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.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

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

A number of journalists and writers have penned articles about Team America and the team's place within American soccer history. With this article, I intend to shine more light on the problems that plagued Team America from its inception, but I also attempt to highlight the positives of the doomed team's existence and its greater place within the history of American soccer, and America's unofficial national stadium, Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

Note: For the purposes of this article, and brevity, one can assume that Team America and United States Men's National Team carry the same connotation throughout the article. I use the two terms interchangeably. 

Having participated in every World Cup since 1990, merely qualifying for the tournament is no longer a novelty for the United States. Every four years, American’s expect the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) to not only qualify for the world’s greatest sporting event, but also believe the team can make a deep run in the tournament as they did in 2002. Expectations for the US, prior to the World Cup draw in December 2013, were arguably the highest they have ever been in American soccer history. This, of course, was not always the case, as the US experienced a forty-year period of futility between their legendary victory over England in 1950 to their three-and-out appearance in Italy.

That is not to say that there was not a genuine effort by the USMNT to qualify for the World Cup in the intervening years. Prior to participating in the 1990 World Cup, the US would always fall short of qualification, which was often the result of negligence from the sport’s governing body in America, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). The governing body often left national team managers with little resources and just days to assemble a competent squad prior to international fixtures. That is assuming that the USSF were even able to convince North American Soccer League (NASL) clubs to release their players for international duty in the first place. Attitudes began to change in the early 1980s. The NASL was hemorrhaging money year after year, and the brass within the USSF began to realize the importance of the World Cup and the revenue it could generate. The sudden interest crystalized during the winter of 1982-3 culminating in the formation of Team America, and led to the first legitimate use of Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Stadium as the USMNT home ground making it the unofficial national stadium.
Team America; A Questionable Concept

Team America was the brainchild of NASL President and CEO Howard Samuels. He presented the concept of the USMNT competing as a franchise (Team America) in the floundering NASL at the league’s annual meeting in late October 1982. The impetus behind the plan was  three-fold: to ramp up the Americanization of the game and develop a national team that could qualify for the 1986 World Cup, to develop a national team that could potentially compete in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, and, most importantly, to generate interest and revenue for the NASL. The idea even had the support of the USSF, which given the history of relations between the two entities was a victory in itself. In the end, the league owners voted 10-1 in favor of the idea during the league’s annual meeting with only the Tulsa Roughnecks voting against the endeavor (The New York Cosmos abstained from voting). The Oklahoma based club may have not known what was to come, but by casting a dissenting vote, became the first in a long line of detractors to the Team America concept.

From its earliest manifestations, the suggestion of Team America proved a questionable effort. Though USSF president Gene Edwards backed Howards’ idea, and the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) and semi-professional American Soccer League (ASL) tentatively agreed to contribute to the development of the USMNT, the proposal reeked of desperation. Up to that point, the NASL, who would benefit most from the creation of Team America, had shed twelve teams in four years leaving the league with just eleven remaining clubs going into the 1983 season. The inclusion of Team America would bring the total to twelve. Nevertheless, with the approval of the NASL’s owners in October 1982 Howards committed to the formation of Team America even if he doubted the viability of fielding a team in 1983. Samuels, shortly after gaining the league’s approval for the formation of Team America stated, “I don’t know if we can pull it (Team America) off this year given the time factor, but it’s almost certain it will go in 1984.” Samuel’s tactful statement on the feasibility of fielding a team in 1983 proved an act of smoke and mirrors, as the nascent idea of Team America haphazardly came to fruition throughout the ensuing months following the league’s annual meeting.

Initially, Samuels proposed that Team America could compete in two cities: America’s soccer Mecca, St. Louis, or the Nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. By December, Samuels ruled out St. Louis as a host city after the NASL was unable to convince Anheuser-Busch to fund the team. The brewery balked at the notion that Team America would be able to compete in 1983 as did many others within American soccer circles. Inevitably, Washington, D.C. became the home of Team America as Samuels and the NASL hastily pressed forward with the intent to have Team America take the field for the 1983 further highlighting the exasperation of the league’s owners to turn the league around. By early December, Samuels and the NASL owners tentatively agreed that the existing clubs would loan American players to the National Team (Team America) with the USSF and outside investors and sponsors covering the club’s expenses. An official agreement from the various bodies would not be in place until the following month.

