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.

Don't forget to check out the fine work over at Also, check out the subscriptions available for their print magazine.

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.”

Don't forget to check out the fine work over at Also, check out the subscriptions available for their print magazine.

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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Aegean Hawks Documentary Teaser

This post is a bit different than what you are used to reading. I usually ask you to read a long history of a club, person, or event in US soccer history. Today, I ask that you take the time to appreciate the game at all levels. From amateur to the top flight, the game has a way of capturing our attention.

Above is a teaser/trailer of a documentary that my friend Justin Feltman and I have been working on for the last few months. After covering a 2015 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup game in April of this year, Justin and I decided to take a closer look at the amateur game in Washington DC, and latched onto Aegean Hawks FC.

The people involved with the club allowed us to follow them around during their short run at qualifying for the 2015 US Open Cup and their subsequent championship Washington Premier League Spring Season.

In the coming months, we will be looking to release a short documentary on the history of the club and their ambitions for the future. Until then, please check out the teaser/trailer and give us your opinion.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Liverpool's 1946 American Odyssey

This story originally appeared on

In 1946, Liverpool F.C. came to the United States for “American malts and ice creams” and a few games of football, too, in the club’s first European preseason tour of the United States.
The expedition was the brainchild of Liverpool chairman William H. “Bill” McConnell. As the proprietor of a catering business, McConnell visited the United States for the British Ministry of Food in 1945 and noticed that America’s food industry emerged from World War II unscathed. To take advantage of the American food bounty and to get a leg up on their underfed English competition, McConnell proposed that Liverpool tour the United States in the summer of 1946 prior to the start of the first full season since the beginning of World War II.
America’s dietary prosperity stood in stark contrast to England’s austere food rationing program. Following the war, goods such as coffee and processed meat were increasingly scarce, as the British government had to not only feed their own citizens but also feed people within British occupied zones abroad. England was even forced to ration bread in 1946, which it had not done at all during World War II.
After a nearly week at sea aboard the RMS Queen Mary, twenty-two members of Liverpool docked in New York on May 10, 1946. Moments after arrival, Liverpool manager George Kay stood on the dock, surrounded by delegates of the American Soccer League (ASL) and gleefully checked off the names of each Liverpool player as they came down the gangplank. Photographers gathered at the waterfront while Kay pandered to the throng, brandishing the 1923 FA Cup Medal that he won as a member of West Ham United.
Liverpool’s ten game jaunt garnered significant attention from the American and English press. A number of newspapers, including The Brooklyn EagleThe New York Times, and The Liverpool Echo documented every detail of Liverpool’s American summer vacation. Kay also kept the fans back in Liverpool informed about the Reds’ exploits by sending letters to The Echovia airmail throughout the tour.
The media’s plaudits proved well placed as Liverpool won their first game 3-1 over a team of ASL players at Triborough Stadium on Randall’s Island. The match drew around 20,000 spectators, nearly 5,000 more the Brooklyn Dodgers drew at Ebbets Field the same day. Dodger’s owner Branch Rickey took note. He would be instrumental in hosting Liverpool in the first game between two international clubs on American soil in 1948.
After three consecutive wins over American clubs, Kay gushed, “The terrific hospitality we are receiving is the only thing likely to beat us,” in The Echo. “You can get all of the dishes everybody could possibly desire…naturally we’re taking advantage.”
But while Liverpool’s players were stuffing their waistlines, the Reds were being sized up by the New England All-Stars, one of the best American elevens. The All-Stars featured many players from the 1947 U.S. Open Cup Champions Ponta Delgada, a club in Fall River, Massachusetts, an early hotbed of American football.
The game, postponed a day due to heavy rain, kicked off under floodlights in front of a sold out crowd of 7,000. Initially, the New Englanders were overwhelmed but held firm against the visiting English. The locals then settled into the match, pressing the Reds, and Joe Chapiga, a New England striker, rifled a shot against the upright midway through the first half in proper Minuteman fashion.
The Reds eventually found their footing in the 44th minute, according to the Boston Globe, as Jack Balmer “outwitted the New England defense, and with a dynamite drive, opened the scoring.” In the second half, the Reds came out blitzing the New England defense, and Liverpool star Robert Priday put the visitors up 3-0 in a matter of minutes.
Undeterred and out to prove that they could compete, the New England All-Star eleven pressed the Liverpool defense, and Chapiga proved his worth, scoring what The Globe called, “an electrifying goal” past Liverpool’s keeper Cyril Sidlow.
The All-Stars constantly attacked the Reds thereafter, having a potential second goal called back due to a handball. Ed Souza, a member of the 1950 United States team that would defeat England in the World Cup, sent the crowd into a frenzy after scoring a legitimate second goal late in the match.
But the Reds weathered the Yankee onslaught and left Massachusetts with a 3-2 victory. After the game, Kay mentioned his dissatisfaction with the prolonged celebrations of the New England men following their goals, relying on tired American stereotypes: “Joe and Ed flung their arms around each other, waited in the center circle, and it needed only a banjo to make it a real hill-billy show. The other players of their side gave individual step dances in their joy.” Just as football tours have a long history, so too does English condescension towards the American interpretation of the game.
Despite Kay’s irritation, the Reds compiled a perfect 10-0 record on their American tour and amassed a goal differential of plus sixty while enjoying copious helpings of American cuisine. The tour was so successful in its initial aim that each player gained an average of seven pounds during the six-week long journey. Returning to England, the American preseason endeavor helped Liverpool persevere through one of the longest campaigns in league history and capture their fifth league crown in June 1947.
As Liverpool participate in this year’s Guinness International Champions Cup, it is important to recognize the role that the Reds tour in 1946 had in shaping modern football tours of the United States. Although Liverpool didn’t intend to start a trend in 1946, the tour’s financial success encouraged promoters on both sides of the Atlantic to continually schedule tours throughout the second half of the twentieth century, highlighting the growing football culture in the United States and allowing fans to see their their favorite clubs and players in person. These forays can be seen as world football’s take on an all-star game: the best players taking center stage for the fan’s entertainment.
So as you enjoy the abundance of football available this summer in the United States, remember to watch the matches like Liverpool did: with a full stomach.

