Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism

By Andrei S. Markovits; Steven L. Hellerman | Go to book overview

Three
Soccer's Trials and Tribulations
BEGINNINGS, CHAOS, “ALMOSTS,” OBSCURITY, AND COLLEGES

DESPITE ITS overall existence on the fringes of American sports culture, the history of soccer in the United States has indeed been “long and varied.” 1 This chapter presents the motley patchwork of respectable marginality—ranging from the beginnings of soccer's discernible presence in the late 1800s through the years immediately following World War II—by first delineating the world of club and semiprofessional soccer in the United States, offering a taste of this world's organizational disarray and including an account of the early attempts to organize the sport in the United States. Subsequently, we turn our attention to the professional game, where the organizational and institutional inadequacies besetting this sport in America will become even more obvious. This includes an account of the first American Soccer League—a successful, yet ultimately ephemeral, establishment of a first division venue for the sport and a missed opportunity to put the sport on firmer footing in the American sport space. We also offer a brief account of the performance of American national teams on the international stage and present a few highlights of European and Latin American clubs visiting the United States. We then turn to a discussion of soccer's presence at American colleges in the course of the twentieth century, arguing that the very structure of college soccer has continued to impede the development of the game's overall quality, thus adding to its marginalization in America's sports culture. In short, this chapter deals with most of soccer's historical era, which Chuck Cascio has appropriately labeled “the dark ages in Yankeeland (1900–1968),” while noting a few subsequent developments. 2 Two essential aspects of soccer in contemporary America—youth soccer and women's soccer—are discussed in chapter 5, which will analyze the game's massive proliferation in the United States as an activity, if still not quite as culture, in the wake of developments that occurred in the late 1960s and in subsequent years.


Club and Semiprofessional Soccer in the United States and the
“Organization” of American Soccer

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, soccer was played by many immigrants to the eastern parts of the United States—initially most from

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