Home » Development Of The Game » United Soccer Association: When It Was Founded In 1967
united soccer association

United Soccer Association: When It Was Founded In 1967

United Soccer Association consisted of teams based in North America and the United States. After just one season, the league merged with the National Professional Soccer League to become the North American Soccer League. The teams in the league were all imported clubs from Europe or South America that had “local” names applied to them.

When The United Soccer Association Was  Founded?

The country went through a strange, tumultuous year in 1967. The San Francisco Oracle, an underground newspaper itself symbolic of these times, referred to the summer as the ‘Summer of Love’ to describe the warm, fuzzy, psychotropic cultural explosion taking place in California, even as violent riots erupted in major cities like Detroit and Newark at the same time.

“Strange Days” had indeed found us, as one James Douglas Morrison would croon that same fateful year. There was another strange and tumultuous event that summer as American sports entrepreneurs Lamar Hunt, Jack Kent Cooke, Roy Hofheinz, and others attempted to introduce and import (literally) soccer into a reeling America with the creation of the United Soccer Association.

To be clear, professional soccer leagues had been launched. They had even met with modest success in the United States before, with the American Soccer League (ASL) of the 1920s being the most significant before World War II. The ASL averaged around 4,000-5,000 spectators during its peak before the Great Depression. But, according to the American Soccer History Archives, the strange concurrent birth of the USA and its bitter, estranged sibling, the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL), is viewed by many observers as the beginning of “the modern era of professional soccer in the United States.”

The 1966 World Cup final between England and West Germany registered surprisingly strong television ratings throughout America. Sports Illustrated reported that NBC’s broadcast of England’s dramatic 4-2 triumph at Wembley garnered an estimated 10 million viewers.

Reaction to this emotional, one-off match prompted National Football League and Major League Baseball owners like Hunt, Hofheinz, and Kent Cooke to pounce on the opportunity to establish for the first time a mass-marketed, aggressively promoted American professional soccer league that would span both coasts.

North American Soccer League

Initially named the North American Soccer League (NASL), Cooke and his group changed the name of their nascent enterprise to the United Soccer Association to avoid unnecessary confusion after the rival NPSL appeared on the scene. Initially one large ramshackle consortium, the group fractured acrimoniously in two (to FIFA chief Sir Stanley Rous), with each desperately seeking FIFA’s sanction in 1966. FIFA appointed Fred Woods and Joe Barriskill, then president and secretary (respectively) of the United States Soccer Football Association (USSFA), to decide between the competing bids.

To give a sense of just how microscopic soccer was in the mid-60s American consciousness Zander Hollander’s The American Encyclopedia of Soccer noted that in 1966 the USSFA had a staff consisting of just two members, while Sports Illustrated reported that the organization’s entire operating budget was estimated to be $75,000 (or even less) annually.

These paltry budget estimates would seem to explain the USSFA’s insistence on including percentages and fees in conjunction with their award of sanction. However, nearly all available accounts suggest that the NPSL rejected outright USSFA’s demands that a portion of tickets and television money be handed to the governing body. As a result, Barriskill voted in favor of the United Soccer Association, awarding them a contract allowing the league exclusive sanction in the United States for ten years.

The Washington Post reported on 7 April 1967 that the United Soccer Association paid the USSFA $25,000 per franchise as a condition of receiving the sanction. Despite losing this major battle for international legitimacy with the United Soccer Association, the NPSL was ultimately able to secure a television deal with CBS starting in the spring of 1967.

CBS And United Soccer Association

As Martin Kane reported on 27 March 1967, the United Soccer Association had “refused to consider a CBS television contract, which, despite being announced to give the NPSL 10 years of television exposure at $1 million for the first year and further at a sliding scale for the following years, also gave CBS the right to drop the whole enterprise at any time.” CBS claimed it chose NPSL because it was further along with hiring coaches, players, and stadiums.

CBS’s decision (a decision that earned them a public rebuke and not-so-subtle threats from FIFA) to award the NPSL a television contract created the essential dichotomy that functioned between the two leagues: one was sanctioned, and the other had a television contract and thus guaranteed exposure. Without USSFA/ FIFA sanction, the NPSL became an ‘outlaw’ league. The lack of sanction remained a point of bitterness and acrimony, leading the group to ultimately file an $18 million lawsuit against the United Soccer Association, USSFA, and FIFA.

Importing Overseas Soccer Teams

The NPSL’s television contract forced the FIFA sanctioned United Soccer Association – which had initially planned to operate in 1968 – to scramble to start operations in 1967. To field teams that could play right away, the United Soccer Association owners settled on the outlandishly bold and creative idea of importing entire established English, Scottish, Italian, and South American squads to play a 12-game summer schedule during the 1967 season.

In addition to the English First Division clubs Stoke City (a decent team with George Eastham and England’s World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks) and Sunderland, the recently promoted Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Scottish heavyweights Aberdeen, Dundee United, and Hibernian were selected for this undertaking.

The lesser-known ‘Glentorians of Belfast,’ actually the Irish League’s Glentoran, served as the Detroit Cougars. At the same time, Serie A’s Cagliari Calcio, a team with a handful of internationals itself just three years from a 1970 Scudetto, CA Cerro of Uruguay, and Brazil’s Bangu of Rio were other clubs involved. Though without television exposure, these already cohesive, superiorly constructed teams would essentially remain unseen by American viewers in a crippling paradox that perfectly illustrates soccer’s starcrossed development in the United States.

The 12 teams chosen and their American aliases were as follows:

  • Boston Rovers (Shamrock Rovers, Republic of Ireland)
  • Chicago Mustangs (Cagliari, Italy)
  • Cleveland Stokers (Stoke City, England)
  • Dallas Tornados (Dundee United, Scotland)
  • Detroit Cougars (Glentoran, Northern Ireland)
  • Houston Stars (Bangu AC, Brazil)
  • Los Angeles Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanderers, England)
  • New York Skyliners (CA Cerro, Uruguay)
  • San Francisco Golden Gate Gales (ADO Den Haag, Netherlands)
  • Toronto City (Hibernian, Scotland)
  • Vancouver Royals (Sunderland, England)
  • Washington Whips (Aberdeen, Scotland)

Jerry Cooper

Washington Whips general manager Jerry Cooper was instrumental in selecting the surrogate squads, particularly Great Britain. It was a long strange journey for Cooper. His rise to such a position of power within the nascent league was a harrowing indictment of the psychology and decision-making that would ultimately doom the United Soccer Association. Indeed, Cooper told the Washington Post he became the Whips General Manager in the following fashion: “Earl Foreman (Whips owner) asked me, ‘What do you know about soccer?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’ He said, ‘Great. You are going to run the new professional soccer team.”

This stunning, casual indifference to the actual workings of professional soccer dominates the era and attendant thinking of the American moguls haplessly trying to get the sport off the ground in the post-war period. So it can be seen repeatedly, perhaps none more glaring than the owners’ decision to hire a mediocre baseball executive named Dick Walsh to be the United Soccer Association’s commissioner. Not long after his appointment, Walsh would infamously brag of never having seen a soccer match.

In his book Stars in Stripes, Sunderland historian Paul Days reported that the key figures involved in helping Cooper pick teams were the Times of London’s Brian Glanville, the BBC’s Kenneth Wolstenholme, Spurs’ legend and English international Jimmy Greaves, ex-Nottingham Forest forward Roy Dwight (Elton John’s uncle) and London businessman Jim Graham.

These men were all instrumental in brokering the United Soccer Association tournament. The American Soccer History Archives claims each team was “paid about $250,000″ to import their franchise before being assigned to a city determined primarily by its ethnicity.” It is fascinating and poorly thought out that the United Soccer Association’s plans included an ethnic component.

Average United Soccer Association Attendances

For example, what ethnic factor influenced Wolverhampton’s transformation into the Los Angeles Wolves from the lycanthropic midlands? Cagliari was imported to Chicago in an attempt to reach the Windy City’s impressive Italian-American population, and Ireland’s Shamrock Rovers were virtually guaranteed (on paper at least) a warm welcome in Boston (in actuality, however, the Boston Rovers drew an average attendance of 4,171, a league-low).

The tournament would be marked by poor planning and even poorer officiating, not to mention numerous pitch invasions (a particularly nasty one occurred in Yankee Stadium when fans assaulted referee Leo Goldstein), sweltering heat, grueling travel, and some occasionally brilliant soccer.

According to Steve Holroyd’s American Soccer History, the United Soccer Association started strong on 26 May 1967 with colossal opening night crowds of 34,965 in Houston, 21,871 in Yankee Stadium, and 16,431 in Dallas Archives, impressive numbers all. No opening night match drew less than 7,400 people. A great start, but as the novelty wore off, the crowds thinned.