Don't forget to check out the fine work over at Also, check out the subscriptions available for their print magazine.

A very special thanks to @TheSpiritof1892 and @SteHortonLpool for their assistance in finding English sources for this article. Also, thank you for editors at 8by8 for accepting this piece, and working with me on fine tuning it. In writing this article, I perused a number of sources. As always, I am indebted to the American Soccer History Archives for their abundance of available information. I used several newspapers as my primary source material specifically, The Brooklyn Eagle, The New York Times, and The Liverpool Echo. 
If there is any interest in further details surrounding Liverpool's groundbreaking tour, let me know and I will work on writing another article. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

World Cup Hopeful Team America and the Case for RFK: Part Two

You can read the first part of this article HERE.

A Faulty Foundation

As the players prepared for their preseason tour, Team America’s brass hurriedly constructed a marketing plan with a publicly stated budget of $300,000 to $400,000. The team’s front office recognized that not only were they were selling Washington, D.C. area fans their third team in four years, but they were also attempting to sell an “all-American” team to an apathetic and uninitiated audience. Therefore, the club’s leaders relied on the team’s status as the USMNT, its alleged national appeal, and individual player personalities to draw people to RFK Stadium. In addition to its ambitious marketing plan, Team America’s front office was able to secure the patronage of R.J. Reynolds as its primary sponsor. The tobacco company bestowed a publicly specified sum of $2.5 million on Team America, while Budweiser chipped in around $200,000 to $250,000 to the USSF backed effort.

Source: The Washington Post
With its significant marketing budget and corporate sponsors in the fold, the marketing team of Team America committed to the timeless NASL practices of participating in international friendlies, heavily promoting their home games against the New York Cosmos, and coupling one of the club’s games with an after game concert. The club secured the services of the Beach Boys for their June 12 match up against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, which garnered national attention during the preseason after James Watt, the acting Secretary of the Interior, banned the Beach Boys, and “rock music,” from the city’s Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall. The ban, issued after Team America scheduled their concert, left many people outraged including Vice President George H.W. Bush, who backed the band stating, “They’re my friends and I like their music.” The ban proved a boon for Team America as it generated considerable nationwide interest in the event, but in the end, it underscored the club’s biggest problem; the investors and front office’s focus on the financial profitability of the project and its role in saving the NASL, and not in securing the team the best “American” talent. The problem would plague Team America throughout the season.

