The biggest flops in American soccer history

Blame Kenn. If it weren't for him pointing this out on Facebook, I wouldn't have read this:

This is a team not only in danger of missing the playoffs, but one that could become the biggest flop in American professional soccer history.

Okay, forget for a moment that this year's Red Bulls aren't even the biggest Red Bulls flop of the last three years. They're not even the biggest MLS flop of 2011 - not with the San Jose Earthquakes taking on water and sinking fast. Leander Schaerlaeckens has the attention span of a mayfly on meth, if he thinks this year's Red Bulls are an all-time failure.

But what, in fact, are the biggest flops in American soccer history? That might be fun to discuss!

What do you mean, "glorified Bleacher Report post"? What kind of attitude is that? C'mon, let's go hit Dave Litterer's site and have some fun! (EDIT - see? I even added one obvious entry that I left off - and I'll bet I forgot others!)

Philadelphia Field Club The very first champions of the great ASL of the 20's, Philadelphia Field Club won 17 games in 1922. They thereupon won a grand total of 18 games from 1923 to 1926, setting records for futility that wouldn't be matched for nearly fifty years. This particular mystery is solved when we read that the 1922 PFC team was actually Bethlehem Steel under a pseudonym. The Steelers competed in the ASL from Bethlehem for the rest of the ASL's lifespan, leaving PFC to pad the stats of players like Stark and McNab.

The 1968 Dallas Tornado 2-4-26, -81 goal differential. The worst team to actually finish its schedule since 1924 (see entry above). Lamar Hunt didn't give up on soccer after this, which by itself was probably enough to get him in the Hall of Fame.

The 1976 Philadelphia Atoms Steve Holroyd tells the sad story. During the US bicentennial, the soccer team of the nation's Revolutionary War capital was stocked with substandard Mexican pros, finished dead last, and went bust. THOSE WHO DON'T LEARN FROM HISTORY ARE DOOMED TO REPEAT IT.

Team America Although maybe an All-American team wasn't the way to go. Guys like Rick Davis decided to stay with teams that, y'know, won once in a while. Team America was an early example of what the USSF did with much more success from 1991 to 1993 - getting a core group of players together for World Cup qualifying. Maybe this was just an idea ahead of its time. Still, if failure were light bulbs, Team America would have been the Main Street Electrical Parade.

The NASL Y'know, it sort of behooves us to put these guys here. The ASL at least had the Great Depression as an excuse. Nothing killed the NASL except using expansion fees as crack cocaine to mask real financial difficulties. I hope we've learned from history - oh, MLS has added seven new teams in six years? Well, I'm sure they're all doing very, very well.

The 1998 World Cup Objectively an unfair entry. The US World Cup teams from 1954 to 1986 were, obviously, nothing to write sonnets about. But those teams didn't finish [EDIT] fourth in the 1995 Copa America. Those teams didn't have, almost by definition, any previous World Cup experience. Those teams didn't lose to freaking Iran. Steve Sampson still takes the lion's share of the blame, aging and/or substandard players still take too little, but no one came out of this looking good - with the possible exceptions of Cobi, McBride, Hejduk (who all played pretty well) and Marcelo Balboa (who alone among the miffed veterans kept his damn mouth shut, a positive example that was barely acknowledged, let alone copied). When Julie Foudy said that for four or five years, women's soccer was carrying the torch for the game in the United States, she was absolutely right, and this was what she was referring to.


The WUSA Y'know, it sort of behooves us to put these gals here. I will maintain until my fingers fall off that a WMLS would, if anything have flopped even sooner, and maybe taken down MMLS with it - the WUSA opened the same year MLS banned first division soccer in Florida, after all. But the business model and broadcasting decisions were so incredibly appalling, this league arguably set women's soccer back ten years. Folding right before the 2003 World Cup helped turn the US national team into bronze medalists, since the last thing the players needed during that tournament was to worry about reviving the league and saving their livelihoods.

1999 All-Star Game in San Diego This MLS? You wanted WUSA to join this MLS? Really? The death of John F. Kennedy Jr. prevented any TV ratings, but judging by the game attendance, it wouldn't have mattered. I was at this game - only hundreds of people can say that. We bought two upper deck tickets, moved to midfield close enough to shout "Hi Carlos!" to Hermosillo - and for him to turn and wave back to us. Beau Dure's book told the story of poor Doug Logan wandering around saying "Where is everybody?!" Worse still, the All-Star Game was a double-header with Chivas-Catolica - but Chivas fans failed to make the drive south. (Or the long, long, long drive north...I think the Powers That Were assumed that the Mexican border was where the Chivas fans began.) Even Don Garber nearly couldn't save this league.

