Soccer in the United States,1900-1920

This article originally appeared, translated into German, in the Third Quarter 1996 issue of Fussball Weltzeitschrift (World Football Journal), a publication of the International Federation for Football History and Statistics, located in Weisbaden, Germany.


During the period of 1900 to 1920, the sport of soccer was going through the same early activities in the United States that it was in many other countries: The formation of national governing organizations, the establishment of competitions to determine national champions, and start of ventures into competition against other countries. But soccer was in a much better position in the United States than it has been in more recent decades. As a result of the waves of immigration from Europe of the 19th century, it still was a major sport in the United States. Of the four leading American team sports of today, baseball, American football, basketball and ice hockey, only baseball was well established professionally at that time. American football was still a game played primarily by the colleges; the National Football League wasn’t founded until the 1920s. Ice hockey was still largely a Canadian sport. And the National Basketball Association was decades away. Soccer was not yet the secondary sport that it is today in the United States.

The first two decades of this century were a fertile time for soccer in the United States.

I. The formation of the USFA and the affiliation to FIFA.

At the start of the 20th century, there was no organization governing the sport of soccer in the United States, as also was the case in all but a few European countries. There had been an organization, the American Football Association (AFA), but it had ceased to exist in 1899.

The American Football Association had been formed in 1884 and had organized the American team for the United States’ first two full international games, against Canada in 1885 and 1886. It also had organized a cup competition, the American Cup, but that, too, was dormant, having last been held in 1899. Both those 1885 and 1886 U.S. national teams and the early years of the American Cup had been dominated by what may have been the first outstanding American team, O.N.T., sponsored by the Clark Thread Mills of Kearny, N.J. Five of the 11 members of the team that played Canada in 1885 had been from O.N.T., and six of the 11 in 1886. O.N.T. had won the first three American Cups, in 1885, 1886 and 1887.

Sam T.N. Foulds and Paul Harris described the American Football Association well in their 1978 book, America’s Soccer Heritage:

“The American Football Association was a loosely knit organization that provided uniform rule interpretations and an annual Cup competition that encompassed the entire Eastern soccer complex. Although the individual sectional leagues and associations maintained their autonomy, the American Football Association laid the groundwork for an eventual national governing structure. It helped the growth of soccer until 1899, when a series of circumstances brought its activities to a halt. With the general labor unrest in Fall River [Massachusetts] and other mill areas following the depression [of 1894], thousands of workers were unemployed. Conditions made it impossible for the New England clubs to function. In New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, professionalism was creating havoc among the established clubs and their players. The predatory tactics of many teams in acquiring players for their rosters had set asunder the best laid plans for an orderly and efficient operation.

“It was not until 1906 that the American Football Association rose again from the ashes of disillusionment. The visits of touring teams from England had stimulated new interest in the game of soccer countrywide and many new clubs were springing up. The revival of college soccer with the formation of the Inter-Collegiate Association also helped to disseminate enthusiasm for the sport. The American Football Association, with its open cup competition, had once again produced a force with potential for national jurisdiction over the game. Originally, the association had an amateur orientation, but with its rebirth it also became a voice for the professional interests of the East.”

Nevertheless, there were many elements of the sport in the United States that did not feel that their interests were really represented by the American Football Association.

Foulds and Harris describe the problems:

“Over the years, the American Football Association developed an informal alliance with the British associations of England and Scotland rather than with the recently organized international FIFA confederation. This deference of the association to the British soccer powers hit a sour note with many American soccer people, who felt that the United States national body should be entirely devoid of ties with any other particular country except where the mutual interests of both were concerned.

“The American Football Association, despite its concern with soccer in the East, displayed very little interest in national expansion. This conservative attitude led to a growing feeling among rival soccer groups that there was room for a more aggressive and imaginative administration to govern soccer on a nationwide basis.”

In addition there was the problem, as in many soccer-playing countries at that time, of a division between the amateurs and the professionals. After its revival in 1906, the American Football Association became concerned foremost with the affairs of the professional side of the game, which was beginning to flourish in a few places such as northern New Jersey and southeastern New England.

The situation began to resolve itself in October 1911, with the formation of an organization called the American Amateur Football Association (AAFA). The AAFA was an outgrowth of the Southern New York State Association, which had not become as involved with the AFA as had associations in neighboring states. The formation of the AAFA was the first step toward the founding of the organization that has governed the sport in the United States to this day, and which is now known as the United States Soccer Federation.

The man elected as the president of the AAFA at its founding was a New York physician named Dr. G. Randolph Manning. Dr. Manning had been born in England and then was educated in Germany, particularly at the University of Freiburg. While in Germany, he had been involved in the formation of the Deutscher Fussball Bund in 1900.

One of the first acts of the new organization was to seek recognition from FIFA. Accordingly, Thomas W. Cahill, the secretary of the AAFA, was sent to the FIFA Congress meeting in the summer of 1912 in Stockholm, Sweden. The AFA’s interests also were represented at the FIFA Congress, by Sir Frederick J. Wall, the secretary of the Football Association in England.

Wall’s position was not to seek FIFA membership for the AFA, however. Rather, it was to counsel FIFA against granting membership too hastily to the AAFA. He pointed out that the AAFA had no voice in the professional portion of the sport in the United States. He urged that FIFA instruct Cahill to return to the United States and seek an accommodation between the AAFA and AFA that might yield a truly comprehensive United States federation, one that FIFA could then accept. FIFA agreed with this suggestion, and Cahill was so instructed.