The league ended the season with an average attendance of 7,890. The Houston Stars, the reigning Rio de Janeiro Bangu AC champions, led the league with an average attendance of 19,802. The Eastern Division Representing Washington, DC was the Aberdeen Dons. When the Dons arrived in the United States on 23 May 1967, their 2-0 defeat to European Champions Celtic in the Scottish Cup final was still fresh in their minds, coming as it did less than 30 days before their plane touched down in Washington DC. The final was played before 126,102 in Glasgow’s Hampden Park on 29 April, with Willie Wallace’s brace supplying Celtic’s margin of victory.

Perhaps the memories lingering from this setback are what prompted several of the “high-spirited, youthful, clean-cut group” to arrive toting liquor bottles (“for friends” they maintained) amidst the blare and bleat of bagpipes at Dulles Airport! Managed by cantankerous ‘Famous Five’ Scottish legend Eddie Turnbull, the Dons were a supremely fit and aggressive side, filled with quality players like Frank Munro, Jim Storrie, and Jimmy Smith. They would contend for the Eastern Division title to the season’s final day.

Stoke To Cleveland

Washing up on the shores of Lake Erie as the Cleveland Stokers, Stoke City had just finished 12th in the First Division, with their last match, a lifeless 0-0 draw against League champions Manchester United, occurring just over two weeks before they traveled to D.C. But such was the respect accorded to the First Division, as well as the inclusion on their roster of internationals like Gordon Banks (although he would not arrive in the States until after he fulfilled his international obligations playing with a group of FA All-Stars in the 1967 Montreal Expo) and Eastham, that Stoke was considered the favorites to win the United Soccer Association.

According to Stoke City’s Oatcake fanzine, the side was chosen by Jimmy Greaves and Kenneth Wolstenholme due to their “attacking play.” Their relatively new creative gloss was mainly due to the addition of the influential Eastham from Arsenal and the emergence of Peter Dobing (who had netted 19 goals in the 1966-67 season) and Roy Vernon. Tony Waddington’s Stokers played modern, full-bore soccer but were undone by a few baffling losses in the dog days of summer, ultimately giving way to the Whips. Hibernian was stationed across the border in Ontario. Managed by Bob Shankly, Hibernian/ Toronto F.C. boasted three Scottish Internationals: forwards Peter Cormack, Jim Scott, and halfback Pat Stanton. As an interesting historical aside, Hibernian/Toronto would ultimately emerge from the United Soccer Association unbeaten against teams hailing from outside the British Isles. Toronto lost a critical game in the last week of the season, costing them the Eastern Division title, which they would have earned regardless of the tiebreaker situation because of their 23 goals.

Detriot Cougars

Named after their owners the Ford Motor Company’s latest model, the Detroit Cougars were Belfast’s Glentoran. The Glens were lightly regarded due to their semi-professional status and the quality of competition they faced in Northern Ireland, even though they had just won their 12th Irish League title. The Washington Post dutifully explained to American readers that the “caliber of Irish soccer is low” because Irish players’ maximum salary was $16.80 a week, leading “practically everybody with talent” to ply their trade in England or Scotland.

This team was different. Despite holding Celtic to a 1-1 draw in Belfast, they lost 4-0 in Glasgow in the European Cup Winners Cup tie. In over 50 league and cup matches in 1966-67, Glentoran was only beaten four times, ripping off an incredible 25 match unbeaten run during that stretch. The Cougars boasted the presence of John Kennedy, previously Celtic’s reserve keeper and recently signed by Lincoln City, as well as four other ‘guest players’ from assorted Irish sides, including Northern Ireland international Danny Trainor.

The fiery John Colrain was Glentoran’s player/manager and a significant catalyst for the Glens’ excellent United Soccer Association performance. The ex-Celtic and Ipswich Town inside right was almost immediately at the center of controversy. In Detroit’s first match, he was accused of punching a linesman named Bobby Jack. For his part, Colrain steadfastly denied striking Jack. There is no conclusive evidence either way. However, the phantom punch can be viewed as a metaphor for the entire league: Something most people aren’t entirely sure even happened.

New York Skyliners

The five British clubs were joined by CA Cerro from Uruguay, the country’s third-best team behind Nacional and Penarol, who generally fought over the title. Playing under the title of the New York Skyliners, they were coached by national team manager Ondino Viera. They were coming off an impressive third-place finish in their domestic competition, which saw them twice defeat the defending Copa Libertadores champions, Penarol.