Bora's Metrostars On his way out, Logan snarled over his shoulder that he could now watch some Mets games. This particualr bit of snark was forgivable, seeing as how hideous his local MLS team was in 1999. Bora Milutinovic's reputation as a miracle worker hadn't quite died out at this point, and Bora after all was both a former US national team coach and a beloved media personality. Few people realized that the Metros would give up over sixty goals, and not place a single player in the top twenty in scoring. Almost certainly the worst team in MLS history, this team is mainly notable for featuring a very young Tim Howard.

And Hans Backe's team is a bigger disappointment than this? Surely you jest.

San Jose 5, Los Angeles 2 (aet) (San Jose wins 5-4 on aggregate) About fifteen minutes in into the second leg of the MLS 2003 Western Conference playoffs, Peter Vagenas scored, giving the Galaxy a 2-0 lead in the game, 4-0 overall. The fact that I'm talking about this game in this list probably gives away the ending. [EDIT - Roger corrected me below.] The Galaxy were the second team to ever blow a four goal lead in a two-leg series. In the history of the world. (I'm pretty sure, anyway. It hasn't happened in Europe or South America, or in any major tournament.)

With each successive Earthquake goal, the San Jose fans went more and more deliriously mental. When local boy Chris Roner completed the aggregate comeback - in the 90th minute, naturally - Spartan Stadium was officially at Bugf*ck Defcon 1. Rodrigo Faria scored the golden goal six minutes into extra time - I'm surprised it took the Quakes that long, it seemed to me like they got the goal on the overtime kickoff.

Roner's career sadly ended soon after due to injury, Faria's career ended soon after because he was a head case. Spartan Stadium decided it was too sexy to host professional soccer, and is now content to be the home of a crummy college football team.

Chivas USA - adios soccer At the 2003 All-Star Game press conference, I asked Jorge Vergara a fairly stupid question, based on something I had misheard him say - I said "Wait, so Chivas USA will be a permanent team?"

"Yes," Vergara replied. "And, permanent champions."

This was the hype for a team that hadn't even picked a city to play in yet (I think that was what prompted my question about permanence). In fairness, that kind of arrogance is a lot of fun for fans of that team, provided it could be backed up.

Two problems, though. (1) It couldn't, and (2) what fans?

Because of the 1999 Metrostars played under shootout rules, and because the 2001 Mutiny (boy, why aren't they on this list?) only played 27 games, the 18 points CUSA managed in their first year is not the worst in MLS history. But the shotgun marriage of MLS journeymen and Chivas La Piedad never-would-bes was, to my poor eyes, the single worst team to ever take the field in a league game. Their leading scorer was the legendary Hector Cuadros...with four. On a team mandated to attack whenever possible - poor Brad Guzan probably still has nightmares.

The team mashed the undo button, hiring a former Chicago Fire coach whose name escapes me and drafting a couple of guys called Bornstein and Kljestan. For some weird reason, the future backbone of the US national team failed to appeal to Guadalajara fans.

This was simply a laughably bad team on the field. But when it comes to identifying a target market, preparing the product, and presenting it to customers, Chivas USA should be studied in business schools throughout the world. I'm sure they study the Vietnam War very carefully in West Point, and that lasted more than seven years, too.

Roma FC 0, Chivas USA 0 (Roma advances 4-2 on penalty kicks The US Open Cup has been going since 1914, but this was probably the biggest upset. Roma was (and is) an amateur team out of Dallas. In 2006 they had a few former pros, and Chivas was playing with a man down after forward and super-genius Ante Razov got himself red-carded. Still, Chivas USA did start Palencia, Claudio Suarez and Brad Guzan, so any excuses CUSA did feel like making fell on deaf ears. MLS sides have had their fair share of non-league embarrassments - some would say the Galaxy's CONCACAF kerflop against Puerto Rico should go here - but thanks to Chivas USA, MLS is 0-1-0 against amateur teams in all competitions.

(I think. I should double-check with Josh, though.)

(EDIT - nope.  Unshockingly, I bungled this badly - PDL teams are amateur, and MLS teams face them all the time.  The MLS is 3-1-0 against USASA teams.)

Juan Carlos Osorio Chicago and New York nearly came to blows over retaining Osorio's services back at the end of 2007, which seems amazing in retrospect. The Fire dumped Dave Sarachan, still the last Fire coach to win anything, for the privilege of renting Osorio. And so intent were the Red Bulls on getting Osorio, that they unceremoniously dumped their current coach - fellow by the name of Arena. Oops.

