The Designated Player: 100 Years of U.S. Soccer History

Barry Staver/The Denver Post via Getty Images US Soccer

The U.S. Soccer Federation is 100 years old today. For a game with “no history” in this country, that’s a lot of history.

As a kid in England, taking my first tentative steps toward knowing my own local soccer history, I was fascinated by the team names of the competing FA Cup finalists listed in the historical records. With no frame of reference other than the names themselves, the exploits of Royal Engineers, Wanderers, Corinthians, and Old Etonians seemed impossibly exotic and fascinating. Learning more about the actual history behind the names was actually bittersweet — for one, the team names acquired a fixed geographical place when you learned about them, whereas up until then they were just floating signifiers, abstract forces that might feasibly show up in my street, not that much different from Batman. Discovering and growing with the knowledge of what, for example, Old Etonians actually were could only be disappointing — David Cameron is no Batman. And also, in my intense-little-guy reasoning, if a team was actually a place and the team didn’t exist anymore, than that must mean places might not exist anymore, and then …

Essentially, thanks for teaching me about death, Martin Tyler, with your so-called Story of Football.

But when I moved to America a decade ago, and began to take an interest in the soccer scene here, and ultimately its own history, I had the chance at a do-over for that first magical encounter with historical team names from around the country. Places I might never visit, but that I first saw as part of a list of similar names, each with a small (usually) single-digit number written next to it and paired with another name with a slightly smaller number of its own:

Fall River Marksmen 4, Vesper Buick 2 … Bethlehem Steel 3, Brooklyn Celtic 1 …

So yes, the U.S. Soccer Federation is 100 years old today, though organized soccer goes back even further than that in the U.S. Perhaps you know the history well — if you do, you’re in a minority. The ebb and flow of attempting to establish the game here is a rich story that bears the traces of mass migration, industrial bases rising and falling, and leagues being dashed by financial hubris (whether the external kind that fueled the Great Depression or the internal kind that boomed and busted with the first NASL). Yet it’s also a history about which USSF itself has been ambivalent.

In part that’s realpolitik at work. “There are no second acts in American lives,” said F. Scott Fitzgerald, but he knew more than anyone that there was aggressive reinvention — a willingness to deny the past had ever happened. The relative success story of the last quarter-century of U.S. soccer is so much more appealing in some ways as some Nietzschean will-to-power narrative than the more complex reality of a barely lit torch somehow being passed, even through the “lost generation” of U.S. soccer in the 1980s. And the linked historical development of MLS depends on a conspicuous prudence that acknowledges the failures of the past (specifically NASL), but also, for the sake of sponsors and broadcast partners, claims that “this time” it’s different.

So it was nice to see U.S. Soccer acknowledge its 100 years in New York this week — even if it was with a sort of Empire State Building–lighting, closing bell–ringing, Times Square–occupying, slightly rootless pageantry. Their full history, with all the impossible romance of the U.S. Open Cup being somehow kept continuously alive for 100 years (of cup competitions run continuously, only the FA and Scottish Cups, and Spain’s Copa del Rey, are older) is, despite the governing body, a rich one and worth celebrating.

I duly sat down to do a bracket last night. I thought it’d be fun to work out the best team name in U.S. club soccer history. For what it’s worth, I still can’t decide between Bethlehem Steel and Holley Carburetor — the former was the greater team and has a name that evokes a crime-fighting born-again lawyer who wrestles with her ethics, but the latter was the great punk drummer that never was (and went down to the heaviest defeat in U.S. Open Cup history, a 7-0 loss to the Fall River Marksmen in 1927). I thought it would be fun, but it quickly felt way too glib an appropriation of a history I feel genuinely drawn to (and anyone who’s read my columns here, or indeed the last sentence, knows I have a pretty high threshold for what constitutes “too glib”), so instead I’m going to cut my own ramblings short for once and let the results stand alone, because they’re beautiful that way:

1913–14 Brooklyn Field Club 2–1 Brooklyn Celtic
1914–15 Bethlehem Steel 3–1 Brooklyn Celtic
1915–16 Bethlehem Steel 1–0 Fall River Rovers
1916–17 Fall River Rovers 1–0 Bethlehem Steel
1917–18 Fall River Rovers 2–2 Bethlehem Steel
1918–19 Bethlehem Steel 2–0 Paterson
1919–20 Ben Millers 2–1 Fore River
1920–21 Robins Dry Dock 4–2 Scullin Steel
1921–22 Scullin Steel 3–2 Todd Shipyards
1922–23 Paterson F.C. 2–2 Scullin Steel
1922–23 (R) Paterson F.C. 3–0 (forfeit) Scullin Steel
1923–24 Fall River Marksmen 4–2 Vesper Buick
1924–25 Shawsheen Indians 3–0 Chicago Canadian Club
1925–26 Bethlehem Steel 7–2 Ben Millers
1927 Fall River Marksmen 7–0 Holley Carburetor 1928 Chicago Bricklayers 1–1 New York Nationals
1928 New York Nationals 3–0 (4–1 agg.) Chicago Bricklayers
1928–29 New York Hakoah 2–0 St. Louis Madison Kennel
1928–29 New York Hakoah 3–0 (5–0 agg.) St. Louis Madison Kennel
1930 Fall River Marksmen 7–2 Cleveland Bruell
1930 Fall River Marksmen 2–1 (9–3 agg.) Cleveland Bruell
1931 Fall River Marksmen 6–2 Chicago Bricklayers
1931 Chicago Bricklayers 1–1 Fall River Marksmen
1931 (R) Fall River Marksmen 2–0 (8–2 agg.) Chicago Bricklayers
1932 New Bedford Whalers 3–3 Stix, Baer and Fuller
1932 New Bedford Whalers 2–1 (5–4 agg.) Stix, Baer and Fuller
1933 Stix, Baer and Fuller 1–0 New York Americans 1933 Stix, Baer and Fuller 2–1 New York Americans
1934 Stix, Baer and Fuller (11–5 agg.) Pawtucket Rangers (3 games)
1935 St. Louis Central Breweries (7-4 agg.) Pawtucket Rangers (3 games)
1936 Uhrik Truckers 2-1 (agg) St. Louis Shamrocks
1937 New York Americans 4-3 (agg) St. Louis Shamrocks
1938 Chicago Sparta 6-2 (agg) Brooklyn St. Mary’s Celtic
1939 Brooklyn St. Mary’s Celtic 5-1 (agg) Manhattan Beer
1940 Baltimore 2-2 Chicago Sparta
1941 Pawtucket F.C. 4-2, 4-3AET) Detroit Chrysler
1942 Pittsburgh Gallatin 2-1, 4-2 Pawtucket F.C.
1943 Brooklyn Hispano 2-2(AET), 3-2 Morgan Strasser
1944 Brooklyn Hispano (2) 4-0 Morgan Strasser
1945 Brookhattan 4-1, 2-1 Cleveland Americans
1946 Chicago Viking A.A. 1-1, 2-1 Ponta Delgada S.C.
1947 Ponta Delgada S.C. 6-1, 3-2 Chicago Sparta
1948 St. Louis Simpkins-Ford 3-2 Brookhattan-Galicia
1949 Morgan Strasser 0-1, 4-2 Philadelphia Nationals
1950 St. Louis Simpkins-Ford 2-0, 1-1 Ponta Delgada S.C.
1951 New York German-Hungarians 2-4, 6-2(AET) Heidelberg S.C.
1952 Harmarville Hurricanes 3-4, 4-1(AET) Philadelphia Nationals
1953 Chicago Falcons 2-0, 1-0 Harmarville Hurricanes
1954 New York Americans 1-1, 2-0 St. Louis Kutis S.C.
1955 S.C. Eintracht 2-0 Los Angeles Danes
1956 Harmarville Hurricanes 0-1, 3-1(AET) Chicago Schwaben
1957 St. Louis Kutis S.C. 3-0, 3-1 New York Hakoah
1958 Los Angeles Kickers 2–1 Baltimore Pompei
1959 McIlvaine Canvasbacks 4-3 Fall River S.C.
