Friday, February 12, 2016

Dennis Shay: Patriarch of American Goalkeepers

Note: Due to the use of term association football during the late 19th century and the subsequent rise of the term soccer to refer to the same game thereafter, I use the terms football and soccer interchangeably within this article. 

Additionally, this is not a definitive biography of Dennis Shay. As more and more sources from the late 19th century are digitized and available online, a greater overall understanding of his career, and that of his peers, will certainly emerge. 

America's First Famous Goalkeeper

The lineage of American goalkeepers is a storied one. From Olaff to Borghi, Keller to Howard, the list of prolific American goalkeepers who have made their mark on the history of the game is a lengthy one. The goalkeeper position is truly the only position that America produces consistently that draws unquestionable respect and recognition internationally.

As the U.S. Men’s National Team attempt to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, fans continue to speculate who will succeed Tim Howard and become the next great American goalkeeper. While fans debate and a number of keepers vie for the chance to become the next great American between the posts, it is worth looking back at a forgotten goalkeeper who may be considered the patriarch of America’s distinguished goalkeeping lineage, Dennis “Denny” Shay.


Source: The National Police Gazette, 11-10-1894
Much like his noteworthy but overlooked footballing career, nearly all information relating to Dennis Shay’s early life is lost to history and forgotten. Even the date of his birth is not truly known, though the 1940 U.S. Census denotes Shay’s birth year as “around 1870.” Whether in 1869 or 1870, Dennis Shay was born in Hancock, Michigan to John Henry Shay and Mary Sullivan, Irish immigrants who would soon settle the family in Bristol County, Massachusetts. The family left the Upper Peninsula likely looking for greater economic fortune in the booming textile industry in towns like Fall River and New Bedford. The move eventually proved fortuitous for Dennis, as it was the family’s relocation to Massachusetts that exposed him to the game at a young age and provided him with an avenue to play the game at its highest level in the country.

During the 1880s, when Denny was developing an affinity and knack for the game, the game grew in popularity throughout the Northeast. Mill towns throughout Massachusetts, burgeoning with British, Irish, and Scottish immigrants, spearheaded the growth in the game’s popularity. Citizens of these mill towns formed clubs at an incredible rate during the 1880s, Fall River alone housed over twelve clubs in 1886. To govern the growing multitude of clubs and leagues popping up across the Northeast, a group of British expatriates founded the American Football Association in 1884 and established the American Cup, the first national soccer championship in the United States, the following year. It was within this atmosphere that Shay found himself exposed to the game.

Shay likely began playing the game with other children on the streets of Bristol County. By his teenage years, Shay’s talents proved worthy enough for a spot on the Oak Grove Rangers. The Rangers, described in 1894 by The Brooklyn Daily Eagle as “a sort of kindergarten club for the association clubs”, competed in a junior league, or second class league, a level below the Bristol County Football Association, which housed Fall River clubs, the East Ends, Rovers, and Olympics, among others clubs from towns throughout Bristol County, Massachusetts. Statistics for the junior league are near nonexistent, however, Shay’s ability in goal must have been apparent to all of the senior league clubs because by the time he turned eighteen he was playing with arguably the best team in the county, the Fall River Rovers.

The Rise of the Rovers

Source: The Boston Globe, 4-21-1889
Shay’s career cannot be discussed without mention of the Rovers. Without the Fall River club, Shay may never have achieved on-field success and become the first great American goalkeeper. By the time Shay suited up for the club in late 1887, or early 1888, the Rovers were American Cup Champions and considered one of the best teams in the country.

Isaac Buckley, Thomas Buckley, Thomas Burke, and James Marsh founded the Rovers in February 1884. The men named the club the Chance Street Rovers after English club Blackburn Rovers with the intention of defeating Fall River’s best club, the East Ends. It did not take long for the newly formed Rovers to overcome the East Ends and rise to prominence within the city, as the club finished the 1884-85 season, their first in the Fall River Football Association, as one of the best in Fall River. Prior to the start of the 1885-86 season, The Fall River Football Association became the Bristol County Football Association (BCFA). The name of the league meant little to the rising juggernaut Rovers as the club became a force regionally, earning enough money to build their own ground by the fall of 1887.

When the Rovers opened their ground on September 5, 1887, they were known as the Fall River Rovers, no doubt due to the club’s rising status regionally – Chance Street likely not carrying as much weight in towns across the region. Although the club was becoming one of the best in the area, winning the Bristol County Cup in 1885 and 1886, the club had yet to attain the status of the elite by capturing the American Cup. The 3-time American Cup champion, Clark Our New Thread (ONT) team was the true measuring stick of greatness during this time and all league titles paled in comparison to the nascent “national” American Cup title.

The Rovers were intent on becoming one of the country’s elite clubs, but first the club had to ready their home ground for the 1887-1888 campaign. Had it not been for the help of the club’s players the Rovers opening day game may not have happened on their new field. The Fall River Herald News summed up the club’s ground construction situation perfectly, “It was a big job to get the field in condition for the opening and despite the fact that many players worked many weeks in their spare time on the grounds, they were on the job from 5 a.m. until close to game time on opening day.”

Despite the troubles in readying the club’s grounds for the opening game of the season, the Rovers truly became one of the country’s premier clubs during the 1887-88 campaign. The club continued to show well in BCFA play, but the club, eying a bigger prize, opted to enter the American Cup - 1888 being the first year that New England teams entered the tournament - with the intention of becoming the best club in the country.

In the first round of the tournament, the Rovers met their cross-town nemesis, the East Ends. The Rovers, nearing the apex of their strength as a club, dispatched their rivals easily by a score of 3-1. The Rovers repeated the feat in the second round, soundly defeating the Pawtucket Free Wanderers 3-0. Despite throwing Jack Mullen, a new goalkeeper, between the posts, the Fall River club continued its dominance in the semifinals. The Rovers trounced the visiting Kearny Rangers 6-1 in front of several thousand of their home fans. The victory left supporters of the Rovers, “confident that it [the Rovers] will win the championship and the cup. Consequently, there is great rejoicing among local football enthusiasts.”

Riding a string of blowout victories in the tournament, the Rovers entered the American Cup Final against Newark Almas with Mullen still in goal. The game took place on the grounds of Clark ONT in New Jersey on April 14, 1888. Taking place in NJ, the game appeared to be a home game for Almas, but, to the Rovers, the venue was irrelevant. The outcome of the game mirrored the results of the tournament’s previous rounds and ended with a Rovers 5-1 blowout victory over Almas.