Richard Henshaw, in his 1979 book, The Encyclopedia of World Soccer, describes what happened next:

“After Cahill returned to New York, the two associations appointed committees to find a solution to their difficulties….A series of conferences between the two committees began on October 12, 1912 at the Astor House in New York City, but on December 8, when an agreement appeared imminent, the AFA voted to discontinue negotiations and dismiss its committee. This unpopular action gained the AAFA much support among local and regional associations. In March 1913, the Allied American F.A. of Philadelphia and the F.A. of Philadelphia switched their allegiance to the AAFA, and it was this newly found strength from two important Philadelphia associations that gave the AAFA the necessary stimulus to prevail.”

On April 5, 1913, the organizations now on the side of the AAFA, representing a wide spectrum of American soccer, met at the Astor House to found the United States Football Association (USFA). The organization that was established that day is the same one that governs American soccer today. The United States Football Association changed its name in 1945 to United States Soccer Football Association and in 1974 to the present name, United States Soccer Federation.

This 1913 meeting holds a place in American soccer history not unlike the place occupied in English soccer by the famous meeting at the Freemasons Tavern in London in 1863.

In all, regional organizations from 11 states became affiliate parts of the USFA at the April 5 meeting. Those states were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri and Utah.

A series of meetings following the April 5 gathering resulted in the formulation of a set of by-laws. These by-laws were adopted, and a slate of officers was elected, at a meeting on June 21, 1913. As had taken place at the formation of the AAFA, Dr. Manning was elected the first president of the USFA.

Unlike 1912, America now was able to approach FIFA with a more united front, and the USFA rushed to apply for membership at FIFA’s 1913 Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark. It wasn’t on time, however. The USFA’s application reached Copenhagen after the end of the FIFA Congress.

The USFA application was turned over to an Emergency Committee of FIFA, which accepted it pending full organization of the USFA. The USFA received a cablegram from FIFA on August 15, 1913 notifying it that it had been granted provisional membership in FIFA. The AFA had voted several days before not to accept membership in the USFA, but now that this word from FIFA had arrived, it gave up its struggle and joined the USFA. The following year, that provisional membership was changed by the FIFA Congress into full membership in FIFA for the USFA as the representative of the United States.

The next order of business was the question of a national cup competition to supersede the AFA’s American Cup, and this competition was underway by 1914. Antonio Cirino describes this in his 1983 book, U.S. Soccer vs. the World:

“At home, the USFA instituted the first National Challenge Cup, modelled on the English F.A. Cup and open to amateurs and professionals. The teams played for the Dewar’s Trophy, donated by Sir Thomas R. Dewar, an international sportsman and distiller of scotch whiskey. The first edition of the Dewar’s Trophy organized by the AAFA had been strictly for amateurs and was won in 1913 by the Yonkers S.C. A year later, as an official competition of the new USFA, it became a symbol of unity. Forty teams entered the first ‘open,’ which the Brooklyn F.C. won.”

The American Cup was not discontinued at that point, even though the AFA was now subservient to the USFA. The American Cup continued, as a secondary competition, well into the 1920s.

II. The national cup competitions.

Prior to the formation of the USFA, the American Cup, organized by the American Football Association, was the closest thing the United States had to a national championship. It was not very close, however, being restricted primarily to teams from the northeastern United States, particularly the northern New Jersey and southeastern New England areas. Of the 14 American Cups held before the competition was suspended for the first time in 1899, 13 were won by teams from those two areas. Four teams won the title more than once in those years. O.N.T. of Kearny, N.J., won the first three, in 1885, 1886 and 1887. Fall River Rovers of Fall River, Mass., won in 1888 and 1889. Pawtucket Olympics of Pawtucket, R.I., won in 1890 and 1894. And Fall River East Ends won in 1891 and 1892.

After the American Cup was resumed in the 1905-06 season, the domination was largely by northern New Jersey teams. West Hudson, a leading team of the Kearny-Harrison-Newark-Paterson area, won in 1906, 1908 and 1912. Paterson True Blues won in 1909 and 1913. Clark A.A., a successor to O.N.T., won in 1907. In the remaining years in which the American Cup was the leading competition, the only breaks in this New Jersey domination were in 1910, when Tacony of Philadelphia won, and in 1911, when Howard and Bullough of Pawtucket, R.I., did.

The start of the National Challenge Cup in the 1913-14 season by the new United States Football Association signaled the end of the American Cup as the premier American competition. However, the team that dominated the American Cup from then until it was discontinued after the 1929 competition was one that also dominated the new National Challenge Cup in those years, Bethlehem Steel. The team from Bethlehem, Pa., won the American Cup in 1914, 1916, 1917, 1918 and 1924. In two of those five years, it also won the National Challenge Cup. The American Cup had been relegated to secondary status, but it still was an important preparation for the National Challenge Cup, at least for some teams. But while the game advanced westward, the American Cup, it its final decade, remained strictly a northeastern competition. Of the 32 American Cups held between the competition’s beginning in 1886 and its end in 1929, none was ever won by a team from farther west than Philadelphia.

What finally ended the American Cup was the proliferation of other cup competitions attracting leading teams. The USFA, which already held the National Challenge Cup, started a second tournament, the National Amateur Cup, in 1923. And the American Soccer League, a professional league that began in 1921, sponsored a cup competition for its own teams, the Lewis Cup, that was somewhat analogous to the Football League Cup that became a major event in England many decades later.

The National Challenge Cup, which become known as the National Open Cup or the U.S. Open Cup in the years after it was joined by the National Amateur Cup, quickly eclipsed the American Cup, and within a few years it had produced the first great rivalry of American soccer. This was the rivalry between Bethlehem Steel, a relatively new team, and Fall Rover Rovers, which had won the American Cup as far back as 1888.

In addition to representing different states, one from Pennsylvania, one from Massachusetts, these two teams represented two very different approaches to the sport, two approaches that are still contending today. Bethlehem Steel was composed largely of players imported from England and Scotland by Horace Edgar Lewis, the Bethlehem Steel Company vice-president who had set out to assemble the greatest professional soccer team that American had yet seen. Fall River relied primarily on native-born players. When it upset Bethlehem in the National Challenge Cup final of 1917, it did so with a team on which nine of the 11 players had been born in the United States.

Bethlehem Steel and Fall River Rovers met in the final of the National Challenge Cup three consecutive times, in 1916, 1917 and 1918. The imports representing Bethlehem were the favorite every time. In addition to beating Fall River in 1916 and 1918, Bethlehem also won the National Challenge Cup in 1915 and 1919. But the competition was a fierce one every time.

That 1917 game, when the home-grown team from Fall River upset the imports from Bethlehem, remains one of the greatest in American soccer history. What follows here is the account of the game from the New York Times of May 6, 1917, the next day. What it shows is that even in defeat, Bethlehem was the dominant team of the day. Bethlehem is referred to as the visitors because Pawtucket, where the game was played, is very close to Fall River. Identifications have been inserted in brackets where it is not clear from the context which team a player was from:

“PAWTUCKET, R.I., May 5–A rush in the first minute of play and a shot by Sullivan from the 18-yard line gave the Fall River Rovers a victory over Bethlehem and the soccer championship of the United States today. The score was 1 to 0. Bethlehem was constantly on the offensive, but the mighty work of Albion, the Rovers’ goal, saved his team from defeat. The difference between the two teams on the offense is illustrated by the fact that Albion or his teammates–but chiefly Albion–saved the Rovers about two dozen times when it looked as if well directed shots would tally for Bethlehem. Duncan, at goal for Bethlehem, had opportunity for only three or four saves, besides the goal that surprised him and the rest of the Bethlehem team at the start of the game.

“Bethlehem won the toss and elected to have the Rovers kick off. The Rovers drove down hard and Sullivan, right inside forward, made a long driving kick that proved to be the only score of the ninety minutes of play. It was well placed, and the surprise furnished at the start by a team supposed to be the underdog was cheered by the thousands at the game.

“Bethlehem here forced the playing desperately to overcome the initial advantage. In a drive toward the Rovers’ goal, a corner was forced, but nothing came of it. Then the visitors got loose again and Forest missed a great try by inches. A foul against Pepper gave the visitors another chance for a tally, but it came to naught. Booth, right back of the Rovers, cleared a dangerous shot, and Swords [of Fall River] was cautioned for a run-in with Fletcher. McFarlane stopped a rush by Easton of Bethlehem and sent the ball spinning toward the Pennsylvanians’ goal, in the course of which a foul against Cullerton [of Fall River] gave the Rovers another opportunity, but it was fruitless.

“The Rovers were on the offensive again, but Ferguson cleared a great rush by their forwards with a magnificent kick. It was easily the best defensive effort of the game, and showed the great possibilities of the Bethlehem game. Sullivan fouled Fletcher near the Bethlehem’s goal and a good chance to score was lost. Stone [of Fall River] cleared a strong kick by Forest.

“In a scrimmage in front of the Rovers’ goal Forest missed by a foot and Fleming followed this with a hard shot that went just over the bar. Bethlehem was desperate from so many misses and obtained two corners in quick succession without avail.

“Fletcher [of Bethlehem] here contributed a sensational defensive feat by a somersault in stopping Cullerton. Kirkpatrick fouled, being detected holding, but the Rovers missed, and as the interval arrived Bethlehem had two other lost opportunities. One of them was a shot by Campbell from a conceded corner and the other was from a foul against Easton, after which Pepper had a chance.

“The game was mostly in the Rovers’ territory throughout the second half also. Bethlehem forced two corners at the start, and after a foul against Sullivan had enabled the Rovers to add to their misses, Bethlehem forced two corners again, but the chief result was a wide shot by Easton over the bar. Swords made a wide shot for the Rovers, and Ferguson [of Bethlehem] cleared from C. Burns. The Rovers got into the Bethlehem goal once, but couldn’t deliver.

“Forest added to the disheartening misses of Bethlehem by taking the ball up and falling in front of the goal, and as the game neared the end the faint hopes for a last successful drive to tie the score died when Campbell was knocked out by the ball hitting him in the stomach. Bethlehem, however, forced one corner from which Fleming made a good drive, but Albion, the Rovers’ goal, was on the job.”

Bethlehem regained the cup with a victory over Fall River Rovers in 1918, although it needed a replay of the final to do so. It held onto the cup in 1919 with a victory in the final over Paterson Silk Sox, from northern New Jersey. There, Bethlehem’s run of dominance ended, at least in this competition, although it did win the National Challenge Cup once more, in 1926. In 1920, Bethlehem lost the American Cup, which it had won in 1916, 1917 and 1918, beaten by Robins Dry Dock of Brooklyn in the final, 1-0. And for the first time since 1914, it didn’t even reach the final of the National Challenge Cup. The 1920 final was a landmark game, nevertheless, for it marked the first emergence into national prominence of a team from of St. Louis, which was to be one of the leading centers, perhaps the greatest center, of American soccer over the next 40 years or so. And, as in the meetings between Bethlehem Steel and Fall River Rovers, it was a contest between a team of native-born players and a team of imported ones.