New York Cosmos midfielder Ricky Davis in 1979
Even before an owner/investor stepped forward to fund the growing idea of Team America or a provisional roster existed, some of America’s players openly questioned the formation Team America, chief among them New York Cosmos forward Ricky Davis. At the time of Team America’s hurried organization, Davis was undeniably the best, and most creative, American player in the NASL. In an op-ed to the New York Times on December 12, 1982, Davis railed against the Team America concept stating, “For the good of the United States national team’s qualifying effort for World Cup ‘86, I question the Team America project." Davis further decried Team America’s attempt to cull American players from existing NASL clubs who would benefit from more playing time at their respective clubs. Davis was not alone in his sentiments towards Samuels' Team America venture. Many more people within American soccer questioned the viability and practicality of Team America. Undeterred, Samuels was sure to offer Davis and other detractors a rebuttal a week later stating, “I see Team America as crucial to the growth of soccer in this country.” By then a rift between those in favor and against the proposal had widened. Perhaps most telling about Davis’ article was his insistence that Team America consist of America’s best players because if it was not, “its whole purpose is defeated at square one.” His thoughts proved prophetic by season’s end.

Team America = USMNT

Just months after Samuels proposed the concept of Team America, the NASL, the NASL Players Association, the MISL Players Association, and the USSF finalized the details surrounding the team in January 1983. Under the agreement between the governing entities, Team America, in addition to being financed by “team owner” Robert Lifton, would receive financial support from the USSF and outside sponsors. Team America would be entitled to, at most, three American players from each existing NASL franchise and would pay the player’s parent club $50,000 in addition to paying the player’s salary and relocation fee. Though the agreement made it compulsory for NASL clubs to release their players to Team America, the players had the right to refuse Team America’s loan request, which, in essence, was tantamount to refusing a national team call-up. The finalized agreement also alluded to the intent of the USSF to schedule a number of international games for Team America after the upcoming NASL season. In addition to the official creation of Team America, the NASL and USSF announced the schedule for the team’s upcoming training camp, and most importantly dictated that the USSF had the right to name the team’s coach making Team America the USMNT incarnate.

Cosmos defender Jeff Durgan. The future Captain America?
Following the final details surrounding the formation of Team America, the team moved closer towards completion after Lifton signed an eight-year lease with RFK Stadium with the intent to house a NASL club in Washington, D.C. after the 1986 World Cup making RFK the unofficial national stadium in the process. Preparations for Team America’s roster were also moving closer to finalization after the team invited thirty-nine players to Tampa, Florida for a preseason training camp. The thirty-nine invitees were to compete for twenty final roster spots. The only issue surrounding the national team camp was that the USSF had not appointed a national team coach for the team prior to announcing the camp’s invitees. The lack of a head coach left many players miffed. After receiving an invitation to the preliminary training camp, Cosmos defender Jeff Durgan offered the most damning opinion of the ongoing concept and the USSF’s involvement stating,
“They want us all to come to the training camp on February 1st, and sign our careers away to this thing without a coach. If they get a coach with character, who is strong, who will implant his own ideas, and won’t be a puppet of the USSF, that will weigh heavily on everyone’s decision.”
Of course, Durgan was not alone in his opinion, as Ricky Davis, and many others, had already criticized the idea in the months leading up to Team America’s official commencement. Despite the uncertainty and stigma surrounding Team America, several players were willing to sacrifice their careers to fulfill the goals of Team America. Durgan would eventually become the loudest voice in the campaign to promote the USMNT and Team America. Perhaps in an effort to appease those questioning their intentions and the viability of the entire concept, the USSF named Alkis Panagoulias USMNT, and Team America, head coach on January 28, 1983, just days before the national team camp was scheduled to begin.

