EPISODE 130: St. Louis: The Original Soccer City USA – With Dave Lange

On August 20, 2019, the city of St. Louis, MO was officially awarded the 28th franchise in Major League Soccer, with an anticipated inaugural season beginning in 2022.  And while the club begins its efforts to get its team name, new downtown stadium and initial soccer operations in place, we take some time this week to reflect on the city’s deep and rich soccer history – perhaps unmatched by any locale in the United States.

Dave Lange (Soccer Made in St. Louis: A History of the Game in America’s First Soccer Capital) joins the ‘cast to trace the undeniably symbiotic relationship between the Gateway City and the Beautiful Game – as well as its impact on the development of the sport (especially professionally) across America.

As we root for the new St. Louis MLS team (our name suggestion: Gateway FC!) to meaningfully recognize and incorporate this important past, Lange helps tide us over in the interim as he discusses:

  • The St. Louis transplant who help launch both the USA’s first governing body for the sport, as well as its first professional league (the American Soccer League) during the Roaring Twenties;

  • The deep-rooted amateur, scholastic and collegiate landscape that kept the city at the center of the nation’s soccer development (including occasional US national team flashes of brilliance);

  • The seminal, but oft-forgotten St. Louis Stars of the 1967 NPSL and 1968-77 NASL;

  • How “soc-hoc” evolved into a professional indoor soccer explosion in the 1980s & 90s with St. Louis (Steamers, Storm, Ambush) as its epicenter; AND

  • The “invisible hand” of Anheuser Busch executive Denny Long.

PLUS:  There “Ain’t No Stoppin’” our tribute to the MISL’s iconic St. Louis Steamers!

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EPISODE #76: National Soccer Hall of Fame Coach Gordon Jago

We continue our march towards the upcoming 50th anniversary reunion of the North American Soccer League (as part the rechristening of the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, TX on October 19-21, 2018), with one of the coaching pioneers from the league’s heyday, Gordon Jago (A Soccer Pioneer: The Autobiography of Gordon Jago).

After a sparkling youth career with England’s Charlton Athletic and the national Under-20s, Jago quickly segued to coaching in the mid-1960s as an assistant coach with First Division Fulham – where he, during a summer exhibition in Oakland, CA, became smitten with the idea of professional soccer in the US.

Persuaded by eventual NASL co-founder (and Episode #74 guest) Clive Toye, Jago jumped the pond in  to become head coach of the newly consolidated league’s 1968 Baltimore Bays, whose beer baron/owner Jerold Hoffberger soon gave up on the team, the league and the sport by the following season.  After a brief stint overseeing the US National team later that year for World Cup ’70 qualifying, Jago returned to England to hone his coaching skills with Queens Park Rangers (who he guided to First Division promotion in 1973) and Millwall (promoted from Third Division to Second in 1976).

But it was the US for good when Tampa Bay Rowdies owner George Strawbridge came calling in 1978 to replace the recently absconded Eddie Firmani as the successful Florida NASL franchise’s head coach – a team he promptly led to back-to-back Soccer Bowl championship games with perennial league all-stars like Rodney Marsh, Oscar Fabbiani, Steve Wegerle, Mike Connell, and John Gorman.

It was also there (actually, St. Petersburg’s cozy Bayfront Center) where Jago got his first taste of the professional indoor game (including an NASL indoor championship in 1980) – experience that would later serve as foundation for a nearly 20-year coaching and management career leading the formidable Dallas Sidekicks, netting league championships across the MISL (1987), CISL (1993), Premier Soccer Alliance (1998), and World Indoor Soccer League (2001).

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EPISODE #74: NASL Soccer's Chief Architect Clive Toye

Soccer America columnist (and Episode #6 interviewee) Paul Gardner summed up this week's Hall of Fame guest in his May 2015 commentary:

“The debt owed by American soccer to Clive Toye is a vast one. It is not too much of an exaggeration to say, flatly, that without Toye’s blind faith in the sport in the 1970s, pro soccer in the USA would have withered and died. Yes, Phil Woosnam and Lamar Hunt and Bob Hermann were there too. But in those unpromising years it was Toye’s voice -- it came in a steady flow of ridiculously optimistic press releases and grandiose plans for a future that few others even dared to ponder -- that called loudest.

“The New York Cosmos general manager credited with turning that league’s fortunes around when he signed Pele to a contract in 1975. Toye, who was born in England and came to the United States in 1967 at the age of 33, was president of three North American Soccer League teams – the Cosmos, Chicago Sting and Toronto Blizzard – and general manager of the [original National Professional Soccer League and subsequent NASL] Baltimore Bays.  [He] was an official of the NASL in helping it through its crisis year of 1969 and in its final months in 1985 – and helped to found the third American Soccer League in 1988.

“There has always been the spirit of a showman in Toye, and surely it was that spirit that enabled Toye to overlook the virtual collapse of the old North American Soccer League and to see instead a glittering future for the sport in the USA, even to declare to anyone who was listening -- and not many were in those days -- the preposterous notion that the USA should begin preparing to stage the World Cup.

“And when the NASL, by the skin of its teeth and by the mad devotion of Toye et al., did survive, it was Toye who gave the reborn league its glittering image with his invention of the Cosmos, with his canny maneuvering and dealing, who brought Pele and Beckenbauer to New York.  Showmanship indeed.”

Toye (A Kick in the Grass: The Slow Rise and Quick Demise of the NASL; Anywhere in the World) joins host Tim Hanlon for a lyrical and anecdote-filled journey through the pro league that he helped create, later put to rest, and which ultimately shored up the long-term foundation of the “beautiful game” in America.

