The History of USA Football Leagues

The Americans first dabbled with the idea in 1960 when the ISL (International Soccer League) was formed. They invited top clubs from all around the world from around the world (Bayern Munich, Sampdoria, Sporting Lisbon, ..er, Kilmarnock) to compete in it during their close seasons. Two leagues were set up with the winners of each meeting in a final to decide the ISL champions. Some of the teams took it seriously and brought along strong squads, but the majority treated it as a jolly. Dukla Prague treated it so seriously that they formed a one off trophy, the American Challenge Cup, in which the ISL champions met Dukla Prague. The ISL ran from 1960 to 1965, by which time the interest in it from the American public had started to wane.

Following a healthy interest in the 1966 World Cup (blimey, NBC even showed live coverage of the final), they decided to try again, this time with the formation of a professional league. However, rather than trying it out with just one league, in true American fashion they went piling in and in 1967 formed two of the darned things - the familiar sounding USA League (United Soccer Association) and the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL). The USA League was similar to the ISL, in that existing teams were brought over from strange foreign lands to represent American cities, so you had the likes of Atletico Cerro representing New York, Shamrock Rovers representing Boston, Cagliari for Chicago, Hibs for Toronto, and Stoke City, obviously, representing Cleveland. FIFA somewhat bizarrely gave its blessing to the USA League and threatened to suspend players if they turned out for any of the NPSL teams. It was hardly a great surprise when neither league had a successful first season.

Following the debacle of 1967, the two leagues decided to merge and the NASL (North American Soccer League) was born. 17 clubs started the season, but within a year only 5 had managed to survive. The NASL managed to limp through the early 70's until it exploded in the mid 70's with New York Cosmos' amazing transfer coup - they sign Pele in a multi-million dollar deal. In true living the American dream style, the NASL went from nothing to everything in a few years, with footballing legends from all around the world unable to get on a plane quick enough and head for the new promised land. The publicity went sky high, the number of teams and stars rocketed up, the attendances went through the roof ...But so do the costs ...And the wages. Hmmm, the wages. They forgot all about the high wages.

By the early 80's the whole thing started to go belly up. Clubs, franchises, whatever the hell they call them over there, started to go bust, owners started to panic and try to get out quickly, sensing they were about to lose a fortune. By early 1985 the league eventually closed down for good.