Viera’s Uruguay side had reached the previous summer’s World Cup quarter-finals. The Cerro team was filled with Uruguayan internationals such as Ruben Gonzales, Juan Pintos, Eduardo Garcia, and Ruben Bareno, who would shine at times in the United Soccer Association. A highly decorated center-half, Gonzales was capped over 60 times for Uruguay, earning Player of the Year honors six years running from 1959-1964. Pintos came to New York off a sterling campaign where he scored 18 goals in 18 league matches.

Kenneth Wolstenholme had initially wanted Shamrock Rovers to combine with Linfield to form some Irish Select XI, an idea that likely would have appealed to United Soccer Association administrators. However, Linfield declined “primarily because their rules then prohibited Sunday soccer.” Playing as Boston Rovers, the League of Ireland club proved to be the league’s weakest link on and off the pitch, propping up the table and registering the poorest attendance figures. Owned by Weston Adams of the Boston Bruins, the Rovers played their games at the Manning Bowl, a high school football stadium 15 miles outside of Boston.

Like their Detroit/Glentoran counterparts, the Rovers were a part-time outfit. Coach Liam Tuohy was a mechanic in Dublin, for instance. Also, like Detroit, they were allowed to field four ‘guest’ players to strengthen their line-up. The Rovers’ guests included John Brooks and Dougie Wood, a left half named the Ulster Player of the Year for 1964-65.

Chicago Mustangs

Cagliari, known as the Chicago Mustangs, brought a fistful of past, present, and future Italian internationals to the USA, including defender Comunardo Niccolai and forward Roberto Boninsegna. Both were in the squad for Mexico World Cup in 1970, with Boninsegna (who scored for Italy in the 4-1 defeat by Brazil in the final) heading the competition’s goal-scoring charts with ten goals in nine matches. Leading them into battle was Manlio Scopigno, an astute tactician known as ‘the Philosopher’ who had a sophisticated understanding of the game and a considerable grasp of man-management skills and psychology.

Dundee United, who had finished the 1966-67 Scottish League season in ninth place, played under the name of Dallas Tornado. Manager Jerry Kerr had guided the club into European competition on the strength of their sixth-place finish in 1966. United then shocked Barcelona, scoring a 2-1 victory at the Camp Nou in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, before ultimately losing to Juventus. However, playing on the narrow Cotton Bowl pitch likely hampered the team as they failed to impact the Western Division, scoring only 14 times in 12 matches.

Houston Stars

The role of the Houston Stars was assumed by the reigning champions of the Rio de Janeiro State League, Bangu Atletico Clube. Bangu had just claimed the Campeonato Carioca for the second time in 1966, six years after they had won the inaugural International Soccer League (ISL) tournament with a 2-0 victory over Kilmarnock. Perhaps the most technically gifted side in the competition – the Stars’ prompted Sunderland’s John O’Hare to rave that their “skill level was superb” after they had thrashed the Black Cats 4-1, giving them a proper soccer lesson.

The Stars line-up included Paulo Borges, a player some considered the second or third best in the world after Pele and Eusebio.

Los Angeles Wolves

Stationed in the Hollywood Hills, Wolverhampton Wanderers took a star turn as the Los Angeles Wolves. Wolves arrived after a successful 1966-67 Second Division campaign that saw them earn promotion in style. Ronnie Allen’s team rarely wandered over to the United States in the first place, according to a 2003 reminiscence published by Brian Glanville in The Times. He remembers speaking to Jack Kent Cooke and recommending Wolves to the Canadian sports magnate.

Kent Cooke had already lined up Club America from Mexico to represent his franchise but instead decided to pursue an English squad at the last minute. Glanville noted that Allen was keen to go to the States, but Wolstenholme told him they wouldn’t go so soon after securing their hard-fought promotion. Bolton Wanderers stepped into this void of confusion and mixed messages, who were reportedly so sure of their imminent arrival in Los Angeles that they had bought a new kit. Wolves’ forward Derek Dougan recalled being accorded “film star treatment” as soon as they arrived in California. Dougan,

Dave Wagstaffe and the boys immediately became poolside fixtures at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel or SheratonWest whenever they were in town over the next six weeks. Just like the Stokers, only 14 days separated the end of Wolves’ successful promotion campaign and their 1-1 draw against Houston in the Astrodome. Dougan, a Northern Ireland international and bona fide Belfast legend, described the team’s mindset in the following fashion: “in effect, we were demonstration salesmen, and we piled on the sale pressure in 14 matches. In every game, we played great soccer.”

Superb it was. The Wolves relied on devastating wing play and the playmaking brilliance of Peter Knowles to waltz to the Western Division crown and ultimately a title match in their ‘home’ stadium, the Los Angeles Coliseum. San Francisco were represented by the Eredivisie’s ADO Den Haag. Perhaps the most obscure team selected to participate in the United Soccer Association, ADO underwent a mid-1960s resurgence under the highly-regarded Austrian tactician Ernst Happel. Happel was the perfect manager for ADO, implementing a dynamic 4-3-3 set-up in the service of a supremely aggressive pressing game that relied upon superior stamina and fitness levels. ADO finished third in the Dutch top-flight in 1965-66, although well adrift of Ajax and Feijenoord, and lost to Sparta in the domestic cup final.

Vancouver Royal Canadian

Sunderland had finished a disappointing 17th place in the First Division as they limped meekly into British Columbia to assume the role of the Vancouver Royal Canadians. In addition, the club had been ravaged with injuries on top of being in the midst of a significant roster overhaul. Still, the Wearsiders featured players like Jim Baxter, a wing-half considered by many to be one of the greatest Scottish players of all time. The mischievous, hard-living Baxter, reputed to suck on peppermints in training as a futile attempt to cover the alcohol usually still oozing from his pores, had starred for Rangers, racking up an impressive trophy haul in the early 1960s before being sold to Sunderland. Other Scottish internationals playing for Vancouver included the enigmatic, influential George Herd and center-forward Neil Martin.

The rebuilding Black Cats failed to fire in the United Soccer Association, winning only three matches and conceding a brutal 28 times. Both divisional races tightened up, heading into the cauldron of July. In the East, the Stokers, Whips, Cougars, and Toronto all still had a chance to claim the title going into the last matchday. The West was essentially a two-horse race between the Los Angeles Wolves and the fading San Francisco Golden Gate Gales (ADO Den Haag) – a coin flip, yes, a coin flip was held to decide which division leader would host the United Soccer Association title match.

The West won the flip, virtually ensuring that the game would be held in California. Eventually, the Whips emerged from the Eastern scrum, setting up their third tournament match against the Los Angeles Wolves. Going into the United Soccer Association final, the Whips had conceded 11 goals in 12 games, the Wolves 14. The Washington Post noted the Whips’ reliance on wing play, writing that their favorite tactic was to have their “fullbacks advance the ball down the field along with the wings” and that this tactic “forces opponents to spread out their defense making them more vulnerable.”

United Soccer Association Championship Match

The United Soccer Association Championship match would be decided down the flanks, with both teams relying on width and pace as integral parts of their identity. By this time, the teams had played each other twice in just over a month, becoming a little too familiar as the Dons grew weary of the “English side’s robust approach.” Indeed, a total of 48 fouls had been called between the two teams in the contests that took place ahead of their title showdown.

This was ironic because the Whips drew the ire of other United Soccer Association teams and supporters (they were booed lustily in San Francisco for rough play) with a robust style of their own, so much so that the Washington Post revealed in the continuous promotion of their nature as a “hard-hitting, hard-tackling team.” Wolves, on the other hand, were viewed in the American press as a little more traditional (or primitive), preferring to “let their outside forward’s loop passes into the middle of the penalty area” where the incomparable Derek Dougan could use his size and positional awareness to cause havoc in the air and create goals.

There was an element of simplicity to what Wolves’ were doing, partially because Dougan was an effective target man. But there was undoubtedly more to Ronnie Allen’s Wolves than just “The Doog,” as the United Soccer Association performances of Peter Knowles, Ernie Hunt, and Dave Wagstaffe would attest. “One of the most exciting matches in U.S. soccer history” would be played in front of 17,824 people at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on 14 July 1967. Whips/ Dons player Jim Whyte recalled the atmosphere, remembering: “I’d never seen anything like it. For a start, the teams did not come out together as usual.

