One of the pioneers of the sport in North America, Phil Woosnam passed away this week in Marrieta, Georgia after a long illness. He was 80 years old.
Along with Clive Toye, Woosnam was the driving force behind the foundation and eventual success of the North American Soccer League (NASL). The Welshman came to Atlanta in 1966 after a career in English football that included stints with top clubs Manchester City, Leyton Orient, Aston Villa and West Ham United. With the Hammers, Woosnam got the opportunity to play with future world football great Bobby Moore. He also was capped 17 times by Wales scoring three times.
In the United States, Woosman founded the Atlanta Chiefs, scoring the club’s first goal at home and also managing the team at the same time. In 1968, Woosnam became coach of the United States National Team and was named Coach of the Year. The next season, Woosnam became the commissioner of the NASL and during his thirteen-year tenure, the sport exploded in popularity and visibility in the United States.
Beginning with the signing of Pele in 1975, other top stars of the game gravitated to North America. The likes of Rodney Marsh, Bobby Moore, Eusebio, Bobby Moore, Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Johan Cruyff, among others, made their way to the NASL.
Woosnam was able to secure national TV deals for the NASL first with CBS and later with ABC and USA Network. The explosion in visibility for the sport led to a boom in youth soccer and interest in the international game. By 1980, the NASL was a household name in the American sports landscape.
The rebirth of the North American Soccer League saw Woosnam pen a letter honoring the legacy of the league in January 2010 for the delegates assembled in Fort Lauderdale for the league’s founding conference. Unfortunately due to his declining health, Woosnam was unable to attend the conference but his presence was felt in the room and personally every day when I worked for the NASL.