There exists, in the American soccer-sphere, an uneasy tension between competing narratives about the history of the game in North America. This tension derives from the tendency, in officials of Major League Soccer, to speak as if first-division professional football in the USA was created in the aftermath of the 1994 World Cup, kicking off for the very first time in 1996.
Of course, every league does this. The Barclay's Premier League in England frequently cites 'records' which only count the history since 1992, when the top flight sheared itself off of the Football League in order to keep the television money for itself. The depth of the game's roots in its homeland mean that no one takes such records very seriously, and for the most part citation of first-division statistics and standings going back more than a century are the norm outside of public relations efforts.
Here in America, though, it can feel a bit different; when Don Garber says he wants to "own the soccer conversation in America," I wonder how literally he takes such proclamations. It would be lovely to think that there is this tangibleness to the truth, that bullshit and whitewash will always feel just that crucial bit off. Unfortunately, these kinds of wisdom are developed in reflection over many examples, especially examples from similar situations in the past. And, sadly, we know the past will recede from memory if it is not honored. We are short-lived, short-sighted creatures.
Recently, a consortium of American soccer writers voted on an all-time Best XI for the USA. Not a single member of the first team played prior to the MLS era. No one from the 1930 team who finished third in the World Cup; no one from the 1950 team that beat England, 1-0. No Billy Goncalves, no Bert Pateanaude, no Joe Gaetjens. Sigh.
The argument that "we could only vote for players we have seen" is a strange one; I swear I spent at least 8 hours a day arguing with friends about whether Greg Maddux would thrive with the old, raised mound, and other insane propositions. Suddenly, with soccer, the mind simply recoils at the exercise?
The effort to keep those memories alive in Chicago got an unexpected boost today from our cousin site Bleed Cubbie Blue in a brief story about the history of professional soccer at Wrigley Field. And, for our part, here's some fantastic vintage Sting highlights, this from a 1981 matchup with the Cosmos: