A giant leap in States of play

STATESIDE  SOCCER: Ex-Saint Bradley Wright-Phillips is playing for the New York Red Bulls alongside Thierry Henry.

STATESIDE SOCCER: Ex-Saint Bradley Wright-Phillips is playing for the New York Red Bulls alongside Thierry Henry.

First published in Sport

I’ve been in America recently and, coming so soon after the World Cup, it gave me the impression of how times have changed when it comes to soccer, as they all call it.

Way back when what is now known as the MLS started, the two biggest clubs were New York Cosmos and Tampa Bay Rowdies.

The Cosmos were owned by brothers who worked in the film industry and, typically, they wanted the biggest show going and they brought in huge names at the time like Pele.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies had many players such as Rodney Marsh playing for them at different times.

I was offered the job as what they would call coach, but it coincided with us having just won the FA Cup and I remember saying at the time if I had got relegated it might have been different.

Senior players for me, such as Peter Osgood and Alan Ball, were given the opportunity to play there during the summer months as well and I released them to help them make some money and kept their fitness going during the summer with the agreement they would come back for the new season in England.

I always thought that there could be a problem bringing soccer to a nation who had their own football, and of course baseball, which are both massively supported.

Years after I was offered the job, Rowdies, who used to get crowds of 40,000-50,000 in their pomp, had flopped for whatever reason and in actual fact had moved on.

That showed the difference because they were not clubs as we knew them, going back to the beginning of football, well supported no matter what the division.

They were more like franchises and the owners would be looking at it in a typical business type way. If the thing was failing, they’d pick it up and move it on elsewhere.

Interestingly, reading this last few days about the sort of owner we now have in England, and not just in the Premier League but at clubs like Leeds, it makes you realise some of those sort of views now exist in our own game.

I saw one owner openly state – in relation to players being left out ahead of the season because of their wages, and made to train with the youngsters hoping someone would come in and buy them – that it has to be run as a business and forget the sentiment.

However, it now would appear that the sentiment has crept in in a big way in America.

Speaking to a restaurant owner in England, they had been all geared up for extra sales because of the late opening hours granted while the World Cup was on, but once England went out the public stayed at home and watched the late games on TV.

In America, however, the restaurants and bars etc absolutely thrived on the World Cup. Apparently the USA’s last game was watched by the biggest TV audience they have ever had for any sport, which includes baseball and American Football.

That was then followed up by a staggering 110,000 fans turning out to watch Manchester United play Real Madrid in a friendly.

The USA’s German manager, Jurgen Klinsmann, has certainly developed a good national team, but the thing more noticeable is the extra number of teams playing full time professionally.

Not only is there the MLS, which people like David Beckham played in and now we have stars such as Thierry Henry, Frank Lampard, Robbie Keane and many more from different countries, there is a second level, the USL.

Peter Mellor, who will be remembered for being a goalkeeper at Pompey and taking part in the Cup final for Fulham with Best, Moore and Marsh in the same team, is involved in the USL.

Peter has lived permanently in the USA after finishing his playing career there and carried on coaching. He is given credit for introducing beach soccer into the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

Tony Waiters, famous at Blackpool and for England, has been in Canada for the same length of time.

Also with Saints connections, Adrian Heath, who scored the semi-final extra time header that prevented us getting to another Cup final, is with Orlando while in Seattle there is Jimmy, the son of the legend Alan Ball, as director of football.

Ted MacDougall is still out there too.

Peter has, for a few years, been chief executive of that second level of soccer and helps organise coaching courses, etc.

As Peter pointed out to me, it is getting more and more popular, and USA did better in the World Cup than England did.

The biggest single difference of course between the two levels is, unlike England, there is no promotion or relegation.

I suppose the second level is more for smaller clubs who cannot afford the huge joining fee they have to pay to play at the highest level.

For example, Orlando are now moving up from the USL to join the big boys in the MLS with the owners having to find in the region of £40m-£60m.

Talking of David Beckham, for some reason part of his deal when he went to play in Los Angeles was that when he finished he would be allowed to start up a new club somewhere in Florida.

He has been working at this for the last couple of years, and has been searching for the best venue.

He looked at Orlando, the home of Disneyworld, and Tampa, before a final decision of Miami.

He is in the process of trying to agree with the authorities where to build the new soccer stadium.

He picked Miami because of its multi-national culture, but the significant thing for me was that he had to raise millions of dollars just to pay for the privilege, but sponsors and investors were queuing up to be part of the new project.

I still think the main difference with England in particular is that whilst soccer is massive at school age level – and as I have said previously once when I coached a session for boys and girls a parent said to me the main attraction was that it didn’t cost money, in other words they didn’t have to buy helmets, shoulder pads, etc, unlike American Football – there are no pub teams or top class amateur leagues yet which bridges the gap between school leaving at 18 and the professional leagues.

The progress which has been made since the days of the start of the Rowdies and the Cosmos has been massive, and it could well be that with the continued success of the national team more and more will want to take part.

There are also many other English coaches here now who obviously see more opportunity because, as ever in England, it is very hard to get into one of the 92 clubs.

Particularly at the highest level, as we have more and more foreign managers coming in and naturally they want to bring their own staff.

Whilst we may not have so many players in leagues away from England, believe me there are many English coaches making a living abroad.

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