As in 1917, the New York Times carried an excellent account of the 1920 final, which for the first time was held away from the East Coast:

“ST. LOUIS, Mo., May 9–The Ben Millers of St. Louis, champions of the St. Louis Soccer League, today won the national championship of soccer football and the National Challenge Cup of the United States Football Association, emblematic of that title, by defeating the Fore River Football Club of Quincy, Mass., 2 goals to 1. The game was played at the old Federal League Baseball Park before 12,000 fans.

“It was a triumph not only of the Middle West over the East, but of the American style of the association kicking game over the so-called ‘old country’ style, for the Ben Millers, to a man, were born in St. Louis and not one of the Fore River players was born in the United States or learned his football here. Ten of the members of the Quincy team are of Scotch nativity and the other of English birth, and theirs was and is the close combination, short-passing game to be seen on British football pitches. The ‘old country’ style of play did not stand up against the more aggressive, dash and shoot, long-driving game of the American-born players. The Millers displayed a slight advantage in speed and in stamina that stood them in good stead against the somewhat better technique of the Northern Massachusetts eleven.

“Struggling with tigerish endurance from the first shrill of Referee Alex McKenzie’s whistle until that which ended the contest, the two elevens gave what was deemed by veteran soccer officials the best exhibition of the sport that has been seen in any National Challenge Cup final since the inception of the United States Football Association in 1913.

“Nine of the Ben Miller players are of Irish-American descent and it was one of these nine, Jimmy Dunn, whose vigorous toe shoved what proved to be the winning goal into the invaders’ net 17 minutes after halftime. The score was tied at 1-1 at the intermission and the battle was waged at a terrific pace throughout the second half.

“Favored when they entered the fray, the Ben Millers upheld their traditions and from the first minute of play to the close tore in with great aggressiveness and spirit, and in these departments at least were masters throughout.

“The weather was ideal from the spectators point of view, if somewhat warm for the players. The teams lined up at 3:44 P.M. with the Millers kicking off toward the West goal. At the commencement a slight breeze was blowing from the West, but it was not strong enough to lend any material aid. The Millers forced matters considerably. The visitors, however, soon broke up the attack and thereafter for some time as the Millers carried the ball into their territory, Fore River ran it back. During the latter’s early assault, Dunn missed a fine chance to score, his attempt going wide by inches. Black made the first attempt at goal for the Easterners when he accepted a pass from Page and drove finely, McGarry executing a brilliant save.

“Johnny Redden, whose scintillating works at right half both defensively and offensively drew considerable praise, threw a scare into the Fore Rivers when he hooked a high shot toward the net. The ball struck about an inch before the goal line and midway between the uprights, but bounced crazily over the cross-bar. Others of the Millers made tries, but these either were warded off or went awry. Al McHenry’s game at outside right was a big disappointment to the local following.

“After twenty-two minutes struggling, Hap Marre of the Millers broke the tie with a dazzling shot into the lower left corner of the visitors’ net which gave Lambie, in goal for Fore River, no chance to save. The boot was made possible by a beautiful cross from the left corner by Potee. St. Louis continued to press, but superb defensive play of the visitors prevented further scoring.

“Eight minutes before the end of the first half Kershaw broke away and from a cross by Page culminated a nicely organized attack by driving past McGarry for the equalizing goal. It was a bruising shot, made at almost the only point in the game when the Ben Miller defense was disorganized. Redoubled efforts failed to alter the score of one goal each at half time.

“After the interval it was touch and go, with the Millers showing considerable superiority on attack until their efforts were crowned with success by Dunn’s goal. From that point on the game was bitterly waged and both sides repeatedly threatened to score, but each defense was equal to the test each time.”

Although the cup competitions were the most popular, there were attempts to found professional leagues, as there have been repeatedly in the United States over the decades. The current attempt, Major League Soccer, is only the latest of many. Foulds and Harris describe a typical one more than 80 years ago:

“The plan to initiate a new professional league, that could become the basis for a full-time professional group, unfolded at the meeting that was held in Newark in September 1909 with delegates from the soccer centers of the East to promote an Eastern Professional League. The strongest teams along the Atlantic Coast were represented at this session. Six teams from Fall River, Pawtucket, Philadelphia (Hibernians), Philadelphia (Thistle), Newark and Harrison (New Jersey) affiliated with the organization.

“Andrew M. Brown, later to become president of the United States Football Association, and Tom Adams, a long time professional advocate, were prime movers in the league. The league survived one year with an abbreviated schedule that found the Fall River Rovers in first place when the league season came to an abrupt ending. Although the attendance at the games was as expected, the inclement weather contributed insurmountable schedule difficulties that spelled an early demise for this ambitious effort.”

And another:

“In 1901 plans were made to create a professional soccer league in the Mid-west with teams from St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee. Charles Comiskey of the Chicago White Sox and other major-league baseball men from other mid-western cities re-entered the scene, but the necessary financial support failed to materialize.”

