On Thursday night in Philadelphia, MLS Commissioner Don Garber was interviewed on the Fox Football Fone-In show by Eric Wynalda and Nick Webster. There was one particular statement that Garber said that peaked my curiosity. It was in context of MLS and how the league has been in business for 15 years. “For 50 years, professional soccer has failed [in this country].” said Garber.
The issue I have with Garber’s comment is that it belittles the incredible success that the NASL achieved in the United States and around the world during the 70s and early 80s. Yes the league eventually went belly up and ultimately failed, but the league achieved far greater success than Major League Soccer. Garber’s comment is also insulting to other leagues in the States such as USL, WPS, NPSL and former leagues such as the USA (United Soccer Federation) – that was popular in the mid-to-late 60s – and indoor soccer leagues, which were popular in the 80s and 90s.
I honestly believe that if it wasn’t for the rise and fall of the North American Soccer League in the United States in the 70s and 80s, we wouldn’t be where we are today in the soccer landscape in this country. And Major League Soccer would not exist as we know it.
The popularity of the NASL introduced the sport to the mainstream and created a solid fanbase in this country. On top of that, the league became popular on a national and local scale due to the press and TV exposure, as well as incredibly successful worldwide as some of the best players in the world (in their prime, I might add) moved to the States to play in the NASL.
It was not only soccer fans that were born during the 70s and 80s thanks to the NASL. US soccer players were also born. Young kids grew up on NASL, many of them idolizing their heroes on the field and later became some of the greatest soccer players the US has ever produced.
Ever since the league formed, MLS has long tried to distance themselves from comparisons to the NASL. More recently, when the new team was being organized in Seattle, officials resisted putting the name Sounders among the team names to choose from. After Seattle fans protested vociferously, the Sounders name was reluctantly put into the hat. And the rest is history.
The decision of the Seattle fans to choose the Sounders name and the resulting success of the team in the northwest is partly due to the legacy that NASL left. Sounders was the name of the NASL team that played in Seattle from 1974 to 1983. By selecting the Sounders name, the MLS team was able to tap into the legacy of NASL and the foundation of soccer support in the Seattle area. And then to build upon that, which they more than certainly did making Seattle one of the best team launches in the history of not only soccer but any sports franchise, according to Garber.
So yes, Garber is correct when he says that professional soccer has failed for 50 years in the United States. But he needs to add a disclaimer when he says that and give professional soccer credit where credit is due, whether it be the NASL, USL, WPS or other professional organization.