With the help of the telegraph, news of the victory spread quickly. The citizens of Fall River were ecstatic with the result. Some people called the day the Rovers won the title “the greatest day in the annals of football in Fall River.” Praise for the Rovers victory did not end there as the city hung two banners, one stating “Welcome home, champions of America.” In addition to the banners and a planned procession through the town, the city also held a dinner and concert in honor of the American Cup champions. The Fall River Daily Herald summed up the city’s excitement for the occasion best, “They have crowned themselves with glory in winning the championship of America, and well deserve the reception and illumination.” The club had attained the status of the elite. The signing of Shay signaled the club was intent on maintaining their class distinction for many years to come.

Shay Joins the Rovers, Becomes Champion

Source: The Fall River Daily Herald, 4-16-1888
It was during this period, following the quick ascension of the Rovers as the country’s best, that Shay became a fixture at the club. At just eighteen years old, Shay entered the first team of the Rovers. The young Oak Grove product did not immediately supplant Mullen in goal, but Shay did find first team minutes almost immediately after joining the club when he played center forward for the Rovers in an exhibition game against Boston Rovers just a few weeks before the Fall River club won the title. Ultimately, Shay’s days at forward did not last; he was starting between the posts by the start of the fall of 1888. Once firmly entrenched in the starting eleven, Shay did not look back. He became a permanent fixture between the posts for the Rovers for the next three years and cemented his reputation as one of, if not the best, goalkeeper in the nation by the time he left the club.

Though still holding the BCFA league in high esteem, the Rovers, with Shay in goal, entered the 1888-89 season intent on repeating as national champions. In addition to Shay, the club brought in two players from Almas, Bernard “Barney” Fagan – Scottish Cup winner with Hibernian F.C. in 1886-87 - and Frank Cornell, to bolster the already strong side. The club, as it had for the past few years, continued to show well in the local league, but truly shined on the national stage with this influx of talent, easily maintaining their status as the country’s premier club.

With Shay between the posts and the twenty-one-year-old veteran Fagan assuming the role of club captain, the Fall River Rovers made easy work of their opponents in the first two rounds of the 1888-89 edition of the American Cup. The club faced off against the Rhode Island champion Pawtucket Free Wanderers in the tournament’s third round. The match proved to be quite the affair.

Shay and the Rovers journeyed to Pawtucket for the match. Throngs of people attempted to attend the highly anticipated matchup. According to The Fall River Daily Herald, “so dense was the gathering that tickets could not be supplied to those who wished to gain admittance before the game began, and the result was that the cheering of those inside the grounds so inspired those outside that they broke in the large double gate and went rushing into the ground without paying an entrance fee.” The Rovers routinely drew in fans by the thousands throughout this period no matter the competition.

Despite being defending champions, the Rovers were seen as the underdog due to the Rovers player’s stature, Shay stood only 5’ 8 1/2'’. In spite of their lot as underdogs, the Fall River club quickly proved they were the superior team. Just minutes after kickoff the Rovers proved their mettle with one reporter remarking, “it would need no experienced eye to see that they [Rovers] were the superior team…. what they lacked in weight, they made up with in science.”

Using their superior tactics, the Rovers narrowly defeated the Rhode Island champions, 2-1, though the game was never in much doubt. The Rovers scored the first goal of the game just minutes after the opening whistle and the Fall River club never looked like losing, heading into halftime up 2-0. The Wanderers were able to score in the second period, but it was for naught as they conceded their first game at home to the defending champion Rovers.

The rest of the American Cup tournament went smoothly for the Rovers. Their opponents in the semi-final, the 3-time American Cup champions, Clark ONT, were embarrassed by the Rovers in front of 3,000 fans in Fall River, 7-0. The result showed the superiority of the Rovers and gave the fans and media every reason to believe that the Fall River club would repeat as champions. In order to win the title, the Rover’s opponents, Newark Caledonians, had to “play the strongest game of their lives.”

The Caledonians did not play the game of their lives. In fact, the Final, once again held on the Clark ONT grounds in New Jersey, proved to be another easy game for the best club in the country, the Rovers. On April 13, 1889, the Rovers easily won the 1888-89 American Cup Final 4-0. The result was another clean sheet for Shay and a second American Cup title for the Rovers. Over the course of the Rovers five games in the tournament, Shay only conceded one goal, and the club held a goal differential of 24 to 1.

Source: The Fall River Daily Herald, 4-15-1889
Fall River once again feted the national champions, welcoming the team home with fireworks and a brass band. The Rovers were repeat champions and unquestionably the best team in the country.

Following their victory in the 1888-89 American Cup, the Fall River Rovers, with Shay between the posts, continued to prove that they were America’s elite, taking on clubs from across New England and the East Coast. The club continued to be a huge draw as well, with over 2,500 fans showing up to the Rover’s home ground to see the champions take on a New Jersey All-Star team a little over a week after the American Cup Final. The Rovers distinguished play proved to be must see to everyone, including women, as The Fall River Daily Herald noted, “the female admirers of the exhilarating game formed a good part of the large crowd of spectators, and were the most enthusiastic at that.”

Shortly after the American Cup victory, the Rovers were rumored to be making plans to sail to England to take on Aston Villa, Preston North End, and other English clubs. The England tour never quite got off the ground, but the Rovers were unquestionably the best team in the country and their young goalkeeper, Dennis Shay, was quickly cementing his place as the first great American goalkeeper.

Shay in Britain

Shay continued to man the goal, with cameos as an outfield player, for the Rovers until the summer of 1891. By that time, Shay had established himself as one of the best, if not the best goalkeeper in the country, and his ability caught the eye of individuals associated with a planned Canadian soccer tour of the British Isles. Initially, the tour was intended to mimic an 1888 tour and be made up entirely of Canadian players from the Western Football Association, but complications arose with the tour’s plans and the tour’s management invited Shay and several other American players to participate in the tour.

The tour ran from August 1891 to January 1892. The joint Canadian-American team competed in 58 
games in just 135 days. Shay appeared in goal for 47 of those 58 games, playing in games against some of the best teams in England in Burnley and Preston North End.

Although the tour is not looked at as a success historically – the Canadian-American team lost 30 of the 58 games - the tour was a positive experience for many of the players, including Shay. In fact, Shay’s ability in goal throughout the tour elicited praise from English newspapers despite the Canadian-American’s collective on-field performances. Shay’s play even saw him carried off the field after one match and merited the American goalkeeper several offers from English clubs. Shay, who said “he could have held his own against the goalies of Great Britain,” ultimately turned down the offers, and the chance to become the first non-British player to play in England’s Football League, – that honor belongs to his Canadian teammate Walter Bowman – and returned to Fall River.

Once back in the United States, Shay suited up for a team in Pawtucket, Rhode Island before returning to the Rovers in 1893, the same year that he married his wife, Catherine Neary. By that time, with the numerous championship medals he had earned and the British tour under his belt, Shay was widely considered the best in America at the goalkeeper position. When it came to soccer, newspapers across the Northeast, then the nexus of the American soccer world, were espousing praise of Shay’s exploits and proclaiming the young goalkeeper the best in the country at his position. Soon Shay would be one of the game’s greatest professionals, even if only for a very brief time.

Shay, the Professional
Source: The Brooklyn Eagle, 10-15-1894
Soccer, like nearly all sports in America, was still an amateur affair in the early 1890s. Baseball provided America with the only professional sport in the country and dominated the summer months, but it wouldn’t be the only sport played professionally for long after the growing popularity of soccer, played during the winter months, caught the eye of baseball’s most entrepreneurial owners.

Several baseball magnates saw the game as the perfect sport to fill their stadiums during baseball’s offseason. The way the baseball owners intended to do this was to make soccer a professional sport under their auspices, which is exactly what six National League owners did during the summer of 1894 when they created America’s first professional soccer league, The American League of Professional Football (ALPF).

As early as February 1894, the owners of the Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. baseball club’s began entertaining the idea of a creating a professional soccer league. By the summer, plans for the ALPF were starting to fall into place, and the owners formally created the league on August 14, 1894.

The league was doomed from the onset, as the owners failed to set a concrete schedule and sought to include their baseball players and managers in the teams. Ultimately, the scheme was little more than an attempt by the owners to maintain a stranglehold on the professional sports landscape and little effort was made to ensure the success of the professional league. In a mere six weeks, the ALPF ceased to exist, but that small window afforded many people in cities across the East Coast the chance to read about and see the greatest goalkeeper in the country.

Shay was highly respected by the time the National League owners created the ALPF. The former Fall River Rovers goalkeeper was referred to as the “best goal tender in the country” in more than one publication prior to the cessation of the league. Shay’s ability and knowledge of the game were so highly respected that the owner of the Brooklyn Bridegrooms Baseball Club, Charles Byrne, made Shay the player/manager of the Brooklyn Football Club - Shay was the only American with a background in the sport to be made manager of any of the ALPF clubs.
Source: The Brooklyn Eagle, 10-7-1894
Once signed by Byrne, Shay set about signing the best players from Fall River, including several men from the Rovers, namely Bernard Fagan. The Brooklyn side became a de facto Fall River team playing in the ALPF – several other players from the Spindle City latched on to the Boston club as well. Shay’s signings, coupled with his play in goal, earned the Brooklyn club the most wins in the doomed league with five. The club experienced a single loss, the league opener to Boston, during the six weeks that the ALPF existed. That loss gave the Baltimore team, a side made up of a number of British professionals who were a perfect 4-0 in ALPF play, reason enough to declare themselves champions of the ALPF. Shay and his men did not take kindly to Baltimore’s claims, and the Brooklyn club challenged the Charm City eleven to a six-game series to decide the true champions of the league and country. With Shay in goal, the Brooklyn men proved their superiority before the series dissolved as brusquely as the ALPF. It proved to be the swansong for Shay’s goalkeeping career.

Retirement from Football

Following the demise of the ALPF, Shay abruptly retired from playing soccer at the age of twenty-four. Although the reasons for his retirement are unknown, his place as the first great American goalkeeper is certainly up for debate. The former Fall River Rovers man had accumulated a litany of awards and trophies by the time he signed with Brooklyn of the ALPF. According to The Brooklyn Eagle, who proclaimed Shay the best goalkeeper in the country, Shay had won eleven medals by the time he joined Brooklyn. That is an impressive haul for a man who played the game at its highest level for only six years. The fact that he was entrusted to run a professional club at such a young age undoubtedly shows that Shay was a well-respected figure within the game.

After his retirement, Shay became involved in the liquor business, a career he would be involved in for the rest of his life. By 1896, Shay operated a saloon in Fall River with his brother, Timothy, called Shay Brothers.  The bar remained in operation for a number of years, though it not clear how long Dennis was involved in the venture. That same year, Shay’s exploits as a goalkeeper made the news again, though it was not on the soccer field, rather Shay had taken up roller polo (roller hockey) and was minding the net for an amateur side in Fall River. He was said to be “showing up strongly.” Though retired from soccer, Shay, already the best soccer goalie in America, obviously still had the itch to compete.

Eventually, Shay settled with his wife in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He appears to never have played a prominent role on the soccer field ever again, though he continued to be involved in sports. In 1906, he and two other men purchased the New Bedford Whalers Baseball Club of the minor league New England League. Shay’s involvement with the baseball club lasted just two years. From that point on, Shay does not appear to have figured prominently within sports in any aspect and spent the remainder of his life in New Bedford. He died in 1950. His exploits during his brief soccer career were so great that they were worthy of a mention in his obituary in The New York Times.

Fall River would continue to produce soccer players and clubs of renowned quality throughout the early half of the 20th century. Many of the feats accomplished by the Rovers and Marksmen came to overshadow those of Shay and the original Fall River Rovers, but that does not mean that the first prominent American goalkeeper feats, and those of his club teams, are insignificant. The truth is quite the opposite.

Even without any statistics, Shay’s feats as a goalkeeper were remarkable for the era he played in. After playing just six years at the highest level, Shay had accrued enough medals and plaudits to be considered by many at the time to be the greatest goalkeeper in the country. Regardless of the feats of other goalkeepers of the period, Shay’s fame alone, undoubtedly bolstered by his performances in Britain, cements him as the first great American goalkeeper and the patriarch of the celebrated American goalkeeping lineage. In a period dominated by baseball, Shay was able to garner enough attention outside of Fall River to be considered the best in the nation, and the fact that he did it in six years gives further credence to his ability in goal. The mention of his feats at the time of his death, over sixty years after Shay made headlines playing the game, only goes to prove that Shay, though forgotten by modern soccer fans, was indeed the first truly exception American goalkeeper.

The next time you see Tim Howard play, or reminisce on the career of Kasey Keller, remember that Dennis Shay was the first significant goalkeeper in American soccer history and the first goalkeeper to test himself in the nation of the game’s birth.