What did have some success, however, were leagues covering a smaller geographic area. Perhaps the strongest of these was the National Association Foot Ball League, which operated from 1895 to 1899 and 1907 to 1921, primarily in New Jersey but also extending into New York and Pennsylvania. This league’s claim to prominence is strengthened by the fact that it went out of business in the same year that the American Soccer League began, and thus an argument can be made that it was the forerunner of the ASL, especially because the Bethlehem Steel/Philadelphia, Robins Dry Dock/Todd Shipyards and Erie/Harrison teams form a link between the two.

Two teams from this league won the league title and the National Challenge Cup in the same year, and thus can possibly be regarded as the first two winners of an American “double.” Those were Brooklyn Field Club in 1914 and Bethlehem Steel in 1919. However, another NAFBL team might have an even earlier claim to the double. That was West Hudson, from Harrison, N.J., who were the dominant team of the league for much of its existence. They won the league title five times, in 1907, 1910, 1912, 1913 and 1915. And in one of those years, 1912, they also won the American Cup, which still was the primary cup competition in the United States.

Other leading regional leagues from this era included the St. Louis Soccer League (dominated by St. Leo’s at this time) and the Southern New England Soccer League (featuring such teams as Fall River Rovers, J & P Coats of Pawtucket and Fore River Shipyard of Quincy).

III. Trans-Atlantic tours.

Over the decades, among the events that have most profoundly influenced American soccer have been the visits of touring European teams. The first of these was the Pilgrims, a team of British amateur stars, who made American tours in 1905 and 1909.

Soccer historian Colin Jose described the visits of the Pilgrims in a paper presented in 1995 at the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y.

“The famous old Pilgrims club of England landed, not in the United States but in Canada, travelling up the St. Lawrence River to Montreal and playing in eastern Canada before moving south of the border to play in cities from St. Louis to Boston.

“In the United States, the Pilgrims found themselves in great favor with President Theodore Roosevelt, who was conducting a campaign to eliminate brutality from American college football. In fact, the Pilgrims were selected by the President from the leading English amateur clubs of the day for the purpose of popularizing soccer in the United States, and before they returned to England, captain Fred Milne and star forward Vivian Woodward were invited by the President to visit the White House, for a discussion of the sport….

“Thus the visit of the Pilgrims to North America in 1905 represented the first serious attempt to popularize soccer with the American public, and Milne underlined the team’s mission in an interview with The New York Times.

” ‘We came to America,’ he said, ‘to demonstrate Association Football as it is played in England. We heard that the game was not generally played in the United States. Our idea was to come over and start a boom for it, which would result in popularizing it and produce teams which would visit England for international play.’…

“The Pilgrims returned in 1909, this time playing exclusively in the United States, and while they generally won with ease, that was not the case in Coal City, Illinois, where the local team, known as the Maroons, was made up of some very experienced players from Britain. The game there ended in a scoreless tie.

“In between the two visits of the Pilgrims, another famous British amateur team, the Corinthians, visited the United States in 1906 and 1907, and then again in 1911.”

After its formation and admission to FIFA in 1913, the new United States Football Association moved quickly to reciprocate for these British visits, but history intervened. Less than a year after the USFA’s provisional admission to FIFA, World War I had begun. Sending soccer teams to most of Europe was out of the question.

An outlet was found, however. The United States remained a neutral in World War I until 1917, and in the summer of 1916, an American team made a six-game tour of Sweden and Norway, which also were neutral. This 1916 tour created good relations between soccer authorities in the United States and the Scandinavian countries that spawned further tours by American teams in 1919 and 1920, after the war was over.

The team that made the 1916 tour was called the All-American Soccer Football Club, and some (including the United States Soccer Federation) consider it to have been the first true national team the United States has fielded. They feel that the teams that played Canada in 1885 and 1886 were not really national teams because they were organized, prior to the formation of the USFA in 1913, by a governing body that was more regional than national.

The All-American Soccer Football Club was certainly drawn from a wider-ranging area than the 1885 and 1886 teams, which had been entirely from northern New Jersey and New York City. The majority of the 1916 team were from that same area, but the team did reflect the greater scope of the USFA interests by also including players from Fall River, several Pennsylvania clubs and St. Louis. The 14 members of the 1916 team were:

George Tintle of Independent FC in Harrison, N.J.

Charles Ellis of Brooklyn Celtic in New York.

Thomas Murray of Bethlehem Steel in Bethlehem, Pa.

Neil Clarke of Bethlehem Steel.

James Robertson of Brooklyn Celtic.

C.H. Spalding of Disston Athletic Association in Philadelphia.

Albert Blakey of Putnam FC in Philadelphia.

Walter Burgin of Philadelphia Wanderers.

James Ford of Ryerson FC in Kearny, N.J.

Thomas Swords of Fall River Rovers in Fall River, Mass., the captain of the team.

John Hemingsley of Scottish-Americans in Newark, N.J.

Clarence Smith of Babcock & Wilcox in Bayonne, N.J.

Harry Cooper of New York Continentals.

Matt Diedrichsen of Innisfails FC in St. Louis.

The All-American Soccer Football Club played two full internationals during its tour. On Aug. 20, 1916, it scored a 3-2 victory over Sweden in Stockholm. On Sept. 3, 1916, it played a 1-1 tie with Norway in Oslo, which was then called Christiana. These were only part of a six-game tour. The six games were, in order, a 1-1 tie in Stockholm with an all-Stockholm team, the 3-2 victory over Sweden in Stockholm, a 3-0 defeat in Stockholm by a Swedish all-star squad, a 2-1 victory in Goteborg over an all-Goteborg team, the 1-1 tie with Norway in Oslo and a 2-1 victory in Stockholm over the same all-star team that had earlier beaten the Americans by 3-0.

