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Inside XI Issue One – A Preview of Coming to America (Part 2)

Posted on by & filed under Behind the scenes, Issue One.

XI Issue One

Yesterday, we previewed roughly the first half of XI Issue One: stories on Gil (Scott) Heron, Latina players in North Carolina, Johan Cruyff in DC, immigrants and success in American society/soccer, and the controversial story of Howard University’s NCAA championship teams. Today, we’ll look at the remaining six stories that make up “Coming to America.”

VI

Writing this preview the night after the US men’s national team’s historic win at the Azteca seems as good a time as any to bring up the blurred boundaries that exist for their female equivalents, especially after an Olympic success for Mexico that showed the strength of its development program for male players. Jeff Kassouf looks at why the Mexican roster is stocked full of Mexican-Americans, while Mexican-born players look north of the border for higher level playing opportunities, talking to players such as Monica Gonzalez.

Training with boys’ teams is not out of the ordinary for Mexican women’s players. Some train with men’s professional teams. While training with men’s teams is not the ideal practice setup for women’s players, it at least provides a high level of competition. But it does not provide the money players need to make a living.

Mexican women’s national team players still only earn a stipend of 4,000 pesos –– roughly $300 –– per month from the Mexican federation, according to Gonzalez. Last year Gonzalez was in camp with the national team ahead of the 2011 Women’s World Cup and had to sell her car to pay rent. Mexico needs a league of its own to foster the development of domestic talent. Until that is established, players will continue to play abroad and view that as a route to discovery.

VII

One aim of XI is to dig up lost American soccer history. Expats from the British Isles, of course, were responsible for spreading the sport around the world: and in the United States, some of that role in establishing soccer is fairly well-known on the east coast at the start of the twentieth century. But less is known about the sport’s nascent days on the west coast, a tale Michael Orr uncovers in-depth as he looks at the sport’s early growth and stutters in Portland, Oregon.

Association football was regularly described in the local press as the “Scotch and English game.” Occasionally large crowds in cities like Glasgow and London were a subject of note in Portland newspapers as the sport was very specifically linked to the British Isles, despite the growing presence of clubs in large, eastern American cities.

Portland competed in their its first interstate match on Febuary 22, 1902, when PFC traveled via the steamer Hassalo to Ilwaco, Washington, to face the powerful team from the mouth of the Columbia. Though Portland fans made the 115-mile trek to support the team, there was not enough quality in the metropolitan side to defeat Ilwaco. The 2-0 score line made the proximity to Cape Disappointment all the more appropriate and the PFC crew made the long trip back to Portland.

VIII

MLS is a league that straddles two nations; and within one, there is an internal nationalist dynamic of its own defining the identity of an MLS club, Impact de Montréal, as explored by Elizabeth Cotignola as she looks at the team’s marketing campaign upon entering the league this year.

It would appear that the Impact has attempted to reinvent itself upon its ascent to MLS by resurrecting symbols that are rooted in Québec’s history and culture. The team harkened back to Québec’s very beginnings in its campaign. The slogan chosen for the team’s inaugural season in MLS was la conquête commence, meaning “the conquest begins.” This theme – conquest, battle, war – underlies the Impact’s entire marketing campaign. The Impact’s website features posters, which that showed up in Montreal’s metro stations and other public spaces, depicting various players standing stoically at the base of Mount Royal, bearing shields embossed with the Impact’s newly minted crest. The posters feature slogans such as À La Defense du Nord (to the defense of the North) and À La Conquête de l’Ouest (to the conquest of the West). The imagery is unambiguous: the Impact has presented its upcoming inaugural season in MLS to be as much a challenge, a conquest, as cause for celebration – much like the founding of la Nouvelle France, Québec.

IX

How did youth soccer become as American as apple pie in suburban America? The massive explosion in the popularity of the game in places like Southern California was no accident, David Keyes argues, but the planned result of an attempt to “Americanize” the game from its ethnic roots by the founders of AYSO.

The goals that Bill Hughes, Hans Stierle, Ted McClean, Ralph Acosta and Steve Erdos had in creating AYSO in 1964 were very different from those involved with the ethnic leagues. While for those in ethnic communities, soccer was about providing a connection to fellow immigrants and to their homelands, from the beginning AYSO was focused on growing the popularity of the game in Los Angeles and throughout the United States.

As Clay Berling, longtime editor of Soccer America, puts it, “The ethnic groups were concerned with having a team that won championships. That was what they grew up with.” In contrast, “The AYSO contingent had an entrepreneurial spirit that the ethnic groups didn’t have.” Former AYSO executive director Tim Thompson has gone further, describing the organization as having a “religious zeal.” Like an evangelical church, the non-profit AYSO was run by leaders who saw it as their mission to convert others to this new game of soccer.

In order to grow soccer, AYSO had to change the sport’s image. If the game was to increase in popularity, it would have to appeal not only to those in ethnic communities, but to the broader American public. Joe Bonchonsky, whose sons played in the first ever AYSO game and whose extensive later work with the organization would see him elected to the AYSO Hall of Fame, sums up the founding of the organization as follows: “AYSO started at the request of a [USSFA] organization. Bill Hughes had tried it before under their direction and failed because it had been too ethnic-oriented. So he said, ‘we’ll start but not in an affiliated manner. We’ll be independent completely.’”

X

In the 1924-5 season, Archie Stark – Scottish-born, New Jersey-bred – scored 70 goals in 44 games, playing for Bethlehem Steel of the American Soccer League. We tell Archie’s story in words, photos and statistics.

Archie Stark, representing Bethlehem Steel

XI

Ethnic soccer has long defined the game in the United States at the highest levels of the amateur and semi-pro levels: just scroll through the list of US Open Cup winners prior to the entry of MLS clubs in 1996 for proof of that. In an essay illustrated by photos from Marty Groark, we look at the past and present of one Chicago club, Croatian team RWB Adria – winners of the 2011 National Amateur Cup, and who once welcomed Eusebio into their red, white and blue colors.

RWB Adria Clubhouse

That takes us to the end of this XI issue one preview: you can be the first to read it by subscribing now, with a special introductory offer available through the end of this month.

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