In writing this article, I relied on a number of primary and secondary sources and help from others. I could not have written this article without the help of Brian Bunk, the creator of the Soccer History USA Podcast, who was very generous with his time and aiding in tracking down several period newspaper articles. Ed Farnsworth, Chris Goodwin, and the reference librarians at The Fall River Public Library were also a huge help in giving their time and sharing source material.  With the help of those stated above, I consulted the following sources: The Baltimore Sun, The Brooklyn Eagle, The Fall River Daily Herald, The Fall River Herald News, The Washington Post, Colin Jose's article covering the 1891 Canadian-American tour of the UK,  Ed Farnsworth's post concerning Philadelphia's ALPF HistorySteve Holroyd's History of the ALPFwww.baseballreference.comthe American Soccer History Archives, and several other secondary sources.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The U.S. Open Cup and Washington D.C.'s Golden Age

In 1985, the U.S. National Team (USMNT) failed to qualify for yet another World Cup, extending the country’s absence from the tournament to twenty-six years, while the shuttering of the North American Soccer League (NASL) left the country without a singular professional division one outdoor league. For American soccer, the mid-1980s may well have been considered the sport’s Dark Ages. When the sport did make headlines, the doomsday coverage wrote off the sport and its future in America. Though soccer may have seemed on the precipice of oblivion nationally, it continued to thrive within local leagues, as it had for decades, in cities throughout the U.S. It ultimately became the era that would produce some of the greatest American players in recent history and a period that saw Washington, D.C. usher in a “golden era” of soccer in the city and surrounding area, which culminated in the city’s first U.S. Open Cup championship courtesy of the area's most successful team, Club España.

Soccer in Washington, D.C.

D.C. United in CONCACAF Champions League action against Montego Bay United, August 25, 2015
Source: Author's collection

Soccer has been played in the nation’s capital since the late 1800s, with the city even becoming one of the first in the country to house a professional team when a representative club participated in the ill-fated American League of Professional Football in 1894. Even at that point of the sport’s history in the U.S., Washington existed on the periphery of American soccer, where it would remain throughout the first half of the 20th century. That is not to say that the city did not have viable leagues or that soccer did not enjoy periods of significant appeal, just that the sport never garnered the attention that it did in the industrial Northeast and that the city’s club never could measure up to competition from the likes of Fall River, New York, or even Baltimore in Open Cup competition.

It wasn’t until after World War II that the sport gained a significant footing in Washington. During and following the war, the city’s population boomed due to a wave of immigration from across the country that The Washington Post believed may “have brought enough new interest to Washington to make a general organization of the sport worthwhile.” The city fielded local leagues for decades prior, but it was this post-war boom, coupled with soccer’s and professional sports’ growth nationally, that gave soccer true vitality in Washington.

With this thrust in participation and popularity, Washington finally became a player on the national stage as The British Lions of Washington’s National Soccer League (NSL) became a dominant club locally throughout the 1950s and 60s while making extended runs in the U.S. Amateur Open Cup on several occasions. The British Lions’ success reached its pinnacle in 1969 when they captured the city’s first truly national soccer trophy by defeating Kutis of St. Louis 4-1 for the U.S. Amateur Cup.

In addition to the Lions, Washington became home to two professional clubs in 1967 during the nascent boom of professional sports: Britannica, a local NSL rival who joined the American Soccer League (ASL) and the Washington Whips, who were represented by the players of Aberdeen of Scotland in the United Soccer Association. (Rather than employ players available in America, the United Soccer Association imported entire clubs to represent various American cities for its first season.) By 1970, Britannica became the Darts, won an ASL title, joined the NASL, and were the 
sole professional club in Washington.

From that point on, soccer within Washington would experience a series of highs and lows, as several clubs came and went during the NASL’s lifetime, while the local leagues flourished and Howard University captured two NCAA National Championships. Professional soccer was a near-mainstay in Washington throughout the 1970s and 1980s, one that drew decent attendances, but never fully captured the city’s attention. The city’s apathy was a malaise that not even the magic of a Johan Cruyff led Diplomats team, or the ill-fated Team America concept could cure. By the 1984 NASL season, Washington was without a professional team, and professional soccer in the United States was on life-support. Though the loss of professional soccer and the collapse of the NASL left Washington without a nationally visible soccer representative, the vacuum was filled by local clubs who would usher in the most prosperous era in the city’s soccer history.

Dawn of the “Golden Era”

Following the demise of the NASL, professionals who were not playing in the Major Indoor Soccer League were suddenly out of a job and found themselves looking for a place to play. This meant that city leagues throughout the country became a viable, and sometimes the only, place to play. In the case of Washington, the arrival of former professionals only strengthened the already strong local leagues including the NSL, a league that President, Luis Del Aguila, claimed was “one of the best in the country,” in 1985. Aguila’s assertion may not have been far off. The Washington area was home to several strong leagues including the NSL, the Northern Virginia Soccer League (NVSL), and the Capital Soccer League. While each offered a different style of play, professionals and former national team players could be found plying their trade on local fields every weekend. The NVSL even boasted to have several World Cup veterans playing within the forty teams playing in its four divisions.

Dominant in the NSL were Club España, a club founded by Spanish immigrants sometime in the late 1970s, who were not shy about signing the best talent available in order to win the league and compete on the national level. The club, reigning league champions since 1980, quickly took advantage of the influx of former professionals and top college players tricking into the NSL by signing players with NASL experience like Daryl Gee and Ian Bain, while also signing talented young players from the 1985 NCAA College Cup runner-up American University (AU) in Soccer America’s Player of the Year, Michael Brady and defensive stalwart, Keith Trehy. In leagues already burgeoning with local and international players of some acclaim, the area became a hotbed of talent ready to compete for national recognition with the new wave of players entering the leagues.

España were not the only local team heavy on quality talent, as their local rivals, the Fairfax Spartans, featured USMNT players John Kerr Jr., Bruce Murray, and John Stohlmeyer, and they were coached by former New York Cosmos and Washington Diplomat midfielder, John Kerr Sr. These two teams were stocked with talent and dominated the NSL and NVSL respectively. Inevitably they had to compete each other to achieve success on the national stage.