Antonio Cirino describes the Aug. 20 game against Sweden in U.S. Soccer vs. the World:

“Five days later [after the game against the all-Stockholm team] on the same field, the United States played its first international game against a selection of the Swedish federation. This was the thirty-second international game for the Swedes…

“A crowd of 21,000 including King Gustav V braved the light rain. Thomas Cahill, secretary of the USFA and manager of the American team was one of the linesmen. Sweden used a different lineup from the previous match, but there was only one change in the American team: Charles Ellis (Brooklyn Celtics) substituted at left halfback for Albert Blakey (Putnam F.C. of Philadelphia).

“The Americans appeared strong and well-organized on the defense but could not repeat their splendid attacking performance [of five days before], and the wet field caused inaccurate passing. At the thirty-fifth minute, however, the Americans opened the scoring when captain Thomas Swords took off on the right in an individual effort, freed himself of the last Swedish defender and scored the first goal. Ellis scored again for the Americans at the fifteenth minute of the second half, assisted by Hemingsley and Cooper, and ten minutes later the Swedes scored their first goal. Harry Cooper of the Continentals of New York brought the score to 3-1 when he carried the ball in a beautiful run down the left and put it in the goal. Five minutes from the end the Swedes got their second goal, bringing the final tally to 3-2 for the Americans.

“The U.S. lineup: Tintle, Robertson, Spalding; Murray, Clarke, Ellis; Swords, Hemingsley, Diedrichsen, Cooper.”

At the end of the tour, says Cirino, the American team returned home without Ellis and its trainer, Harry Davenport. They “accepted offers of $50 a week as coach and trainer to the Stockholm soccer team.” This is indicative of the good will that the tour engendered, good will that resulted in the further tours of 1919 and 1920.

Those two tours were not made by a national team, but by the winners of the National Challenge Cup, in each case with a squad augmented by several players borrowed for the tour from other clubs.

Bethlehem Steel travelled to Scandinavia in 1919 as the dominant team in American soccer, having won the National Challenge Cup in four times in five years. Bethlehem players on the tour were James Campbell, William Duncan, John Ferguson, Thomas Fleming, Samuel Fletcher, William Forrest, George McKelvey, Thomas Murray, Frederick Pepper, and Harry Ratican. Also included were four veterans of the 1916 tour, George Tintle, John Hemingsley, James Robertson and Albert Blakey and two young players, Archie Stark and Davey Brown, who were to become the two best American goal-scorers of the following decade.

The Bethlehem team played 14 teams on this tour from Aug. 10 to Sept. 24, 1919. Thirteen of those games were in Sweden and the other was in Denmark. The American team won 7 games, tied 5 and lost only 2. The largest crowd of the tour was 23,000 for the opening game of the tour, a 2-2 tie with AIK Stockholm, which is still among the leading teams in Sweden.

In 1920, the National Challenge Cup was won by Ben Millers of St. Louis, but it was not really the Ben Millers who made that year’s Scandinavian tour. The team was called the Saint Louis Soccer Club, and it included 12 St. Louis players and six players from Eastern teams. Actually, however, one of the Easterners was Harry Ratican, a native St. Louisan who had moved East in 1915 to play for Bethlehem Steel. The St. Louis players on the team were Charles Bechtold, Arthur Brady, George Corrigan, Ollie Fink, Hap Marre, Al McHenry, Tommy O’Hanlon, Bill Quinn, Larry Reilly, Addis Ryan, George Schemel and Frank Vaughan. Supplementing these were Ratican, Albert Blakey, George Tintle, George Post, Davey Brown and Charles Ellis, five of them veterans of the 1916 or 1919 tours.

The St. Louis team played 14 games on its tour, all of them in Sweden, finishing with 6 victories, 6 ties and 2 defeats.

According to Cirino, Dagens Nyheter, the leading Swedish newspaper, said that “It will not be a long time before American soccer football will surpass the playing of the Europeans.” Seventy-five years later, this has not yet happened, and further European tours by American teams, at least at the professional level, have been few and far between. There have been dozens, perhaps hundreds, of fine European and South American teams touring the United States over the years since 1920, capped by the teams that played in the 1994 World Cup, but tours in the other direction have been few. The Scandinavian tours of American teams in 1916, 1919 and 1920 promised much more to come, but it hasn’t happened.

IV. The centers of American soccer, 1900-20.

The distribution of interest in soccer in the United States has changed quite a bit since the first two decades of this century. Today, the sport is seen by most Americans (not always accurately, but with considerable justification) as a suburban activity, fueled largely by the children of middle-class families.

The sport’s early footholds in the United States were in working-class urban areas, particularly those heavily populated by recent immigrants. How soccer first came to America is a matter of some dispute. It may be been brought to the United States by British and Irish immigrants, as it was in much of the rest of the world, or it may have been brought by Americans returning home from visits to England in the 1860s. But there is no question that the growth of the game in the latter years of the 19th century depended heavily on immigrants from Europe to urban areas of the United States.

By the early years of the 20th century, there may have been as many as a dozen areas that could lay claim to being among the leading soccer centers of the United States. There are three, however, that clearly stand out above the rest:


    • The city of St. Louis, Mo., and its surrounding area.


    • The area of northern New Jersey encompassing the towns of Kearny, Harrison and East Newark (known collectively as West Hudson), as well as the nearby cities of Paterson and Newark.


