Home sweet home?
Posted on September 16, 2013 12:03 am
A sixth round of odd facts in American soccer history.
—In 1989, a World Cup qualifier between the United States and El Salvador, scheduled to be played at El Salvador’s main stadium in San Salvador, had to be moved to another site after crowd trouble a few months earlier caused FIFA to bar El Salvador from playing qualifiers at home for the rest of that year. El Salvador’s first choice as the replacement site, rejected by FIFA, was Los Angeles! That’s right. El Salvador wanted to play its home game against the United States in the United States. The game was eventually played on a neutral site in Honduras, but El Salvador’s original pick does tell you something about why the U.S. hasn’t played a qualifier against a Latin American opponent in Southern California in 28 years.
—In early 1990, Paul Caligiuri (above), who had spent the previous few years playing in Germany, remarked on the almost total absence of public debate in the United States about national-team selections. How different it is today, less than 25 years later. It seems like some American soccer fans spend about 23 hours a day throwing rotten fruit and rotten adjectives at each other over this issue.
—Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., which was demolished in 2010 at the age of only 35, saw a lot of good soccer in its relatively brief life, including more than 180 New York Cosmos games, seven games of the 1994 World Cup, eight U.S. men’s national team games and two FIFA all-star games. So here is a guess at what an all-star team of the players who appeared there might look like: Goalkeeper–Dino Zoff. Defenders–Bobby Moore, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Daniel Passarella. Midfielders–Leo Messi, Zico, Michel Platini, Diego Maradona. Forwards–Johan Cruyff, Pele. Not a bad group. I doubt that any other American stadium can come close to it.
—The first American to be coach of the national team of another country was Mark Scott Thompson, who was coach of El Salvador from 1930 to 1935. El Salvador was not yet a FIFA member in those years, but it did play some games (Thank you to Big Soccer poster usafan12 for telling me about Thompson, whom I had not previously known about). Thompson’s successors as American coaches of other countries have been Steve Sampson in Costa Rica, Fernando Clavijo in Haiti, Bob Bradley in Egypt, Ian Mork in Belize and Jack Stefanowski in Nepal.
—The European Champions League, which got its start in 1956 as the European Champions Cup, is probably better known to American TV viewers than any soccer competition other than the World Cup. So who was the first American to play in it? Was it a big name like Eric Wynalda or Claudio Reyna? Not that big. The first was Steve Trittschuh, who played for Sparta Prague of the Czechoslovakian first division in the 1990-91 season, and included several Champions Cup games in his season’s work.
—There are a number of differences between MLS and the NASL (the original one), particularly in their objectives, spending habits and type of players. One that is not remarked on as much as others is their schedule. It’s easy to think of the two “summer” leagues as playing the same schedule, but it’s not true. The MLS schedule begins in early march, with the regular season lasting until late October and the playoffs usually ending in November (last season, the final was on Dec. 1). The NASL season generally began a month later, in early April, and it finished far earlier than MLS does. The latest the championship game ever was played was Oct. 3, and in seven of the 17 NASL seasons, the title game was in August. Seasons in MLS, which seems more willing to challenge American football, have averaged about eight weeks longer than NASL seasons were.