Club España in 1985
Source: The Washington Post
Club España were the first to achieve notoriety and success nationally by going on a reported 33-game unbeaten streak to capture the U.S. Amateur Open Cup in 1985 – the Fairfax Spartans made it to the Open Cup Semi-Finals before being ousted. The final victory during the 33-game run was a 2-1 victory in St. Louis over the Mitre Eagles of Seattle, Washington. In addition to the players mentioned above, excluding Gee, the club featured American University’s Richie Burke and future-USMNT forward Philip Gyau. The title win was the beginning of a very short-lived, but highly productive “golden era” for the area. It was the first truly national championship won by a club from Washington since Howard University’s College Cup triumph in 1974, and the first US Open Amateur Cup Championship for a club from Washington since 1969. The victory even garnered the attention of D.C.’s government, with Mayor Marion Barry lauding the achievement by naming a day in honor of the club. Following the win, the Washington area was prime for an extended run of national titles and a place in soccer history alongside some of the greater city dynasties of the past century like Los Angeles, home of Maccabi.

The U.S. Amateur Open Cup title returned to the Washington area the next year, 1986, but it would be Kerr Jr. and the Fairfax Spartans who brought the trophy to the nation’s capital after defeating St. Louis Busch 3-0 for the title. It would prove to be a productive year locally as the area’s womens teams were just as successful, with the Fairfax Wildfire winning the Women’s Amateur Cup completing a men’s and women’s national double.

In back-to-back years, Washington clubs had captured hardware and proven that the area was indeed a soccer stronghold experiencing the most success nationally in its history. In 1987, Club España continued the area’s run among the country’s elite and brought a trophy that had eluded clubs from Washington for over a half century, the U.S. Open Cup. Not only did España win the first Open Cup in the city’s long history, they did it in historic fashion too.

U.S. Open Cup Champions and Beyond

Source: The Washington Post
Club España entered 1987 with a roster that was largely unchanged since the club’s 1985 U.S. Amateur Open Cup victory. The Fairfax Spartans were no different, and the two club’s successes undoubtedly fueled one another to reach another level. For a couple of years, some of Washington’s media took notice, namely The Washington Post, who began giving the rivalry more coverage, announced crucial matches between the two foes and promoted the professional quality of the clubs. Both Club España and the Fairfax Spartans’ achievements had filled the soccer void in Washington, and their continued success on the national stage proved hard to ignore as both received more coverage than they had ever before.

The two club's achievements earned both a spot in the newly formed American Soccer League, the third league to adopt the ASL moniker, which included only East Coast teams and began exhibition play during the summer of 1987. Both teams adopted new club names, with España becoming the Washington Diplomats and the Fairfax Spartans changing their name to the Washington Stars. Despite the looming changes, España were still in the hunt for the U.S. Open Cup at the time of the league’s creation. The club continued to compete for the Open Cup as Club España while also taking the field in other games as the Diplomats, though it was no secret that the future ASL entity was almost entirely made up of players from the soon to be defunct Club España.

Prior to the official announcement of the ASL’s creation, España advanced to the Finals of the U.S. 
Open Cup tournament by winning a home and away series against New York Greek-American. After defeating New York on their home ground the week prior, España welcomed the four-time Open Cup champions to Washington on May 17, 1987. The game ended in a 2-2 draw, which saw España advance in the tournament due to their previous win. The game was more notable for the fighting amongst the teams and the presence of police, than the final score line, which led España’s Ian Bain to say, “Basically this is an ethnic thing. It’s Spain against Greece and blood tends to run a little warm.”

In addition to España’s progression in the tournament, the women of Fairfax Wildfire secured victory in their game that day as well, sending them to the National Championships for the second consecutive season. Both club’s wins kept the city in contention for another men’s and women’s national double.

Following España’s advancement to the final four of the Open Cup tournament, the club began to invest heavily in the development of the Diplomats and the new ASL. The club began to be referred to not as solely as the Diplomats in the local press beginning with the club’s first games in the Ambassador Cup, a four team tournament held at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium from June 5-7, 1987, featuring the Diplomats, the Cosmopolitan Eagles (NJ), the Honduran National Team, and the Under-20 U.S. National Team.

The club registered a 3-1 win in their opening match against the Under-20 U.S. National Team. They followed the win up with a 1-1 draw against Honduran National team that left the Honduran coach with nothing but praise for Diplomats (España) declaring, “this team is better than most that played in the North American Soccer League.”

With the exhibition behind them, the club’s focus returned to the Open Cup and the semifinal matchup against the Mean Green of Richardson on June 20 at St. Louis Park in Fenton, Missouri.
By this time, The Washington Post were chronicling the club’s trip towards the Open Cup Final, taking note of what players would be eligible for the important cup-tie, while making a point to emphasize that España and the Diplomats were essentially the same team. Notably, several players who were officially part of the Diplomats including Michael Brady and Joe Gyau were not able to play in the Open Cup as they were not registered with the USSF as members of España. Nevertheless, it was an issue that Ian Bain wasn’t bothered with stating, “Club España has depended on 14 players so far this year, and we’ll go with the people who have gotten us this far in St. Louis.”

His statement proved true on the field as España rolled past the Mean Green 3-0 with Fernando Iturbe providing the game’s opening goal, which was bolstered by Ritchie Burke’s two goals to send the Washington club to the Open Cup Final. It was the first time in the history of the tournament that a club from Washington advanced to the tournament’s championship game, and only an old foe, Seattle’s Mitre FC, who advanced to the Final with a 5-4 victory over Busch SC, stood between España and the Open Cup trophy.

The Final took place the following day, June 21, 1987 and proved to be a struggle for both sides who were unable to find the back of the net in 120 minutes of play. Mitre’s John Klein remembers Seattle having the edge in front of a crowd ranging from 1000-2000 spectators saying, “We pretty much dominated, but were unable to score.” With both teams failing to score the game went to a penalty shoot-out, the first Final in the history of the U.S. Open Cup to be decided in that manner - the tournament used a two-game playoff to decide the winner until 1968 when it changed to a single game final.

España won the shootout dramatically 3-2. (Fairfax Wildfire failed to repeat as champions, therefore denying the city another men's and women's double.) Marcos Casas-Codero, Paul Emordi, and Daniel Betancor were the penalty scorers for España. Not only did the win secure the first Open Cup for the city of Washington, it also secured España a spot in the 1988 CONCACAF Champions Cup – Mitre Eagles also earned a spot in the tournament due to their progression to the Open Cup Final – another first for the city. (Interestingly enough, the club was allowed to enter the tournament as the Diplomats. They lost a two-game play in series to Mexico’s Atlético Morelia 4-2.)