    • The area of southeastern New England known collectively to soccer fans as Fall River, although it also included several other cities besides Fall River, Mass.

Some of the other cities where the sport was rapidly developing by the turn of the century included Philadelphia, New York City and Brooklyn, Boston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago and San Francisco. Northern New Jersey, southeastern New England and St. Louis stand out, however.

West Hudson. The West Hudson area, which includes part of the expanse of marshlands and industry today more commonly known as the Jersey Meadows, is a low-lying area between the Passaic and Hackensack rivers, as they near the city of Newark. Across the Passaic River from Newark are the towns of Kearny, Harrison and East Newark, which are the heart of the West Hudson area. East Newark, a tiny borough sometimes referred to mistakenly as part of the city of Newark, is where the United States played full international games against Canada in 1885 and 1886.

The West Hudson area is not far from one of the leading shrines of America soccer in more recent years. Just a few miles to the north is Giants Stadium, where Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and a group of other international stars played for the great New York Cosmos teams of the 1970s, some of the most dramatic games of the 1994 World Cup were played and the New York/New Jersey MetroStars of Major League Soccer began play in 1996.

The West Hudson area has remained one of the United States’ leading soccer centers to this day. One of the leading rivalries in American soccer over the years has been that between the Kearny Scottish-American club and the Kearny Irish-American club. The Scottish-American team is famous for having won five consecutive American Soccer League championships, from 1937 to 1941. And two members of the United States’ 1990 and 1994 World Cup teams grew up in the town of Kearny. They were John Harkes, the son of immigrants from Scotland, and Tony Meola, the son of immigrants from Italy.

Although ethnic soccer in the United States later became more heavily identified with immigrant groups from central and eastern Europe, it began with immigrants from Britain and Ireland in the latter part of the 19th century. And it was this wave of immigration, particularly from Scotland, that made the West Hudson area a soccer hotbed. What drew the British and Irish to this area was employment opportunities, particularly in the textile industry. The first great American soccer team, O.N.T., was sponsored by the Clark Thread Mills of Kearny. The initials were an early forerunner of the shirt advertising of today’s professional soccer. They stood for one of the mill’s products, called Our New Thread.

The West Hudson area was the central focus of the American Football Association, whose founding in 1884 came at a meeting in Newark and which chose the players for the 1885 and 1886 games against Canada largely from West Hudson clubs. Seven clubs from northern New Jersey won the American Cup at one time or another: O.N.T., Newark Caledonians, Paterson True Blues, Arlington F.C., West Hudson, East Newark Clark A.A. and Kearny Scots-American.

The West Hudson area is no longer the busy industrial region that it was 100 years ago. The centers of the textile industry in the United States have long since shifted from the Northeastern states to the Southern part of the country, where industrial wages are lower. However, there still are signs here of what soccer once was in the West Hudson area. Although the days when the sport held the rapt attention of a largely immigrant population are long gone, it still does thrive here on an amateur level, and the professionals of Giants Stadium are not far away.

St. Louis. “Saint Louis is a typical large American city, but in the affection it has for soccer it is distinctive.” Those were the words with which James F. Robinson concluded his doctoral dissertation, titled The History of Soccer in the City of Saint Louis, at St. Louis University in 1966.

This statement is no longer really true. In recent decades, soccer has faded a bit in St. Louis. It certainly once was true, however. For decades, St. Louis was a soccer hotbed like no other major United States city.

The elements that led to the development of soccer in St. Louis were rather different from those elsewhere. In places like New Jersey, immigration from England and Scotland were the primary element, and that from Ireland was very definitely secondary. In St. Louis, both Irish-American immigration and the involvement of Catholic church organizations were the crucial factors in the development of the sport.

The first recorded soccer game in St. Louis was in 1881, but the sport really began to take wing in the period after 1900, particularly as a result of the visits of the English Pilgrims teams in 1905 and 1909. The first great St. Louis team to emerge was St. Leo’s, which dominated the St. Louis Soccer League between 1905 and 1915.

The team was affiliated with the St. Leo’s Parish, and the team originally was composed strictly of members of the St. Leo’s Sodality, a Catholic church men’s organization. In later years, as the team’s reputation grew, players from outside the Sodality were allowed to join.

Although St. Louis soccer already had an excellent reputation, as evidenced by the fact that the Pilgrims travelled that far west on their two American tours, it still was relatively isolated from the Eastern soccer hotbeds in the first decade of the century. That eased somewhat in 1912, when St. Leo’s went on tour to play the top eastern teams. The tour was not a success, however. In five games, St. Leo’s compiled a record of one victory, three defeats and one tie. The only victory came against the Tacony A.A. of Philadelphia.

Within less than a year, two of the defeats were avenged, however, as two of the teams that St. Leo’s had lost to on its tour visited St. Louis. In the last week of 1912, West Hudson of New Jersey was beaten, 4-2, and in the first week of 1913, Howard and Bullough of Rhode Island was routed, 5-1.

Despite these events, St. Louis’ isolation was not really overcome in these years, a result of distance. The Ben Millers team that won the National Open Cup in 1920 was the first from St. Louis to enter that competition.