1960 Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals 5–3 Los Angeles Kickers
1961 Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals 2-2, 5-2 Los Angeles Scots
1962 New York Hungaria 3-2 San Francisco Scots
1963 Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals 1–0 Los Angeles Armenians
1964 Los Angeles Kickers 2-2(AET), 2-0 Philadelphia Ukrainian
1965 New York Ukrainians 1–1, 4–1 Chicago Hansa
1966 Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals 1-0, 3-0 Orange County SC
1967 Greek American AA 4-2 Orange County SC
1968 Greek American AA 1-1, 1-0 Chicago Olympic
1969 Greek American AA 1-0 Montabello Armenians
1970 Elizabeth S.C. 2-1 Los Angeles Croatia
1971 New York Hota 6–4 San Pedro Yugoslavs
1972 Elizabeth S.C. 1–0 San Pedro Yugoslavs
1973 Maccabi Los Angeles 5–3 Cleveland Inter
1974 Greek American AA 2–0 Chicago Croatian
1975 Maccabi Los Angeles 1–0 New York Inter-Giuliana
1976 SFAC 1–0 New York Inter-Giuliana
1977 Maccabi Los Angeles (3) 5–1 Philadelphia United German-Hungarians
1978 Maccabi Los Angeles (4) 2–0 Bridgeport Vasco da Gama
1979 Brooklyn Dodgers S.C. 2–1 Chicago Croatian
1980 New York Pancyprian-Freedoms 3–2 Maccabi Los Angeles
1981 Maccabi Los Angeles 5–1 Brooklyn Dodgers S.C.
1982 1982 New York Pancyprian-Freedoms 4–3 Maccabi Los Angeles
1983 New York Pancyprian-Freedoms 4–3 St. Louis Kutis S.C.
1984 New York AO Krete 4–2 San Pedro Yugoslavs
1985 San Francisco Greek American 2–1 St. Louis Kutis S.C.
1986 St. Louis Kutis S.C. 1–0 San Pedro Yugoslavs
1987 Club España 0–0 (3–2 pen.) Seattle Mitre Eagles
1988 St. Louis Busch Seniors 2–1 Greek-American A.C.
1989 St. Petersburg Kickers 2–1 * Greek American AA
1990 A.A.C. Eagles 2–1 Brooklyn Italians
1991 Brooklyn Italians 1–0 Richardson Rockets
1992 San Jose Oaks 2–1 Bridgeport Vasco da Gama
1993 El Farolito 5–0 United German-Hungarians
1994 Greek-American A.C. 3–0 Bavarian Leinenkugel
1995 Richmond Kickers 1–1 (4–2 pen.) El Paso Patriots
1996 D.C. United 3–0 Rochester Rhinos
1997 Dallas Burn 0–0 (5–3 pen.) D.C. United
1998 Chicago Fire 2–1 Columbus Cre
1999 Rochester Rhinos 2–0 Colorado Rapids
2000 Chicago Fire 2–1 Miami Fusion
2001 Los Angeles Galaxy 2–1 New England Revolution
2002 Columbus Crew 1–0 Los Angeles Galaxy
2003 Chicago Fire 1–0 MetroStars
2004 Kansas City Wizards 1–0 Chicago Fire
2005 Los Angeles Galaxy 1–0 FC Dallas
2006 Chicago Fire 3–1 Los Angeles Galaxy
2007 New England Revolution 3–2 FC Dallas
2008 D.C. United 2–1 Charleston Battery
2009 Seattle Sounders FC 2–1 D.C. United
2010 Seattle Sounders FC (2) 2–1 Columbus Crew
2011 Seattle Sounders FC (3) 2–0 Chicago Fire
2012 Sporting Kansas City (2) 1–1 (3–2 pen.) Seattle Sounders FC

Filed Under: Graham Parker, MLS, Soccer, US Soccer