Source: The Washington Post
Following the Open Cup victory, Club España ceased to exist as the club became the ASL’s Washington Diplomats permanently. Fairfax Spartans were also a defunct club by the fall of 1987 as the newly-minted Washington Stars and the Diplomats took some of the area’s best talent into the new professional league beginning play the following spring. Both clubs past accomplishments earned them significant articles in The Washington Post promoting the quality talent laden rosters of both teams, but any mention to the former club names only came in reference to the past history of the players. The amateur clubs were extinct and the “golden age” was coming to an end, but not before the city obtained another title when the Washington Diplomats seized the inaugural ASL championship in 1988.

The Diplomats and Stars continued to play professional soccer through the 1990 American Professional Soccer League season. At the end of the campaign, the Diplomats folded, while the Stars ceased to exist after merging with Baltimore's Maryland Bays. Washington would not have a club with another national soccer championship until 1996 when Iberia SC, a club coached by Silvino Gonzalo, who was also involved with España and the Diplomats, won the U.S. Amateur Open Cup, and D.C. United won the inaugural Major League Soccer Cup. Sine then the city has had a number of clubs bring hardware back to the area, but it was the "golden age" of the mid-1980s, with Club España at the forefront, that cemented Washington's status as an elite soccer city.

The above video features Silvino Gonzalo referencing his role in guiding several clubs to Open Cup titles.

Notes: As always, I relied on a number of sources, both primary and secondary, in writing this article. I perused many newspapers with The Washington Post being chief among them. I also consulted The New York Times. In addition to the above sources, I consulted The Olympian's article on Seattle's 2010 bid to win the Open Cuphttp://www.funwhileitlasted.net, and, of course, the American Soccer History Archives. Also, a huge thanks is due to Kevin Mercer for his help with the article. Follow him on Twitter.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Going Green

Puskas (top, third from left) lining up with Ferencvaros during Mexican tour 1947
In July 1959, Ferenc Puskas and reigning four-time European Cup champions Real Madrid stopped in New York City to showcase their version of the world’s game in a pair of exhibition games at the tail end of their South American tour. The sojourn marked the second time that Los Blancos visited America to demonstrate the finer points of the game. It was the club’s first since an exhibition match against Galicia FC in 1927.

The games were far from competitive with Madrid winning both stateside games handily. As irrelevant as the games were, the affair’s significance lie in the fact that it was Puskas’ second appearance before the New York City football faithful, and his first stint in America since a largely forgotten and unlikely appearance as a member of Ferencvarosi TC (Ferencvaros) twelve years earlier.

Before the Hungarian Revolution and his subsequent defection, Puskas had been renowned throughout Europe as “The Galloping Major.” He was a national idol within Hungary and the personification of Hungarian football with both his club, Honved, and the national team.  He undoubtedly always gave his best for the nation, even when it meant displaying the best that Hungarian football had to offer by donning the colors of rival club Ferencvaros in New York City and throughout the club’s Mexican tour of 1947.

Mexican Vacation

Ferencvaros during their tour of Mexico. Puskas kneeling far left.
Prior to World War II, Hungary was one of the most competitive footballing nations on the European continent, having shown well during the 1934 World Cup and finishing as runners-up in the 1938 rendition. The central European nation also housed two of the most formidable clubs in Europe at the time in Ferencvaros and MTK Budapest. The country’s superb footballing tradition continued following the cessation of war through to the 1960s. Its entrance into the Warsaw Pact in 1949 ushered in window of army-backed Honved dominance that lasted until the Hungarian Revolution ending the dominance of Ferencvaros.

This interval coincided with the rise of one of the world’s greatest footballers in Puskas, who made his national team debut in 1945 and quickly became a known quantity within world football. It was during this period - before the Communist takeover of Hungary - that the country’s most decorated club, Ferencvaros, embarked on an expedition to Mexico for a small payday and a series of games against some of the best Mexican clubs and the Mexican national team.

In an effort to exhibit the best of Hungarian football, Ferencvaros enlisted the services of Puskas and Ferenc Szusza to compliment the club’s lineup that featured a who’s who of Hungarian talent including: Gyula Lazar, Gyorgi Sarosi - the lauded star of the 1938 World Cup, Gyorgi Sarosi, and Geza Henni - future U.S. Men’s National Team and Houston Stars coach.

After a one-off game in Brno, Czech Republic, Puskas, and his seasonal teammates flew across the Atlantic stopping in New York City en route to Mexico. In just twelve hours inside the city, the visiting Hungarians marveled at the foreign sights. They noted their journals, “We have seen the streets of millionaires.” (Note: both Gyula Csikos and Dr. Lakat Karoly kept diaries during the tour, but due to difficulty in translating the text from Hungarian it is difficult to discern who’s diary it is from.) They vowed to come back after their Mexican jaunt, where, on July 16, they were warmly received in Mexico City by a significant gathering of Hungarian émigrés who greeted the club with a banner reading “Welcome Fradi,”alongside a band and mass of journalists.

Ferencvaros sightseeing while on tour. Note Puskas kneeling with cowboy hat.
For the next few weeks, in addition to the eight games on their schedule, Puskas and Ferencvaros traipsed around Mexico taking in all the country had to offer, from cuisine to culture, all the while visiting with doting Mexican dignitaries and Hungarian expatriates. Within those weeks, while followed sparingly by the American media, the Hungarian club compiled a record of three wins, two draws, and three losses, with both Puskas and Szusza contributing to the cause. The group concluded their stint in Mexico with a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to the Mexican National team on August 17. The loss came just two weeks after Ferencvaros drew El Tri 3-3. Both guest players notched a goal in the loss. Their collective best was yet to come and soon to be on display in the United States.

New York, New York

With the bulk of the tour behind them, and, in truth, all but over, the whole of Ferencvaros was in New York City for one last payday on August 20. The team congregated at the George Washington Hotel in Manhattan before heading out to the Hungarian Garden Restaurant for lunch. There the city’s Hungarian population enveloped the players with praise and song singing of the beauty of their homeland. In attendance, to the delight of the team, were two of their country’s celebrated sportsmen: Antal Kocsis, 1926 Olympic flyweight gold medalist, and Lazlo Sternberg, captain of the 1934 Hungarian World Cup Team.

Once the team were in New York, American media were sure to praise the visitors as well. Most of the the attention focused on Gyorgi Sarosi. “Hailed as the all-time greatest inside left by the London Daily Mirror,” proclaimed The Leader Observer – a position he would not even play in New York. Coverage of Puskas, aside from projected lineups, was nonexistent. He had yet to build his legend and dazzle audiences across Europe, and for the purposes of his New York visit, the press treated him as just another member of the squad. That would change tremendously upon his return visit with Real Madrid.