Osorio's record in New York was masked effectively, if briefly, by their 2008 playoff run to MLS Cup, despite finishing fifth in the division - yes, once upon a time it was the Eastern Conference that had five teams better than any team in the West. But the Red Bulls and Osorio were utterly exposed the next year, as New York managed two wins between March and August. Richie Williams deserves a lot of credit, in fact, for keeping that year's Red Bulls out of the all-time record books, although that particular record wouldn't have actually left town.

Osorio took the Once Caldas job and lived happily ever after. The Fire and the Red Bulls have been perennial Eastern Conference afterthoughts since then, while Arena and Sarachan lounge around Carson. Knowing Chicago and NYRB, if they did have to pick coaches from the current Galaxy staff, they'd get into a bidding war over Curt Onalfo.

Nery Castillo From Juan Berthy Suarez to (with my luck) Robbie Keane, the rich and glorious history of MLS Designated Player (a.k.a. "marquee player") flops can provide fodder for a half-dozen half-assed Bleacher Report posts by itself. But with no goals in eight appearances, Nery "I'm in Europe" Castillo edges out a strong field. Just to put it in perspective, Castillo scored fewer MLS goals than Denilson, and cost ten times as much as Luis Angel Landin. The Fire have shown a remarkable loyalty to their Mexican fanbase, though, and currently are hoping Pavel Pardo can restore some dignity to the team.

The 2018/2022 US World Cup bid The 1986 bid went badly, don't get me wrong. It only took Mexico eight minutes to beat Henry Kissinger and Werner Fricker. Call this heresy, though, but muffing that bid was one of the best things that happened to American soccer. The actual team was in no position to do anything for the sport, except maybe give Johnny Carson a few punchlines. Even in 1994, the US felt willing or obliged to put games indoors, an experiment that has not been repeated - who knows what might have been tried to fit the game into stadiums that, to say the least, were not designed with the World Cup in mind. Most importantly, the NASL was well on its way to becoming what it is today, and the World Cup would not have saved it. Using the tournament to build a league, rather than try to reanimate a corpse, was a much better idea.

But the dual bid for '18 and '22...that hurts. We hear nothing but happy talk about it these days, but missing out on either tournament is a serious setback. The sport gets a boost every four years as it is, just from people packing bars and watching at odd hours. Imagine, just imagine, what could have been accomplished. 1994 is still the best attended tournament in World Cup history, but does anyone doubt another US cup would obliterate that record?

This is still the amazing thing - FIFA, its sponsors, and its officials, would have made obscene amounts of money off another US World Cup. But those stupid old men had to take a little money now, rather than a lot of money eight and twelve years from now. How do you run a crime syndicate bigger than the United Nations, and be that short-sighted? Fine, we were outbribed, and it's tough to outbribe an oil baron. But it's as if Sunil Gulati, Dan Flynn, and Nike forgot everything Alan Rothenberg taught them. There were plenty of signs long before the vote that these elections were going to reek. Well, there are ways to play that game the hard way, too - if you can't get votes, get evidence.

There's still some hope that this particular fixture will be replayed - Colombia didn't get to keep 1986, after all, and 2022 is a long way off. It should be the mission of Sunil Gulati, and his successors, to sabotage that tournament by any means short of outright murder.

Well, okay, I don't mean murder...of innocents.

magicJack They get off this list with a decent playoff run, I suppose. But after buying every well-known US national team player, the Boca Raton Borislows managed to win the regular season WPS title by only -14 points. They do get to host a playoff game, which should make Florida Atlantic happy. But with the amount of time and angst that went into turning the Washington Freedom into a sad joke, I don't think that 9-7-2 and a 0 goal differential was what Borislow was hoping for. And I hear there are e-mails proving it. It's so bad that if magicJack beats Boston and Philadelphia, to get to the WPS Championship game? Marta will be the sympathetic neutral favorite. Although if you thought David Stern handing a trophy to Mark Cuban was awkward, then you should love the thought of Anne-Marie Elieraas presenting the trophy to Dan Borislow. If I were her, and it looked like the Jacks were going to jump the Flash, I'd leave the trophy on the sideline at the 85th minute and try to beat the Rochester traffic.

Roger Allaway probably has more suggestions, and I'm sure I missed a few worthy candidates - like this year's Atlanta Beat, rapidly becoming the most appropriate nickname in sports.