The Story of Team America and why the United States National Team failed as a club

Team America

After being apsent from the World Cup for 40 years the United States national team appeared in the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy.During those years of apsence the United States had the NASL which came into the existence in the late 1960s and by the mid 1970s there was a boom in interest in soccer in America.However the growing interest didn’t translate into the national team since the NASL had ageing players from Europe and South America like Pele,Beckenbauer,Crujff,Best,Muller,Calos Alberto and others while domestic players were neglected by team owners besides the introduction of the college draft which was meant to boost the number of domestic players,but also that was a failure as well.In the meantime the US national team was on the field dreadful,between 1981 and 1983 they played only two international matches.In order to give domestic players and its national team a boost the NASL decided to form an American super club that doubled the US national team in training.The idea to form such club came from Howard Samuels which was the league president and CEO,however in 1982 when Team America was formed the NASL was on the verge of a collapse after 7 franchises quit the league and they lost the TV contract which was crucial for the survivial of the league.With Team America Samuels wanted to kill two birds with one stone and since the Los Angeles was chosen to be the host of the 1984 Olympic Games in which the US were automatically qualified for the soccer tournament it was important that Team America becomes a success that could revitilize the NASL and save them from collapse while in the same time to provide players to the US national team that could see the US back on the World Cup.Team America would be based in Washington D.C. and called the RFK Stadium its home,while Samuels brought Robert Lifton as the team owner who used his business connections to bring one of the largest sponsorship deals ever assembled for a soccer team in the US when he made an arrangement with Winston Cigarettes worth a million Dollars.With sponsorship and stadium deal secured,Team America went to search for a coach,on the wish list were people like Gordon Bradley and Eddie Firmani which coached the New York Cosmos,also there was Rinus Michels however he refused.Team America settled for Alketas Panagoulias,a Greek coach who led Greece to their first appearence in the 1980 European Championship.In February 1983 Panagoulias called 39 players from the NASL,ASL (American Soccer League) and the MISL (Major Indoor Soccer League) to tryouts for 20 empty roster spots.Some top US players in that time like Rick Davis,Jimmy McCallister and Winston DuBois refused to join Team America,while Cosmos striker Steve Moyers left the tryouts days after it began.The refusal of some American players to play for Team America spelled problems for the franchise and they were forced to recruit British-born Alan Green and South African-born Andrew Parkinson which later became US citizen,but their recruitment sparked a protest from the players union,however both Green and Parkinson wanted to play for the US national team,in Parkinson’s case was the ban of the South African team due to the Apartheid policies which existed in South Africa during the Cold War.Team America did some successful recruiting when it brought Perry Van Der Beck,Hernan Borja,Tony Crescitelli and Jeff Durgan.They surprised their critics when they won the 1st match of the 1983 NASL season against the Seattle Sounders and after that came victories against Tulsa,Tampa Bay,Fort Lauderdale and surprisingly against the New York Cosmos,however due to a lack of scoring (Team America scored only 33 goals) the team’s form later in the season fell apart when they lost 15 of their last 17 matches with a record of 10 victories and 20 losses in which they were the worst in the NASL and finished dead last in the standings.Also there were the problems with fan attendance and like other NASL teams,Team America suffered from low attendance in which they averaged only 13000 fans per match and that led to financial problems in which Lifton lost almost a million Dollars.After the 1983 season Lifton decided to pull the plug on the team and Team America folded,while the US national team lost its qualifying match against Costa Rica for the 1986 World Cup which was held in neighbouring Mexico and again failed to qualify for a World Cup.But they won their qualifier in late November 1989 against Trinidad and Tobago by a goal scored by Paul Caliguri which meant that after 40 years the US would qualify for the 1990 World Cup in Italy and from that moment the US never missed the World Cup.


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