A couple of years ago I read “Soccer in a Football World” by Dave Wangerin. When his latest look at the history of US soccer was published earlier this year it was a case of “how quickly can I get it.”
Just like the earlier book I was not disappointed.
While “Soccer in a Football World” cut a broad swath through the history of the game in North America and most particularly in the USA, his latest has allowed him to revisit some of the general themes.
This time around the themes are explored in greater detail by building the story line around specific events, locations or people and using the stories to illustrate the broader themes of opportunities lost and false dawns.
Not unusually in the context of such a book the author takes us through the stories chronologically.
In seven chapters we are taken from the early visits by English teams to the US and how some players returned to become influential figures in the game, through the emergence of the NASL – its explosive growth and what we now see as its inevitable demise.
The roles played by the National Challenge Cup and College Soccer are explored in detail.
There is the fascinating story of Thomas Cahill, a man largely forgotten or even now ignored by American soccer, but who is worthy of title “the father of American soccer.”
St. Louis is singled out for a chapter all to itself and Wangerin details how the city’s soccer community evolved a style of play that became a trademark acknowledged by others throughout North America.
Wangerin returns throughout each chapter to the common theme of how it might have all turned out very differently.
Instead of operating off the mainstream radar and having to battle for even the slightest piece of recognition and acceptance there were moments when a more common front, less self-interest, more leadership or even just common sense might have the offered the game a much more secure foothold in the minds of US sport fans.
Conversely there is also a feeling of inevitability that each chance would be spurned, each prospect hijacked and the game would be forced to start all over again – but each time with one more strike against it.
Strikes that the mainstream media would use liberally to put soccer back into what they regarded as its rightful place at the bottom of the sports heap.
But as great man once said to me “soccer has to be the greatest game in the world to survive the people who run it.”
But perhaps Wangerin leaves the best for last as he links the demise of the NASL with where the MLS sits today. Demise yes, a failure? Absolutely not.
“The team representing New York, though, is named after a soft drink, and though it plays in New Jersey, in a purpose-built stadium, it does not attract crowds of 70,000. There was, it seems, a time and a place for the Cosmos and the NASL, and for better and for worse it has passed. But the time for soccer has not.”
I finished the book at the beginning of last week and the words were still fresh in my mind as I watched a Gold Cup Final being played on a Saturday night in front of over 90,000 vociferous fans. Thomas Cahill – and a few other worthies – will have been very proud.
This time there are no false dawns.
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