After an entire day of feting and sightseeing, the men woke up the next morning to repeat the actions of the previous day as they went shopping for anything that they could trade for profit back home prior to their game with the New York Hungarians of the National Soccer League.

That night, in the presence of the Hungarian consul, with Puskas lined up in his customary inside left position, Ferencvaros took the field in front of over 3,000 fans in their sole appearance in the United States. Across the field stood a familiar face in Lazlo Sternberg who lined up at fullback for the New York Hugarians.

The game kicked off under the lights of Dexter Park at half past eight o’clock. Though impressed with the lighting, the dimensions of the field greatly confounded the visitors due to its primary configuration for baseball.

Dexter Park view from outfield during a baseball game.
That confusion, coupled with fatigued legs due to jet lag, allowed the hosts to pounce on Ferencvaros early as either inside right Adamcyk, or center forward Bela Gyurtsak (the sources differ) put the New York club up 1-0 with just nine minutes gone. The goal and its goal scorer mattered not, as just minutes later the famed Sarosi leveled the match at 1-1.

Jozsef Meszaros put the visitors up for good later in the first half. The game entered halftime 2-1 in favor of Ferencvaros. The hosts held firm in the first few opening minutes of the second half, but soon fell victim to the blistering attack of the visiting Hungarians who absolutely put on a clinic in the second half winning the game 12-1. Puskas was unable to find the score sheet and ultimately yielded the field to a substitute. It did not matter however, as the future Honved and Real Madrid mainstay found ways to contribute to the club's victory in his first visit to the United States.

Following the 12-1 drubbing of the New York Hungarians, Ferencvaros flew back to Hungary to take part in the Hungarian domestic league, where both Puskas and Szusza returned to their respective clubs in Honved and Upjest. All but the most ardent Ferencvaros supporters inevitably forgot the tour. For American soccer fans, it remains a long forgotten game played at a ground that no longer exists, although the Hungarian club would further aid in the development of the game within American when it made its returned to the United States in 1965 and take part in the last rendition of the International Soccer League.

Puskas perhaps using his right foot with Madrid
Puskas’ return with Real Madrid in 1959 proved to be a more notable and lively affair for the “world’s most famous Hungarian.” Instead of playing a bit part on a team that wasn’t his own while in New York, Puskas was a key contributor in Real’s two game stroll in 1959 scoring two goals in a 6-2 victory against Austrian side Graz AK and a hat-trick against a Graz and New York Hungaria amalgamation. That tour, too, remains a footnote to the larger history in Puskas’ career that came to define a generation of Hungarian football and cement a legacy as one of the greatest ever. 

In writing this article, I, as always, relied on multiple sources and Google translate. My primary sources consisted of The Brooklyn Eagle, The Leader Observer, The Long Island Star Journal, The New York Times, and the journals of Gyula Csikos and Dr. Lakat Karoly made available by the the wonderful people at A big thank you Laszlo Lakatos and Karoly Horvath for their work on the website and help in guiding me toward these journals. Google translate does not do the work justice and left much to be desired in terms of literal translation, which ultimately led to a lack of accurate quotes that are usable. Nonetheless, Google translate gets the story across and allowed me to fill in holes in the American coverage of the tour. 

In addition to the sources mentioned, I consulted numerous other sources including: David Goldblatt's The Ball is Round A Global History of Soccer, the RSSSF Archive, and the American Soccer History Archives.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Do You Believe in Taylor Kemp

This article originally appeared on

When in August D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen intoned to the media, “We believe in Taylor Kemp,” the remark seemed to reflect Olsen’s aspirations for the 2nd year fullback more than they did present reality. Kemp had backed into United’s starting lineup after Christian Fernandez—a homesick La Liga veteran—left the club, and Chris Korb picked up an injury.
Left with no alternative but Kemp, Olsen’s comments followed the twenty-four-year old’s first start of the season where a last minute defensive lapse gifted the Houston Dynamo victory. Despite the error, Olsen stuck with the young left back. With United’s playoff ambitions at stake, Olsen had no choice but to believe.
“I kept telling myself a chance will come and it eventually did,” Kemp recently told Eight By Eight. “You never want to see a guy go, but it is professional sports, and you’re there because you want to play. When [Christian] left, I was happy. I wanted to fight for a place in the team.”
Kemp did just that, slotting into the backline seamlessly during United’s brutal run of games late in the summer. In his second start, Kemp notched two assists against Colorado and continued to show well down the stretch, propelling United into the playoffs.
And now, with United’s season on life support after a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls in the first round of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Olsen will need Kemp to defy expectations once again to continue their turnaround season.
Growing up in the Denver suburb Highland Ranch, Kemp was always one of the best players on his team, but a switch from left midfield to left back during his junior year of high school shaped his future career.
“It was a big, eye opening experience,” said Kemp. The position change prompted youth national call-ups, All-American accolades, and looks from college scouts, including Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) powerhouse Maryland, which he joined in 2009.
“I fell in love with the ACC style of soccer” recalled Kemp, who credits Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski for his growth. “I wanted to win championships in college and go on to the pros, and they gave me a great chance to do those things.”
Kemp became a four-year starter at Maryland, capturing two ACC championships. His performances earned him several training stints with DC United and the club drafted him in the first round of the 2013 MLS SuperDraft.
While Kemp was familiar with United, his initial transition to the professional football was not as he expected. Kemp yo-yoed between the Richmond Kickers, D.C.’s lower league affiliate, and United during his rookie season.
“It was hard going back and forth,” Kemp said. “You feel like you don’t really have a place. I knew I was good enough to be in MLS and to play for DC and that my time would come. I just wanted to stay.”
The beginning of his second season with United would initially mirror his first, but when opportunities provided Kemp with playing time, he proved that he deserved a starting spot.
The apex of Kemp’s development came on October 12 in Houston where his path to sustained first team minutes had gotten off to a rocky start just two months prior. He returned a different player, scoring his first career MLS goal en route to a 3-1 United victory—their first ever against the Dynamo in Texas.
“That kind exorcised some demons that I had there,” said Kemp.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

MLS Next: A Signal of Future Club Autonomy?