As much positive press as Team America were able to generate prior to their Caribbean and South American tour, Panagoulias only had thirteen players at his disposal headed into the international expedition. Most of the players on the Team America roster were what many would quantify as a typical American player: athletic and strong, but lacking in technical ability and on-field ingenuity. The lone capable forward on the roster, Tony Crescitelli, was anything but lethal having failed to score in twenty games with the San Jose Earthquakes during the 1982 season. Panagoulias knew he would need players with greater offensive prowess in order for the team to compete in the long term.

The USMNT manager once again attempted to court Ricky Davis and a slew of other prominent American players, including Mark Peterson and Jeff Stock of the Seattle Sounders, only for America’s most talented players to spurn him again. Peterson was arguably the best American forward at the time and could have added a considerable threat to Team America’s already anemic attack.

Several players including US International Boris Bandov did join Team America for the tour, but the refusal of the country’s top players to accept a national team call-up baffled and infuriated Panagoulias. Stock’s and Peterson’s eschewal particularly enraged Panagoulias leading to the Greece native to lash out declaring,

“I am furious about the Seattle team and their players. They told me Peterson and Stock did not want to come because they wanted to play in games against some colleges next week. This is absolutely ridiculous. We’re talking about the national team here. What the heck is going on in this country?”
In spite of the steady lack of interest and support, Panagoulias and Team America carried on with the talent already on the roster. The makeup of the team left Panagoulias little choice but to play defensively, which in theory was in direct opposition to Team America’s goal of spurring interest in America soccer and the NASL. Up to that point in its history, the NASL instituted a number of distinctive rules to make soccer more appealing to the American fan; i.e. a greater emphasis on offense and goals. From the penalty-shootout to the thirty-five yard line offside rule, the NASL had always promoted an offensive, high scoring game. Now Team America stood as the antithesis to what the league had always promoted. The best offensive American players continued rejections forced Team America, the anointed savior of the NASL, into adopting a defensive approach heading into the 1983 NASL campaign. The style would prove to be initially effective but wildly unpopular, and contribute to the club’s downfall.

International and League Surprise

A fully stocked Team America outside the entrance of RFK Stadium
Still reeling from their collective slight, Panagoulias and Team America started their preseason tour in the Haitian capital with a 1-0 victory over a Port-au-Prince select team on April 6, 1983. Two days later, Team America competed in their first, and only, FIFA sanctioned international fixture against the Haitian National Team defeating the island nation 2-0 with the two goals coming from Jeff Durgan and Chico Borja. Team America followed up their set of Haitian victories with a pair of losses to greater competition from Colombian clubs Coruna Cristal and Deportivo Cali. In their two games in South America, the USMNT conceded five goals and scored via a lone penalty emphasizing the team’s weakness at forward. Overall, Panagoulias’ men fared well having scored four goals while only conceding five, but the team’s lack of a playmaker and goal scorer would prove lethal for the team by seasons end. 

Following Team America’s overseas sojourn, the team returned to Washington a week before their NASL debut with just twelve players under contract. With barely enough players to take the field, the team cancelled their final preseason game against the University of Virginia in order to prevent losing players to injury. It did not help that the club’s facilities were of little help in promoting the player’s health.
The USMNT’s accommodations at the unofficial national stadium, RFK, were perhaps fitting for the maligned team with the sparse roster. According to The Washington Post, the team’s place within the Washington sports world was more appropriate for “Team Podunk,” and not the USMNT as the team’s locker room was comprised of outdated furnishings in the bowels on the stadium.

Despite the consistent negativity surrounding the club, the players who had signed with Team America, led by Captain America Jeff Durgan, were bullish about the upcoming season and the importance of Team America to the survival of the game in the United States. All that was needed were a few more players to fill out the roster. The league soon stepped in and fulfilled that need loaning Boris Bandov, the US active leader in caps at the time, and Alan Green to the national team on a game-by-game basis just one day before the season opener. (Both would later sign permanently.) The continual derision led Jeff Durgan to lament the amount of support the team received up to that point. The USMNT captain elicited help from all American players who wanted to continue playing the game professionally in America stating,

“If you’re American and want to play professional soccer in this country, then you should be playing for Team America, because if it doesn’t make it, the league might not make it.”
Durgan’s sobering statement once again emphasized not only the haste in which Team America was created, but the lack of cohesion amongst the different entities involved: the NASL owners, the MISL owners, the USSF, and individual American players. In addition to the ongoing issues surrounding the team, many people, principally the NASL Players Association, openly questioned the amount of naturalized citizens on the roster bemoaning the true intentions of the so called “Team America.” Under these tumultuous circumstances, Panagoulias led Team America into their first domestic campaign praising the team stating, “Right now we look like the 300 Spartans against the Persians, but I have faith in these boys.”