For most of the 20th century, St. Louis has been synonymous with the best of American soccer. Each of the first five United States teams to have played in the final tournament of the World Cup, in 1930, 1934, 1950, 1990 and 1994, has included at least one St. Louis-area player, a claim that no other city can make. The most dominant team in the history of American collegiate soccer was the St. Louis University team that won five national championships in seven seasons between 1959 and 1965. Since Ben Millers in 1920, six other St. Louis teams have won National Challenge Cup titles: Scullin Steel; Stix, Baer & Fuller; Central Breweries, Simpkins-Ford, Kutis and Busch.

Although the origins of soccer in St. Louis are heavily Irish-American, by the period of 1900-20, the sport was beginning to lose its ethnic flavor in St. Louis, except to the degree that the involvement of Catholic church organizations can be said to have been an ethnic involvement. While many leading soccer teams throughout the United States in the middle decades of the 20th century were built around ethnic organizations (Philadelphia First German, Chicago Slovak, Los Angeles Yugoslavs, New York Greek-American, etc.), the best of the St. Louis teams were involved with commercial sponsors, a hat-making concern, a steel manufacturer, a department store, a brewery, an automobile dealership, a mortuary.

Fall River. As in northern New Jersey, the status of the Fall River area as an early American soccer hotbed was built on employment opportunities that the area offered to immigrants from Europe. By the latter part of the 19th century, this was one of the leading textile manufacturing areas of the United States.

Actually, the area referred to here as Fall River encompasses much more than just the city of Fall River, Mass., at least in soccer terms. An example of this is the fact that in the 1920s, when the American Soccer League was a thriving league of professional teams, the neighboring cities of Fall River; New Bedford, Mass.; Pawtucket, R.I., and Providence, R.I., each had their own teams.

In the early years of American soccer, the dominant team from this part of the country was Fall River Rovers, which won the American Cup twice in the 1880s and, as we have seen, rose to challenge the great Bethlehem Steel team for supremacy in the National Challenge Cup 30 years later. This team and the great Fall River team of ASL days in the 1920s, Fall River Marksmen, are often both referred as “Fall River,” as though they were continuations of the same team, but they were not. Fall River Marksmen, named for their owner, Sam Mark, were a separate operation.

In later decades, soccer in this area took a decidedly Portuguese flavor, producing great players with names like Gonsalves, Souza, Machado and Ferreira. This was a result, at least in part, of the fact that one of the cities of the “Fall River” area, New Bedford, was a seaport and center of commercial fishing that drew heavy immigration from Portugal. Earlier, however, in the last decades of the 19th century and the first of the 20th, the trend was very much English and Scottish.

Fall River Rovers, however, prided themselves on fielding teams of players born in the United States, as opposed to the foreign-born players most prevalent in the Bethlehem Steel teams. These “home-grown” teams, and similar ones from St. Louis, very often played an “American” style that looks very curious today. For this American style of play appears to have been almost exactly the same sort of hard-running, unsubtle, long-ball style that is so often criticized in English, Scottish and Irish teams today.

Sadly, most signs that this once was one of the most thriving soccer areas of the United States now are gone. One of the last is the strength of the Brown University team, in Providence, which was one of the leaders of American collegiate soccer into the 1960s and still occasionally produces excellent results, as it did in 1994. There is little sign any more, however, of Fall River Rovers, New Bedford Whalers, Pawtucket Rangers and the other professional teams that dotted the area in the early decades of this century. Nevertheless, not to far to the north, the New England Revolution have been drawing substantial crowds to Major League Soccer games, showing that spectator interest in soccer in southeastern New England is still very much alive.

V. Conclusions.

The sport of soccer was in good condition in the United States during the period of 1900-1920, perhaps better than it has been at any time since. Why has this changed?

The 1920s are often referred to as the “Golden Age” of American sports, but soccer did not come though them as well as did many other sports. There was a substantial attempt in the 1920s to establish a professional soccer league, the original American Soccer League, but other sports grew at a much more rapid rate, particularly baseball, American football, and boxing. Soccer was swept aside to some degree. And that first attempt to establish professional soccer in the United States became a victim of the financial crisis of 1929.

The emergence in the years before 1920 of an “American” style of play may not, in the long run, have been a good thing for American soccer. Today, the United States teams in international play are still struggling to find a style of play that characterizes American soccer. But to a large degree, American teams seem to play in an imitation of a Northern European style, particularly marked by constant vigorous effort, but often without the skills that are seen in Germany, Holland, Denmark and elsewhere in Northern Europe. There are various reasons why this style has developed, including the liberal substitution rules in American scholastic and collegiate soccer, but it can be argued that this style is a descendant of the “American” style played 80 years ago by teams like the Fall River Rovers and the Ben Millers.

Social changes in the United States over the years probably have also contributed to the sports’ troubles. In the early decades of this century, the United States was still “a nation of immigrants” that was much more receptive to a game that has often been labeled as foreign by Americans in more recent decades. Of course, the United States is still a nation of immigrants, but the famous American melting pot has had a large effect, and those immigrant groups are much more assimilated into the American population than they were 80 years ago, and often more interested in sports like baseball and basketball than in soccer. And the industrial centers where soccer flourished nearly a century ago do not exist to the degree that they did then. The economy of the United States is not as heavily weighted toward manufacturing industries as it was then. In other sports, the part of the country whose population tends to produce outstanding athletes has moved from the northern industrial cities to the Sun Belt.

Perhaps soccer can some day recapture the position it occupied among American sports in the first two decades of this century. From about 1966 onward, soccer has constantly been referred to as the “sport of the future” in the United States, to the degree that the expression has become a cliche. For now, however, it is still the sport of the past, and the period of 1900-1920 is a very significant portion of that past.