This article originally appeared on

If you haven’t heard by now, Major League Soccer has a new identity. And, like almost anything involving MLS, it hasn’t come without controversy.
After an early morning announcement, fans flooded Twitter with their opinions on the league’s new logo, which is a basic crest that utilizes “adaptive colorways” for each league club. Some praised the bold—and certainly different— design as a departure from MLS’s current identity. Others bemoaned its minimalist lines and accused its designers of lacking panache and creativity. There is truth to both sides of the argument, but what is most important about MLS’s new branding is that it ushers in a new era for the league, an era where clubs are paramount and not subordinate to the league office.
MLS_crest_breakdownAllowing each club to have its own version of the MLS logo grants, at least symbolically, autonomy. This is what MLS needs: more focus on individual clubs and not reports about the constant machinations of the league office. No more “blind draws” to determine where the next Jermaine Jones plays. No more refusals to grant a player a six month contract (see the bungled attempt to sign Sacha Kljestan prior to the transfer deadline). Players and clubs should have the ultimate say in roster decisions, and this new logo signifies that MLS is ready to take the spotlight off of itself and cede more control to its member clubs, which is what fans have been clamoring for.
The old logo (that many are now clinging to) is dated and clunky. Personally, I hated the foot, which conveyed an archaic 90s aura reflective of MLS 1.0 and the league’s problematic early years. The new crest is an embodiment of what the league has been saying for the past few years and outlines the goals of the #MLSNEXT campaign: new teams, new markets, new media partnerships, new stadiums, and new stars. This is not the MLS of old.
Yes, the crest is a bit bland in and of itself, and yes, the large area of white deemed “second half” leaves a lot to be desired. The void could have easily been filled with a soccer ball, which, to me, is probably the biggest omission from the new logo. But overall, it’s fine as long as the league doesn’t screw it up. MLS CMO Howard Handler appeared to suggest (skip to 15:12 in the video below) during the unveiling that the space could be utilized for advertising space, which would inevitably (and understandably) elicit scorn from fans, myself included.

Regardless of the empty space and its eventual use, what makes the logo unique and wholly MLS is the variance of club colors and the club personality that the league has imbued into the logo with the distinct color schemes. By tweaking the logo’s color scheme to adhere to each club’s colors, MLS is loosening its autocratic hold on its clubs. The secession of  power might seem miniscule, but it is a the first step toward MLS becoming the league that many fans want: a league where clubs have the freedom to construct their squads as they see fit without the interference of a front office. Looking back, this new logo and MLS Next campaign may be the first step in a league that ditches single entity and becomes a global mainstay.

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Beyond "I Believe": Football Infects America's Heartland

Northern Guard Supporters celebrate a goal at their home ground Cass Technical High School in downtown Detroit.
This story originally appeared on
They poured out of Harry’s Bar by the hundreds and filled the street, singing in full voice, waving flags, and holding scarves aloft. As the chanting and drumming got louder, several within the group threw smoke bombs onto the pavement and produced flares. Smoke enveloped the throng of bodies, but the singing continued unabated.
Marching toward the stadium, they yelled, “No one likes us…we don’t care!” Necks craned out of windows and over balconies to salute the group as they neared the stadium entrance. Once inside, the swarm greeted the visiting team outside of their locker room: “Can you hear Cleveland sing? We don’t hear a fucking thing!”
No, this isn’t Portland, Seattle, or any other football hotbed in the United States.
This is Detroit, Michigan, home of Detroit City FC (DCFC) and the Northern Guard Supporters (NGS), who follow their club in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), the fourth tier of the U.S. Soccer pyramid. “I do this because of forty years of pent up soccer love,” NGS member Gene Butcher told Eight by Eight. “We are loud, and we never shut up. Ever!”
The city that was once the undisputed world capital of the automotive industry is now helping to show the world that America is indeed a footballing nation. In just two years, the Motor City club and its supporters group have made a name for themselves within American soccer circles for their unabashed, tireless, and rapid support. “You are actually a part of something special,” said Butcher.“We do not care….[that] we are in the fourth tier. We love the club.”
As the mainstream media debates whether football has finally made it in America, NGS, along with groups around the country, are illustrating that American support for football is more diffuse than many thought.
As if continuing their childhood routine of watching Saturday morning cartoons, many fans across the country wake up at the crack of dawn each weekend to find a bar showing their favorite foreign teams. They then eagerly don the colors of their local clubs and head down to the stadium to support domestic clubs from Major League Soccer to local amateur sides.
Just as NGS is raising the bar for fanaticism in the Midwest, the Chattahooligans are helping define football culture in another unlikely place: Chattanooga, Tennessee, deep in the heart of SEC country.
Compared to the NGS, the Chattahooligans support is rated PG. You won’t find any flares or smoke bombs, but you will find the same unwavering support for the game, their club Chattanooga FC, their community, and a twenty foot tall effigy of their goalkeeper in their section.
“We continually set the atmosphere so the fans have fun and the players perform, but Chattanooga is a southern city so we have to be family friendly to be acceptable,” explained Galen Riley, a member of the Chattahooligans.
The club, competing in the NPSL like DCFC, has ranked near the top of the league’s attendance table since their founding in 2009. Chattanooga drew a league record 8,878 fans to their playoff semifinal victory over the Sacramento Gold on July 26th. The Chattahooligans are a huge part of the club’s success at drawing in fans.
Meanwhile, the club has been instrumental in giving football fans a platform to express their support. “Prior to CFC there wasn’t any professional team here, nor is there a major university. Chattanooga was hungry for something to call their own, and CFC filled that need,” explained CFC General Manger Sean McDaniel  “Word on what we’re doing is trickling out nationally; this is only fostering growth in other communities. We want to share that knowledge to grow the game sustainably at all levels.”
This is not to say that all supporters find lower division football compelling. Some fans do not even find MLS worth their time, let alone a 4th division NPSL side.
That has largely been what the both the NGS and the Chattahooligans have experienced when dealing with fans who prefer European leagues and their local American Outlaws chapters. For instance, the American Outlaws chapter of Chattanooga rarely attends NPSL league games. “I have only ever seen one or two at CFC matches,” said Riley, “And they weren’t even in the Chattahooligan’s section.”
Regardless of the differences in taste between the fans, it is apparent that the supporter’s culture within the United States isn’t entirely product of the USMNT success at this year’s World Cup. The supporters have been here. It is only the spotlight that is now cast upon them that has changed and become more amplified.
“The group existed before the club even had a roster,” explained NGS supporter Butcher. “Being a part of the Northern Guard and supporting DCFC provides all of us with a group of friends, a sense of family and community that I doubt exists elsewhere.”

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I'd like to thank the folks at Chattanooga FC and the Chattahooligans for their time. Thank you to Galen Riley, Tim Kelly, and Sean McDaniel. I'd also like to thank Gene Butcher and the Northern Guard Supporters for their input. As always, a tip of the cap to the great people at 8by8 for allowing me to contribute to their website.