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EPISODE #71: National Soccer Hall of Fame Coach Al Miller - Part Two

We conclude our conversation with National Soccer Hall of Fame coach Al Miller, who shares a wide array of additional recollections, anecdotes, musings, and insights from a legendary career across US outdoor and indoor soccer, including:

  • An historic February 11, 1974 indoor game at Philadelphia’s Spectrum between Miller’s NASL champion Atoms and Moscow’s Red Army – generally acknowledged as the true genesis of the Major Indoor Soccer league four years later;
  • The positives and the negatives of the New York Cosmos “superteam” that dominated the NASL in the late 1970s/early 1980s;
  • Trading the Dallas Tornado’s cozy downtown confines of SMU’s Ownby Stadium for the major league bigtime of Irving’s Texas Stadium;
  • The only-in-the-NASL saga of the one-year Calgary Boomers;
  • Reuniting with Lamar Hunt via the 1983 Tampa Bay Rowdies; AND
  • Helping the city of Cleveland end a 30-year pro sports championship drought with the 1993-94 NPSL season-winning Cleveland Crunch.

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EPISODE #70: National Soccer Hall of Fame Coach Al Miller

In February 1973, the suddenly ascendant North American Soccer League hurriedly awarded a new franchise to Philadelphia construction magnate Thomas McCloskey, despite the league’s fast-approaching season start date of May 1st.  The result of some Super Bowl VII arm-twisting by Kansas City Chiefs (and NASL Dallas Tornado) owner Lamar Hunt after helping McCloskey secure last-minute tickets, the team that would soon become the Philadelphia Atoms had only three months to move from birth to first game. 

In desperate need of a head coach, McCloskey and GM/soccer novice Bob Ehlinger turned to a bright young Hartwick College coach named Al Miller to hastily assemble a roster and a playing style, which Miller quickly achieved with a handful of English lower-division journeymen married with a bevy of hungry, underappreciated American players from the college ranks – rapidly gelling into an NASL championship team that stunned the pro soccer pundits (including the editors of Sports Illustrated), and became a Philly fan sensation.

The immediate success of the Atoms and its decidedly American-style approach to the world’s game quickly thrust Miller into the US soccer coaching spotlight and set in motion a standout pro career that traversed the NASL, MISL and indoor NPSL (not to mention a brief stint helming the 1975 US Men’s National Team), and, ultimately a red jacket into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2008.

In the first of a two-part interview, Miller joins host Tim Hanlon to reveal some never-before-heard stories from the front lines of his pioneering coaching career, including the Atoms, the Dallas Tornado, the one-year Calgary Boomers, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the MISL Cleveland Force, and the three-time NPSL champion Cleveland Crunch.   

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EPISODE #58: The Intersection of Sports & Art with Artist/Designer Wayland Moore

Internationally acclaimed multi-media artist/illustrator/designer Wayland Moore joins the podcast from his studio in suburban Atlanta to discuss his nearly six-decade career as one of America’s most recognizable commercial artists – including some of his most notable works in the realm of professional sports.  

Designer of such iconic team logos such as pro soccer’s Atlanta Chiefs (National Professional Soccer League, 1967; North American Soccer League, 1968-73 & 1979-81); and, most legendarily, New York Cosmos (NASL, 1971-85) – Moore is also known for his extensive promotional artwork for baseball’s Atlanta Braves, including the design and color scheme for the team’s 1974 season uniform, in anticipation of the worldwide attention surrounding Henry Aaron’s eventual record-breaking 715th career home run on April 8, 1974 – forever memorialized in “Hammerin’ Hank”’s Baseball Hall of Fame exhibit.

In this very intriguing conversation, Moore reflects on: his most memorable commissioned pieces from major sporting events like US Hockey’s 1980 Winter Olympics “Miracle on Ice” and 1973’s “Battle of the Sexes” between tennis legends Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King; his curious sports Impressionism “rivalry” with LeRoy Nieman; and his experiences in the age-old economic tension between art and commerce that most pointedly and persistently presents itself in the business of professional sports. 

Moore also shares his surprising advice for well-intentioned nostalgia lovers faced with opportunities to purchase newly-reissued items of memorabilia featuring his formerly trademarked designs, from which he no longer financially benefits.

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EPISODE #47: US Pro Soccer’s 1960s-Era Rebirth with Author Dennis Seese

The history of professional soccer in the United States is richer and far more complex than today’s generation of Major League Soccer fans might realize.  Multiple ethnically-infused pro leagues existed as far back as the early 1900s – but when the American Soccer Association collapsed in Depression-Era 1933, it wasn’t until the mid-1960s when the next serious attempt to bring full-fledged, top-flight Division One professional soccer to US shores was pursued in earnest.

In 1966, suddenly and incredibly, no fewer than three separate groups of well-heeled American sports businessmen coalesced around the same idea, each attempting to draft off of attention-generating events like entrepreneur Bill Cox’s International Soccer League tournaments and NBC’s surprisingly high-rated, near-live national TV broadcast of the World Cup Final from England.

According to research librarian (and unwitting soccer historian) Dennis Seese (The Rebirth of Professional Soccer in America: The Strange Days of the United Soccer Association), it was a tumultuous revival that ultimately yielded two hastily-assembled competing leagues the following year – the FIFA-sanctioned United Soccer Association (featuring whole-cloth international clubs pseudonymously representing 12 American cities), and the “outlaw” National Professional Soccer League (boasting a national CBS television contract and a one-month-earlier start for its ten teams) –  that rushed to beat each other to the American public with their pro versions of the “world’s game.”

What resulted was near-disaster: sparse crowds, dubious refereeing, anemic ratings, and a shotgun post-season merger to form a successor North American Soccer League in 1968 – which, despite its inherited broadcast TV coverage and official international governing body approval, sputtered mightily itself.  By the end of the merged NASL’s first season, only five teams remained – and the future of American professional soccer was very much in doubt. 

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