Each player was introduced one by one to the crowd, and we walked through a pipe band. It was like the Super Bowl!” The violent contest had overt rugby feel as the over-familiarity and bad blood spilled over into a storm of elbows and extras, particularly during the first half when the Wone by one called for 20 fouls. Eventually, Jimmy Smith’s tempestuous was ejected following an incident with Wolves’ Dave Wagstaffe. Referee Richard Giebner admitted afterward that Smith’s foul “wasn’t worse than any other foul” committed up until that point, indicating essentially that something had to be done to maintain a semblance of order and control before the match descended into utter chaos. It was a lesson learned far too late, but better now than never. The ejection achieved its objective, and the match settled into a tense, frenetic encounter.

Things ignited after the 63rd minute when four rapid-fire goals split the humid afternoon in half. Suddenly it was 3-3. In a minor bit of foreshadowing, The Post had constantly lauded the Whips for their “superb conditioning” in the weeks before the match, only to have them wilt in overtime, “bedraggled,” and run ragged after playing ferociously with ten men for over 90 minutes.

Overtime

The Wolves outshot the Whips 20 to 3 in the overtime period, putting an exclamation point on their extra time dominance. Yet it would be an unlucky bounce, an unfortunate yet – considering the crazed overall climate and tenor of the United Soccer Association – the perfectly surreal and fitting twist of fate that would decide the championship at the end of this epic match. Dougan scored deep in extra time, prompting the Whips’ excellent goaltender Bobby Clark to admit (likely to Turnbull’s chagrin) “that big boy Dougan took me to the cleaners.” Clark saved a penalty in the waning moments, a save that initially seemed pointless…until the Whips were awarded a penalty which Francis Munro converted with no time left.

Amazingly, Munro made such an impression on the Wolves’ in this match that they purchased him from Aberdeen the following January for £55,000. Whyte remembered fondly that “after extra time it was 5-5 and then it was like the school playground, next goal the winner.” After 120 grueling, graceful minutes, the teams were tied at 5-5. This set the stage for sudden-death and Ally Shewan’s lousy bounce, or as Whyte would put it, “a classic own goal to end it.” Finally, after three penalties and two separate hattricks, the United Soccer Association title was decided after 36 minutes of extra time when Bobby Thomson’s cross caromed into the Whips’ net off the unlucky Shewan. It was almost as if the league had to end this way.

The Winners And Losers

Shewan’s miscue was a perfect symbolic amplification of all the unforced errors that hapless American soccer entrepreneurs made during the previous year. It was a fittingly madcap end to a madcap season. To complete the narrative circle, Bobby Clark told the Washington Post after the match that “the World Cup final between England and Germany was not quite as good as this one.” Wolves grabbed the $3,000 winner share of the spoils, while Whips’ boss Earl Foreman who referred to the match as “one of the greatest sporting events ever played in this country,” was so moved that he awarded the defeated Whips’ $3,000 as well.

For his part, Kent Cooke was so excited about the United Soccer Association title victory and so enamored with Wolves personally he approached Wolverhampton Wanderers’ director Wilfred Sprosin. He offered $1 million for the historic Midlands’ franchise’. Cook told Sprosin that he “wanted to run Wolves as a brother club with Los Angeles,” to which Sprosin dutifully replied, “there wasn’t enough money in the world to buy Wolves.” Years after the euphoria of the victory had long since vanished, Kent Cooke called the United Soccer Association a “farce,” saying, “We won the North American Soccer League Championship, but it cost me three-quarters of a million dollars.”

This history, nearly buried beneath the dust of time, has been kept alive by fervent fans and supporters such as the Oatcake, the fantastic glentoran-fc.co.uk site, and the Wolves Heroes blog, to name just a few. This incredible slice of soccer history would have remained blurry, obscure, and forgotten mainly without these gatekeepers.

Despite such virtuous and ever-so-slowly expanding efforts, these matches and events reside primarily in a distant fog of memory. This fog is still so opaque that when Athletic Bilbao traveled to the United States to play a friendly in Idaho this past summer – the club itself announced publicly that it was excited to undertake its first voyage to America. Unfortunately, it was left to the rising tide of armchair historians to show club officials that the Basque outfit had indeed actually played in America before, beating Red Star Belgrade 3-1 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on 12 April 1967 in front of a crowd of 9,786. The match was staged as part of a mini-exhibition tour designed by United Soccer Association brass to whet appetites for the game in select USA cities. It was also a match that tellingly fell through the club’s official history cracks, proving that much work is still to be done.

We aim for accuracy and fairness in everything we do. We'd like to hear from you if you see anything wrong! Click here to contact us! The content on The History Of Soccer is reviewed and updated regularly to make sure it is accurate and up to date.

Scroll to Top