Turd of the Week #18

Wade Barrett Wade Barrett
M, SJ Clash
Separated at Birth?
Eddie Munster & Woof-Woof Eddie Munster
& Woof-Woof

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it

Stephen J. Holroyd, TotW Historian
US Soccer History Archives
“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” This quote has appeared so often that no one can quite remember who said it. It might have been Winston Churchill. Or Aristotle. Come to think of it, my high school American Studies teacher might have said it …

In any event, the message is clear: If you aren’t smart enough to pay attention to the lessons learned by others, you will soon be the fool repeating their mistakes.

Professional soccer in the U.S., as a rule, has never really paid heed to this old adage. About one dozen professional outdoor leagues have come and gone in this country, and usually as the result of the same mistakes being repeated over and over again.

Alas, MLS is falling into this trap. Our most recent Division One league likes to take advantage of the American public’s general ignorance about the history of the game (let’s face it — if the media is to be believed American professional soccer began in June of 1975, when some old Brazilian signed with a Long Island club) by professing to be the “first” at everything soccer related.  I believe it was Doug Logan who once said “those who don’t know history can claim to have invented it and actually mean it.” Then, for good measure, he repeated the phrase in Spanish.

A few weeks ago, the oddly-named Columbus Crew Stadium opened in Dublin, Ohio (why not “Crew Park in Dublin Yards”?). Make no mistake — it was an exciting moment in U.S. soccer. Ideally, if the game is to really take off on these shores, the atmosphere of a good European or World Cup match needs to be recreated as much as possible. Since MLS, in its wettest dreams, will only average about 15,000 a game this year, it is clear that 60,000 seat stadiums will not allow for the creation of such an atmosphere, regardless of how many giant blankets cover the upper decks. Thus, cozy facilities like Columbus Crew Stadium are essential.

Quite rightly, MLS is proud of its team’s achievement. However, the league overreaches as usual. “The opening of Columbus Crew Stadium as the first major league stadium built specifically for soccer in the United States plays a pivotal role in the league’s grand journey of establishing itself on the American sports landscape,” MLS Commissioner Logan states on the MLSNet page. A beautiful sentiment. And also incorrect.

You see, Crew Stadium is not the “first major league stadium built specifically for soccer in the United States.” Not by 75 years …

In the 1920s, believe it or not, there was a major professional soccer league in the U.S.: the American Soccer League. No, this was not the same league that limped through the 1950s and 1960s with teams bearing ridiculously bad ethnic names. The original ASL was a powerful Division One league, with powerful corporate sponsors supporting the various teams. Not unlike MLS.

The league was probably the third major sport in the U.S. in its time, behind baseball and college football.* Crowds of 10,000 would regularly pack ASL grounds to watch the likes of Bethlehem Steel battle Brooklyn Wanderers, or the Boston Wonder Workers battle against the New York Giants. On the field were some great players from Scotland and England. And the league featured the best native-born talent ever seen. Billy Gonsalves. Davie Brown. Arnie Oliver. Jimmy Douglas.  Pete Renzulli. Bert Paenetude. One U.S. star (born in Scotland, but raised here) was Archie Stark, who still holds theworld record for goals in a Division One season, scoring 67 in 44 games with Bethlehem Steel in 1924-25. The quality of play in this league, more than anything else, contributed to the 1930 U.S. World Cup teams third place showing in the initial World Cup. (And, contrary to myth, that team was 95% native-born).

*Organized Professional Sports in the U.S.
Oldest to Youngest

  1. Baseball: National Association, 1871-1875
  2. Horse Racing: Preakness Stakes, 1873-present
  3. Boxing: Jack Dempsey (middleweight), first recognized champ, 1884
  4. SoccerAmerican League of Professional Football, 1894
  5. Basketball: National Basketball League, 1898-1904
  6. Auto Racing: Indianapolis, first race at world’s oldest track, 1909
  7. Golf: Pro Golfer’s Association, 1916-present
  8. Hockey: National Hockey League, 1917-present
  9. Football: American Professional Football Association, 1919-1922

The best of the best in the ASL, however, was the Fall River Marksmen. Fall River won six of the league’s 11 championships. They won the “double” twice. They featured many great stars. They tied Uruguay 1-1 in 1927, just after the South Americans won the Olympics and just before they would go on to win the 1930 World Cup with the same lineup. A great team, to say the least.

And also the residents in the first major soccer-only facility built in the U.S. After purchasing the club in 1922, Sam Mark built a stadium in North Tiverton, Rhode Island (to avoid Massachusetts “blue laws”) that seated 15,000 and was the first soccer stadium of its day. Other clubs played in baseball stadiums, but the Marksmen had a state-of-the-art facility. Mark’s Stadium was a truly impressive feat, and the site of many of the greatest matches in U.S. history.

But you won’t hear about any of this from our boys in MLS. Make no mistake — the league is well-aware of Mark’s Stadium’s existence. Indeed, your intrepid author — along with Phil Schoen and Ty Keough — engaged in a spirited e-mail debate with the powers-that-be, trying to get some recognition for this stadium’s place in history. But to no avail.

“A 15,000 seat stadium is not major,” it was said. Again, MLS thinks that professional soccer began in 1975. Admittedly, Mark’s Stadium would barely qualify as a Division III facility today, but one has to remember the era. In 1920, a stadium that seated over 10,000 was very “major.” Many major league baseball stadiums did not seat that many until the late 1920s.

“The ASL was not a major league,” it was offered. Again, the statement is breathtaking in its ignorance. Frankly, the ASL was probably far-superior to MLS. More major stars participated in it. Americans made more of a contribution to it. And no ugly, red-goateed defenders stole money from it. MLS is not even up to the standards of the old North American Soccer League, so one wonders where they come off so high and mighty.

Phil Schoen had offered a suggestion (and even used it during his Sunday broadcast): “the first soccer-only stadium of the modern era.” Not a bad way around the dilemma. But flat-out rejected by MLS.

No one is arguing that Crew Stadium is not a major event. But would it have killed MLS to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, professional soccer in this country existed long before soccer moms? Long before Pele? In fact, the first U.S. pro league started in 1894! MLS, however, is off by one hundred years, instead acting like the 1994 World Cup was the true starting point for the game. Along the way, the games rich and glorious history continues to be ignored.

And, in no small way, a chance for the sport to claim just a little credibility in the eyes of the American public goes wasted. Perhaps if it was known that soccer was once a “big deal” here, reporters would not be so quick to just dismiss the game as a kiddy sport.

For ignorance and hubris above and beyond the call of duty, MLS Commisar of Disinformation:

Dan Courtemanche

Turd of the Week

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