Aug 1, 2022
It wasn’t easy being a soccer fan in the United States in the 1980s.
While the 24-team North American American Soccer League ushered in the decade with an air of stability and momentum (the league even sold a pennant proclaiming the game the “Sport of the 80’s”), it wasn’t long before big-time American pro soccer was dangerously on the ropes (the NASL shrank to just nine franchises by 1984) – and then seemingly gone for good when the league officially sank into oblivion in early 1985.
For a nascent generation of US fans newly hooked on the world’s “beautiful game,” it felt like an abandonment – and an air of disillusionment beset the American soccer scene in the immediate years that followed.
Slowly and awkwardly, Americans slowly got wise – miraculously qualifying for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, hosting the event four years later, and re-birthing the pro game with Major League Soccer in 1996 – and ultimately evolved it into one of the most popular sports in the country.
Sportswriter/author Hal Phillips ("Generation Zero: Founding Fathers, Hidden Histories & the Making of Soccer in America") joins the podcast this week to help trace the timeline of events that led to this epic transformation in American sports, by spotlighting the national team players and fans - raised on the game and tempered by hardship - who made it happen.