion/relegation.)

Some other fun things revealed here:

– Logan says MLS had logos and branding ready for expansion teams such as the Chicago Rhythm, but that name was rejected because Catholicism. Seriously. Doug Logan should write his own MLS history one day — it’d be a wild read.

– Alexi Lalas and company speak up on behalf of the quality of play in the early days. They have a point, at least on the better teams. Talent was concentrated on 10 teams, and you could have a team like D.C. United that had nary a weak spot in its top 15. Preki says every team at the time had 4-6 players who could’ve played at any level.

– Wynalda says the colorful soccer ball actually blended into the crowd when it was airborne.

That’s a highly recommended read, and so is this: The Society for American Soccer History has launched a website. It links out to online resources (I would expect that list to grow over time) and produces original content. Early offerings include Roger Allaway on the Soccer War (1928-29), Len Oliver on Philadelphia soccer in the 1940s and 1950s, and Ed Farnsworth on the first U.S. international tour.

It’s a great time in U.S. soccer history. And there’s no better time to look back and see how we got here.

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