The cup-hoisting Bill McPherson

mcpherson scan0001 Until just five years ago, Bill McPherson was the all-time leader in games played in first-division American soccer, with the 370 games that he played in the original American Soccer League of the 1920s. In the 2008 MLS season, Steve Ralston passed him. Since then, McPherson has dropped to fifth place on that list, which includes both regular-season and playoff games. Kevin Hartman (the current leader at 465), Jaime Moreno and Jeff Cunningham also have passed him him.

Actually, McPherson played a lot more pro games than that in his career, thanks to his ability to bounce back from adversity and find new situations for himself several times, although the exact number of games is unknown. He began his career in 1919 with Greenock Morton, a first-division team in his hometown of Greenock, Scotland. In 1922, he moved to America, where wages for soccer players were much better than they were in Scotland and a new life beckoned, to sign with the new Fall River Marksmen team. He stayed with that franchise for a decade, including its eventual moves to New York and New Bedford at the tail end of its life, winning U.S. Open Cups with it in 1924, 1927, 1930, 1931 and 1932.

The Marksmen, by then playing as the New Bedford Whalers, won the 1932 U.S. Open Cup from Stix, Baer & Fuller of St. Louis in their final game. McPherson was one of several New Bedford players who stayed in St. Louis after that game. He played two seasons in St. Louis, winning U.S. Open Cups with Stix in 1933 and 1934, giving him five in a row and seven overall. Stix changed sponsors after the 1935 season, and while some of Stix' transplanted New Englanders stayed with the renamed team (one, Alex McNab, lived the rest of his life in St. Louis), McPherson moved back east and reached the U.S. Open Cup final again in 1935 with the Pawtucket Rangers.

McPherson's record of having won the U.S. Open Cup seven times and reached the final eight times is second only to that of Billy Gonsalves, who won it eight times and reached the final 11 times. McPherson's ability to win championships wasn't limited to the U.S. Open Cup. He won the ASL title five times with Fall River, and had two league championships in St. Louis with Stix. He also won the ASL's Lewis Cup in 1930 as part of Fall River's ASL-Open Cup-Lewis Cup triple.

McPherson, a right-sided midfielder, was the playmaking engine of the greatest Fall River Marksmen teams, playing behind a forward line that included four future Hall of Famers, McNab, Gonsalves, Bert Patenaude and Werner Nilsen. In both Fall River and St. Louis, he was part of a famous right-side triangle along with McNab, who played outside right, and Gonsalves, who played inside right. McPherson was not a big goalscorer. In those 370 ASL games, he scored only 53 goals, leaving most of Fall River's goalscoring to the famous forwards in front of him.

That list of all-time first-division appearances, which I began keeping around 2005, once was a mixture of players from MLS and the original ASL, with some NASL players. As MLS players built up more and more games, the NASL players fell behind (the NASL leader, Bob Lenarduzzi with 312 games, is now in 36th place). Now the ASL players are dropping back as well, with the list becoming increasingly dominated by MLS players. McPherson is now the only ASL player still in the top 10.