Panagoulias, a naturalized American citizen, had his detractors, but was more than up for the task of managing Team America.  As former manager of the Greece National Team and of Greek powerhouse Olympiakos, Panagoulias came into the fold with more than enough experience to guide the United States to the 1986 World Cup. The native of Greece also had considerable experience playing and coaching the sport in the United States having captured three US Open Cup titles as coach of the New York Greek-Americans from 1967 to 1969. Panagoulias wanted to coach a team built upon the tenets of Team America as far back as 1967, believing it was only a matter of time before the US were able to compete on the international stage. The ultimate question surrounding Team America following Panagoulias’ appointment was if he would be able to cobble up a competent all-American roster to compete in the NASL’s 1983 season as not everyone was willing to support the impulsively manufactured national team.

Panagoulias in 1993 as coach of the Greece National Team
Photographer: Ben Radford
Source: Getty Images
Panagoulias’ first task upon taking the reins of Team America was to assess the American talent at his disposal during the team’s training camp in Tampa. On paper, Panagoulias’ job of selecting a national team of twenty players seemed simple, but petty politics, player’s attitudes towards Team America, and the timing of the camp all provided Panagoulias with a near insurmountable task. Originally scheduled to start February 1, the team pushed the start of camp back a week due to the ongoing negotiations concerning player’s contracts and their parent club’s compensation further highlighting the desperation and haste surrounding the implementation of  Samuels’ proposal.

With a multitude of problems plaguing Team America, some of the biggest problems Panagoulias faced heading into the camp were the outright refusal of players to respond to what amounted to a national team call-up, and clubs competing in the MISL, like the Chicago Sting, declining to release their players to Team America. The USSF ultimately fined the MISL for their clubs refusal to cooperate with the governing body drawing the ire of the club’s owners in the process who threatened to withdraw from the federation. The rift between the MISL, NASL, and the make-up of Team America would only widen throughout the team’s existence.

Of the thirty-nine players invited into the camp, only twenty-two opted to attend, a sign of the problems ahead for Panagoulias and the national team. Nevertheless, Team America pushed forward in developing a competent roster with Panagoulias refusing to beg for players stating, “I will go with what we have here.” The camp, though plagued by significant player snubs and absences, provided the developing Team America with significant games against the Tampa Bay Rowdies,  the University of Central Florida, and the University of Tampa. Able to judge the talent available due to these games, Panagoulias named a sixteen-man roster following its conclusion. Ricky Davis was the most notable inclusion on the roster, but the Cosmos midfielder ultimately refused to sign with Team America after weighing a list of pros and cons of the experiment and its effect on his career. Following his refusal to play for Team America, Davis stated he would compete for the national team in international competitions if called upon showing the lack of recognition Team America garnered as the USMNT among some of those involved in American soccer. Other player snubs, and MISL holdouts left Panagoulias with a roster of thirteen players following the camp.

Perry Van Der Beck as a member of the Tampa Bay Rowdies
The camp was a precursor of what was to come for Team America, as the team, led by former Cosmos players Jeff Durgan, and Tony Crescitelli, and US International Perry Van Der Beck, would experience considerable growing pains before the start of the 1983 NASL season. Following the team’s invitee training camp, Team America committed to an international tour in April consisting of a series of matches against Haitian and Colombian opponents, including the Haitian National Team. The match against Haiti, a FIFA sanctioned international friendly, all but dispelled any resistance to the fact that Team America was the acting USMNT. Prior to embarking on their international tour, the newly announced team members convened in Washington to continue  preseason preparations for the 1983 NASL campaign. In order to develop cohesion prior to their international tour, the members of Team America participated in a series of contests against local colleges, amateur teams, and a side consisting of performers of the Ringling Brothers circus.

Stay tuned for the second part of this article to find out just how Team America fared in their only NASL season and what contributed to their demise. Don't forget to read Part Two.

In writing this article, I relied on a multitude of sources. As always, I consulted a number of period newspapers for primary source material. I used the following newspapers in constructing this article: The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. In addition to these dailies, I also consulted numerous websites and articles including: Ian Plenderleith's piece on Team AmericaTom Dunmore's look at the team, Sports Illustrated, and, as always, the American Soccer History Archives.