A lot of people don’t realize that there is a rich history of soccer in New York and the United States that pre-dates what we have today.
Presently, Major League Soccer is in its 24th season and is in 24 different markets.
Before MLS, the North American Soccer League operated between 1968 and 1984. While the league didn’t last too long, the New York Cosmos put the sport on the map in the United States. The Cosmos gained worldwide recognition with a lineup that included Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto.
What many people don’t know is that the first American Soccer League was formed in New York City back in 1921. That May, representatives from eight of the country’s soccer teams met at the Hotel Astor in Manhattan’s to launch a new professional soccer league.
The teams included:
New York FC
Todd Shipyards FC (based in Brooklyn)
Harrison SC (based in Kearny, New Jersey)
J&P Coats FC (based in Pawtucket, RI)
Fall River United
Falco FC (based in Holyoke, MA)
Celtic FC (based in Jersey City)
The sport was growing in the industrial Northeast due to the influx of immigrants who brought their love of soccer with them to their new home. Back then a lot of soccer clubs were sponsored by industrial companies that employed many of the players that represented their clubs. Thus teams such as Todd Shipyards, J&P Coats and later clubs like Bethlehem Steel.
Early on the league proved successful. Some teams drew crowds over 10,000 and the matches were covered by the local newspapers.
These northeast based companies were paying good wages and some of the ASL club were able to entice good players from the UK to come over to the states to work and play soccer for them. Believe it or not, the poaching of players became such a problem that fans in Scotland complained about what became known as the “American menace”.
It got so bad that in 1927 the top brass of the ASL were brought to Finland by FIFA and told to stop taking players from other countries or risk being dropped by soccer’s governing body.
The league was growing and doing well, but faced problems.
In 1924 the Johnson-Reed Act limited the number of immigrants that could enter the country. Then there was fighting between the ASL and the United States Football Association.
What really led to the league’s demise was the great depression. Companies could no longer afford to sponsor teams and fans didn’t have extra income to spend on tickets.
The ASL folded in 1933…but it would rise again. More on that later.