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Feb 3, 2020

Society for American Soccer History board director Steve Holroyd returns to help us decipher the last decade of the enigmatic second incarnation of the American Soccer League (1933-1983) – the longest-lasting “professional” soccer circuit in US history prior to today’s MLS.

A smaller-scaled reboot of the original ASL (1921-33) that, for a time, rivaled the fledgling sport of pro football in terms of fan interest – “ASL II” began its more-modest life playing in the urban centers of the Eastern Seaboard during the height of the Great Depression. 

For much of its 50-year existence, the ASL was a relatively loose but heartily competitive amalgam of ethnically-identified clubs concentrated primarily in the immigrant-heavy neighborhoods of the industrial Northeast.  Teams came and went with regularity – and changing identities or even folding in the middle of a season was not uncommon.

As the “big league” NASL gained popularity in the early 1970s, the American Soccer League began to expand its geographic footprint and more professionally emulate its younger cousin.  By 1972, the league had mostly abolished its ethnic team names (out: Newark Ukrainian Sitch, New York Greeks; in: New Jersey Brewers, New York Apollo), and league president Eugene Chyzowych began steering the ASL to a more pronounced embrace of American players, while aggressively pursuing national expansion.

The league even hired former Boston Celtics basketball legend Bob Cousy as commissioner in a bid to raise the ASL’s national PR profile.  Freely admitting he knew little about soccer, Cousy nevertheless elevated the league’s ambitions – adding franchises to the West Coast by 1976 and relocating league headquarters to media-friendly Manhattan.

Still, “America’s Soccer League” was mostly relegated to de facto second division status vs. the bigger-budgeted NASL; it was not uncommon for ASL teams to lose top players to the freer-spending NASL – though a number of aging marquee players like Eusebio, Rildo, and Phil Parkes found the reverse path just as remunerative.

Ultimately, the ASL’s major league aspirations were financially unsustainable (just like the NASL’s), and the league collapsed after the 1983 season – ushering in a dark period for the pro game that lasted until the launch of Major League Soccer in 1996.    

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