Washington Post  Ad for Team America's game against the Toronto Blizzard on June 7
Note the ad's reference of Team America as the USMNT
Source: The Washington Post
Team America opened the 1983 NASL campaign with shootout victory over the Seattle Sounders. (The league did not permit draws and every game had a definitive victor and loser with penalty shootouts deciding stalemates after extra time.) The victory may have come as a surprise to some, but the way the national team won the game was what many people expected, as Team America did not force Seattle goalkeeper into a save until late in the second period of overtime. Despite the win, coverage of Team America the following day centered on the team’s offensive futility, but Panagoulias would have none of it. The former Olympiakos manager extolled the beauty of a defensive style of play while questioning American’s obsession with offensive and tactically unsound soccer.

Following their victory against Seattle, the team faced a both a daunting schedule during the month of May and the scorn of the MISL who refused to release players to the USMNT. The MISL’s insolence prompted Howard Samuels to declare, “The MISL is holding Team America hostage.” After notching a 1-0 win in their home opener at RFK Stadium against the Tulsa Roughnecks on May 8, the team crisscrossed the Western Hemisphere competing in six games in twelve days from May 15 to May 27. The team’s schedule included two international friendlies, one against English side Watford in Kingston, Jamaica, and the other against the Soviet champions, from Belarus, Dynamo Minsk in St. Louis, Missouri. The two friendlies once again served as an arena for Samuel’s and the proponents of Team America to prove their intentions to construct and field a competent and competitive national side, though the project’s detractors would continue to vehemently voice their displeasure regardless of Team America’s satisfactory domestic and international performances.

Team America with President Reagan
Overall, Panagoulias’ men finished the month of May with a respectable overall league record of three wins and three losses, but the team continued to struggle offensively. In these matches, Team America competed amid player snubs, the MISL’s refusal to cooperate with the NASL and USSF, an apathetic fan base, and mounting public scrutiny. Players, pundits, and fans alike were not buying into the Team America scheme, lending future doubt on the sustainability of the entire concept. LA Times columnist Grahame L. Jones denounced Team America as sham asserting, “It was idea doomed to failure from the beginning.” Jones lamenting the amount of naturalized Americans on the roster added, “It [having naturalized American’s on the roster] somehow goes against the very purpose of the concept,” prior to the USMNT’s game against the San Diego Sockers. Jones would not be the last member of the media to lambast Team America, but by the time of his article, even Panagoulias, long the champion of the national team cause, publicly began to doubt the viability of the project humbly stating, “We’re trying to have a strong national team, and I don’t know if were succeeding,”

Nevertheless, Team America continued to develop as a team, signing several more players, including MISL midfielder Tony Bellinger, who defied the MISL’s ban on lending players to Team America due to a clause in his contract with the indoor league allowing him to play outdoors. Bellinger, seeing the progress that Team America had made since its inception, was the first of several Americans who joined the team after first refusing a call up, though he may have been tempted to sign due to Team America’s lucrative incentive plan that gave players a profit-sharing agreement with the team’s owners. The plan, which later became public knowledge, offered players a stake in the team in addition to bonuses for appearances and man-of-the-match (MOTM) awards, which, at seasons end would net the player with the most MOTM awards an extra $10,000. The incentive plan was a last ditch effort by Robert Lifton and Samuels to lure America’s top players to the squad.

The Beach Boys  playing at RFK following Team America's victory over the Strikers
Photo Credit: AP Photos
Photographer: Ira Schwarz
The team’s inability to score goals and defensive tactics understandably failed to resonate with Washington’s fans as the team were barely drawing 11,000 people to RFK at that point, though the team’s coupling of the Beach Boys concert with their game against the Strikers did coax 50,000 fans to the stadium. The team’s defensive mentality, combined with the amount of naturalized American’s on the roster, led Washington Post columnist Ken Denlinger to call the team “Unamerican,” while adding, “More goals would certainly attract more fans,” despite Panagoulias temporarily guiding the team to first place in the NASL’s Southern Division in early June. Team America’s goalkeeper, the naturalized Englishman Paul Hammond referring to Team America’s lack of offensive prowess, said it best, “If you look at things logically, there has to be a breakdown sooner or later.”

