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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Book Review: 100 Years of Soccer in America by the U.S. Soccer Federation

Image credit: U.S. Soccer Federation.

"American interest in soccer began with a brief flirtation with the game by college teams in the late 1860s and early 1870s, but that ended in 1876 when, following Harvard's lead, they gave up association football in favor of rugby football. Despite that decision, soccer experienced surprising growth in America during the 1880s.

Among the first areas where association football spread into British working classes were the textile regions of Lancanshire and Scotland's Clyde Valley. In the 1870s and '80s, a tremendous number of people immigrated from those areas to American textile centers such as Falls River, Mass., Kearney, N.J., and Pawtucket, R.I., cities that were synonymous (along with St. Louis, Miss.) with the growth of soccer in the 1880s."

--- "© 100 Years of Soccer in America" by the United States Soccer Federation, page 16, published by Rizzoli / Universe in September 2013 with a list price of US $45.00 / CAN $45.00 / UK £27.95.

President Clinton with Pelé at the Vila Olimpica da Mangueira 
school in Rio de Janeiro during 1997.
(Please scroll to 36:30 to see them playing soccer with the children.)

Most Americans of a certain age did not grow up as soccer fans. Others believe that soccer's history in the U.S. began in 1975 when Pelé arrived on American shores, stopped in 1977 when he retired, and rebooted again in 1994 with the highly successful World Cup. This book provides a comprehensive, detailed, historic and superb look into the deep roots of US soccer that pre-dated Pelé's historic arrival by almost 100 years.


There is an introduction by Sunil Gulati, a preface by President Bill Clinton, along with six sections: Humble Beginnings, Inside The Lines (Men's and Women's National Team Players and Coaches), Development, World Cup Memories, Big Goals, Big Games and The U.S. Soccer Federation.

Writing Style

The authors' writing style was detailed, informative and journalistic in tone. There are several first-person quotes which lend a great deal of authenticity to this project. For example, this one from Walter Bahr, a member of the 1950 World Cup team:

"I had a great time playing for 30 years, but I really remember the first year and the last year. When I was 10, I joined the Lighthouse Boys' Club of Philadelphia. We lost the championship to the Philadelphia Indians after three straight games and 36 periods of overtime. The first game was 1-1, and we played 16 5-minute overtimes before the ref called the game for darkness..." (Page 41)

Alexi Lalas, a revelation of the 1994 World Cup team, on being a promoter and entertainer:

Alexi Lalas was the first American to play in the Italian Serie A.

"It felt natural, to be honest. I grew up idolizing performers and performances, and I always considered myself to be one. It didn't matter if it was sports. It was a stage, regardless. The stage for a concert or the field for a game was the same... It wasn't a burden to be a 'public' image." (Page 53)

Abby Wambach described the team-first ethos of Mia Hamm:

"She always played for the idea of what it means to be on a team. I found that to be her most impressive quality. A player like Mia could have been all about herself. She could have easily been an individual. She had every opportunity to go down that road, but at every turn she chose the right path and chose to stick by her teammates." (Page 128)

A Surprising Omission: No Index

For a coffee-table/historic type of reference work, the lack of an index was surprising. Most readers of these books don't read them from cover to cover. They like to look up specific coaches, names, players, playing eras, teams and tournaments. Parts of this book are organized alphabetically or chronologically (Inside The Lines and World Cup Memories); however, the lack of a detailed, easy-to-reference index, given the voluminous encyclopedic scope of this project, was disappointing.

Unique Historic Content

USA 1 - England 0 at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil: "The Game
of Their Lives." An interview with Harry Keough.

From the 1860s when soccer first arrived on American shores at Ivy League colleges, to the first US super club, Bethlehem Steel of the 1920s, to the rebirth of the sport in the 1970s, to the many achievements of the present day era, this book chronicles events large and small in minute detail. For example, this quote from the November 8, 1925 edition of the New York Times on the USA vs. Canada international at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York:

"The United States soccer eleven slid, skidded, swam, and ran to a 6-to-1 victory on Ebbets Field, Brooklyn, yesterday against the representatives of Canada. On a rain-soaked field that became more slippery and slimy every minute, the wearers of the American shield captured the championship of North America." (Page 23)

The 1930 US World Cup team manager, Wilfred Cummings, provided a diary entry on the long ship voyage to Montevideo, Uruguay:

"The team sailed on the S.S. Munargo (along with the Mexican team)... arriving at our destination only one day late, on July 1st in a heavy downpour, it being the 92nd consecutive day of rain... It is well to state that on the third of July, we resumed training of the team which we started on board the S.S. Munargo, the morning after leaving Bermuda, June 17th, as a daily routine, and let it be said that we had the best conditioned outfit to participate in the World's Series..." (Page 173)

A Photographic Masterclass

I imagine that you will probably "read" the photographs more than the accompanying words. Which is not a criticism of the latter but a compliment to the former. This book is a definitive pictoral history of the last century in American men's and women's soccer. You will find a tremendous array of historical and current-day images that brilliantly document the long journey of American soccer.

One of my favorite historical images may seem out of place in a soccer-themed historical perspective: Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers (Page 24) sliding into home plate in front of several members of an unidentified visiting foreign soccer team. The other picture that stood out to me was Joe Gaetjens (Page 74) being carried off the pitch in Belo Horizonte, Brazil after the historic win over England.

Not for Your Smartphone

Abby Wambach's extra time equalizer versus Brazil at the
2011 World Cup.

Most of us are accustomed to the convenient immediacy of blogs, online publications, Twitter and other new media platforms. This book is a traditional work of sporting literature that will not fit in your iPad holder or perhaps even in a notebook briefcase. It belongs on your bookshelf or coffee table where it will become a much-discussed, oft-referenced and treasured addition.

About the Authors

The United States Soccer Foundation was founded in 1913 and is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. The current President of US Soccer is Sunil Gulati and the General Secretary is Dan Flynn.

About the Reviewer

Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator from Washington, D.C. Steve focuses on career-related themes, Chinese healing/martial arts and international soccer journalism. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries since 2006 and The Soccer Translator since 2008. You can follow Steve @worldfootballcm on Twitter.

Please Note

I have received a complimentary review copy from a representative of the publisher, Rizzoli / Universe. I was not compensated by the authors, publisher or any other party who would benefit from a positive review.

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