1967 - United Soccer Association (USA)
In 1966, a consortium of American businessmen attempted to create a professional soccer league in North America. Sanctioned by both the USSFA and FIFA, the North American Soccer League was founded in 1967. However, at the same time a rival group founded another league, known as the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL). To avoid confusion, the former consortium changed their league name to the United Soccer Association (USA).
The USA was all set for a summer 1968 launch, however a year earlier the NPSL brokered a major agreement with CBS to broadcast games almost immedietly, and their league got underway. This led the USA to launch its league early to avoid loosing to its rival. This move was made however, in spite of the fact that the USA didn't yet have any teams or players of its own. So, to fill the void for 1967, European and South American teams were invited over for the summer to enter teams and participate against one another.
The call to America was answered by 12 clubs, and a league was quickly set up. Uruguay's C.A. Cerro, Holland's ADO Den Haag, Italy's Cagliari, Dundee United, Aberdeen and Hibernian of Scotland, Brazil's Bangu AC and Stoke City, Sunderland and Wolverhampton of England were all 'imported' and set up in various cities throughout the union. Two other teams to arrive off the boat were Glentoran from Northern Ireland and Shamrock Rovers from Ireland. In order to boost the league's popularity, the consortium laughably announced these twelve clubs as "the twelve best in the world".
Rovers had just finished their domestic league in Ireland in a disappointing 7th place, however they had won the FAI Cup. To America, they brought Billy Dixon, Tommy Kinsella, Tommy Kelly, Frank O'Neill, Mick Leech, Ronnie Nolan, Bobby Gilbert, Pat Dunne, Eamonn Gregg, Mick Kearin, Davey Pugh, Paddy Mulligan, Mick Smyth and Scotland's Dougie Wood with them. Player-Manager Liam Tuohy also came over to coach the side. In addition, the franchise were handed a guest player for the summer, in the form of Brazilian-born American international Carlos Metidieri. Also drafted into the squad was Carlos' younger brother Gilson.
|Boston Rovers 1967|
The rest of the teams were distributed and renamed as follows:
Throughout the league were some big names in world football. Italian star striker Roberto Boninsegna lined out with the Chicago Mustangs while English goalkeeping legend Gordon Banks appeared for the Cleveland Stokers.
After a number of exhibition matches, the league kick off on May 28th. Initially, it looked like a major success as the Houston Stars (Bangu) attracted a crowd of 35,000 fans for their first home match. In Dallas' Cotton Bowl, Tornado (Dundee United) took in 16,000 people in their season opener. The USA was off to a better start than the NPSL, as no team drew in less than 7,000 fans that weekend.
Subsequent crowds didn't keep the pace however, and soon the league's average attendance dipped and stayed rooted at 7,500 a game. Rovers' average attendance for the summer was just 4,000 fans.
|Frank O'Neill in action against the Detroit Cougars|
|Liam Tuohy, Rovers' player-manager|
Their one season in the United States was not a prosperous one for Rovers. They finished 6th (last) in the Eastern Division after winning only 2 of their 12 games. Liam Tuohy and Frank O'Neill were the side's top scorers with three goals each. Roberto Boninsegna was the league's top goalscorer with 10 goals to is name.
|New York Skyliners||12||2||4||6||15||17||10|
The League's Final was played between Eastern Divion winners the Washington Whips and the winners of the Western Division, the Los Angeles Wolves. Essentially a match between Aberdeen and Wolverhampton Wanderers, Los Angeles ran out 6-5 winners in the season's only real great game.
The following season saw the USA and the NPSL merge to form the first North American Soccer League (NASL). This league would run until 1984, and saw names as big as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best and Johnny Giles compete in their later years.
The 1968 season therefore saw most USA teams disbanded, or loose their connection to their mother club. Boston kept a link with Shamrock Rovers, but became a franchise in their own right. Moving to Fenway Park (a baseball ground in Boston) they changed their name to the Boston Beacons and competed for one year in the new NASL.
Some Rovers players returned that summer to compete for the Beacons. Paddy Mulligan had returned with the Rovers squad to Dublin after the USA was finished. In 1968, Rovers sent him on loan to the Beacons and he returned to Boston to line-out for the new side, enticed probably by the money on offer. Still only 23, he scored 4 goals for the Beacons in his 21 games that season. Other players to return were Davey Pugh and Tommy Kelly. The side had changed dramatically however, and had lost its Irish make-up. Players from Yugoslavia, Sweden, Jamaica, Denmark, Suriname, Spain, Ethiopia and Greece among others now made up the squad.
Two other Irishmen Eric Barber and Joe Haverty lined out for the Kansas City Spurs that season, having played in the NPSL the previous year.
With another meagre average attendance of 4,000; the Beacons finished the season in 5th (last) place of their Atlantic Division. In 1969, the franchise were disbanded. Mulligan moved to Chelsea that year, beginning a glittering career in England, and earning the first of his 50 Ireland caps.
Boston would have to wait six years for another franchise soccer club, when the Boston Minutemen were established. Shamrock Rovers would go into decline for a decade following their trial in the United States, but returned to prominence in the early 1980s.
North America would be graced with Irish talent in later years though as Johnny Giles, Steve Heighway and Gerry Daly among others would play and manage in the country. This tradition continues today with Robbie Keane, Darren O'Dea and Andy O'Brien lining out in the MLS.