Inevitable Decline

Despite rattling off four consecutive of wins to start the month of June, including a 2-1 shootout victory over the New York Cosmos on June 17, Team America’s lack of offensive prowess fed the growing negative sentiments concerning the “un-American” tactics on display at RFK. Ken Denlinger, a season long antagonist, again pointed out just how ineffective Team America’s offensive was by highlighting their inability to score in the second half of games leading the columnist to label the club “Team Tranquilizer.” Denlinger also continued his nativist diatribe as the season wore on referring to the club as “Team Immigration.” It was amid this constant criticism and continued offensive feebleness that Team America’s lack of a creative goal scorer proved to be the team’s Achilles heal with the USMNT dropping four of their next five games getting outscored 10-3 in the process. The losing streak brought the team’s record to eight wins and seven losses halfway through the season. The second half of the season would prove just as tough for Panagoulias and the USMNT even after long awaited reinforcements arrived.

As Team America continued to lose, interest in the team, already tenuous, began to wane considerably alongside any resemblance of positive press regardless of how much Panagoulias wanted to exaggerate interest in the team. The Team America venture reached critical mass near the end of July after the team dropped its eighth game in a row bringing their record to eight wins and twelve losses leaving them in last place in the Southern Division. Attendances at RFK were dwindling rapidly with every loss. The team drew Team America drew a paltry 5,281 fans to the stadium against the Montreal Manic on July 31. The losing streak and lack of fans led owner Lifton to threaten to withdraw Team America from the league stating,

“The attendance is a product of the team’s playing, and the team’s playing is the product of the fact that the NASL did not do what it said it was going to do, which was give us the best American players, and the MISL did not do what they said they were going to do, which was fill in with more players.”
During the prolonged losing streak, perhaps because of Lifton’s outburst, Samuels ordered the NASL owners send American players on loan to Team America to turn the USMNT season around, and effectually save the league. Panagoulias, after speaking with Lifton and Samuels, agreed to allow players to join the team on loan as long as he could choose the players. He still coveted Seattle’s Mark Peterson but the forward’s eventual permanent move could not save the floundering project.

Mark Peterson competing for a header against the Chicago Sting
Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune
In the end, Team America dropped fourteen of their last sixteen games finishing the season with the league’s worst record with ten wins and twenty losses. The lone bright spot of Team America’s slide was the team’s 1-1 draw against Italian giant Juventus, a club that fielded seven players from Italy’s 1982 World Cup winning squad. Lifton’s threats to withdraw his support from the venture grew as the season wound to a close culminating in a series of demands from Team America’s owner including Panagoulias' right to choose the players he wanted for the team. The businessman, claiming losses of over one million dollars, found little sympathy for the league’s other owners who were losing far more money supporting their clubs. By seasons end, both the Montreal Manic and the Seattle Sounders would cease to exist after each club’s owners could no longer afford to keep the teams afloat.

Team America’s players also balked at Lifton’s plan refusing to return to the clubs they played for prior to joining the USMNT fearing that they would find themselves unemployed due to their commitment to the moribund project. Despite the player’s demands to stay in Washington and the Team America’s ongoing negotiations with the USSF and NASL, Team America’s Lifton released Team America’s players to their parent clubs after Lifton, the USSF, and the NASL could not come to an agreement surrounding the future of the team.  

Even as Lifton and the supporters of Team America still clung to the minute chance of fielding a team in 1984, the concept, and the league, was crumbling. RFK Stadium official’s confiscation of Team America’s equipment and closure of the team’s locker room in early October signaled the end of the of the shortsighted project after Lifton refused to pay the stadium’s rental fees. Ultimately, Team America was a failure. Samuels’ proposal, hampered throughout its existence, did not achieve any of its stated goals during its short existence in the NASL.

A Captial Idea?
Though Team America did not exist in the NASL after the 1983 season, Panagoulias continued to manage the USMNT through the qualifying matches for the 1986 World Cup providing a sense of hope that Team America, despite its NASL’s shortcomings, would achieve its ultimate goal of qualifying for the world’s most prestigious sports tournament. 

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 Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. In addition to these dailies, I gleaned information from several online sources including; http://www.nasljerseys.com, among others. As always, I would be lost if it weren't for the American Soccer History Archives.