Team America

davis scan0001 In the fading years of the North American Soccer League, it used several strategies to try to resuscitate itself and regain its success of a few years before. One of those moves, which didn't work any better than the others, was Team America, which played in the NASL in the 1983 season.

Team America, at least in theory, was the U.S. men's national team. The coach was Alkis Panagoulias, who also was coach of the national team, and who later coached Greece in the 1994 World Cup. Many of the U.S. national-team players were on the roster, but not all of them (this was a crucial point).

The Washington Diplomats had folded after the 1981 NASL season, and in 1982, for the first time since 1973, there was no NASL team in Washington. Team America, which played its home games at RFK Stadium, was designed to fill that gap, and it did, but for only one season.

Team America was supposed to be a U.S. national team-in-training, particularly with an eye toward the next cycle of World Cup qualifying. Teams do evolve from season to season, but still, on Sept. 29, 1984, when the United States began that next cycle, its starting lineup included only five players who had played for Team America the year before, too much of a difference to be accounted for by just one year's worth of evolution. The problem was rooted in the fact that not all of the NASL's top Americans played for Team America. Other NASL teams were supposed to be releasing their American-citizen players to Team America. None of them did so happily, and there were a few cases of absolute refusal, along with some cases in which players themselves made that decision, declining to leave the clubs they had been playing for. For example, from the New York Cosmos, national-team players Chico Borja and Jeff Durgan did play for Team America in 1983, but national-team captain Rick Davis, Angelo DiBernardo and Steve Moyers didn't. Other national-team players who played against Team America in the 1983 NASL season, rather than for it, included Winston DuBose of the Tulsa Roughnecks and Hugo Perez of the San Diego Sockers. Davis appears in the photo above, playing for the Cosmos against Team America.

Team America began its season well with victories over the Seattle Sounders and Tulsa Roughnecks, and by the end of June had an 8-5 record. Eight consecutive defeats in July put an end to that surge, however. Team America finished the season last in the 12-team league with a 10-20 record and 79 standings points (it took 124 to make the playoffs). At the turnstiles, they followed a similar pattern. Six of their first eight home games drew crowds of over 10,000. Only one of their last eight did. They finished the season with a home average of 12,769 per game, boosted by two early crowds of over 30,000.

Team America did have some effect on the NASL beyond Washington and 1983, but not the one the NASL had hoped for. At the beginning of the 1983 season, before the numbers began to show what a poor idea Team America had been, the Montreal Manic announced that in the 1984 season, they would be changing their name to Team Canada and becoming an all Canadian team. The Manic, who had been a successful team in 1981 and '82, averaging more than 20,000 attendance per game, never made it to 1984. With the announcement, their attendance nosedived, and they folded after the 1983 season (as did Team America).

The NASL accomplished some good things, but it was not immune to shooting itself in the foot.