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1983 Team America

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North American Soccer League (1983)

Born: 1983 – NASL expansion franchise
Folded: September 1983

Stadium: RFK Stadium (55,000)

Team Colors: Red, White & Blue

Owners: Robert Lifton, Howard Weingrow, Warner Hodgdon & Mike Curb

 

Team America was a novel idea that flopped on arrival for the faltering North American Soccer League in the spring and summer of 1983.  From an all-time high of 24 clubs in 1980, the NASL shrunk to just 12 member teams at the dawn of the 1983 season.  New league CEO Howard Samuels, who took over management of the league in June 1982, believed that the NASL needed to shift away from its dependence on pricey, aging foreign imports and work to develop more relatable American players to promote interest in the league.  At the same time, the United States Soccer Federation wanted to get serious about developing a competitive U.S. National Team to compete in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and that might qualify for the World Cup in 1986, something that the U.S. hadn’t accomplished in 36 years.

Samuels and the USSF decided to form Team America, made up of 20 of the best American players in pro soccer, and enter it into the NASL as an expansion team (sort of) for the 1983 season.  Team America would be based in Washington DC and play at RFK Stadium.  A patriotic address to be sure, but also a city and venue where two separate NASL franchises known as the Washington Diplomats had folded within the past 30 months.  In addition to competing in the pro league, Team America would also be the U.S. National Soccer Team in training, preparing for the following summer’s Olympics and tuning up for the World Cup qualification process.  The USSF had the right to appoint Team American’s Head Coach and selected former Greek National Team manager Alkis Panagoulias.

Team America also needed a private investor group to back the team, so Samuels recruited New York businessman Robert K. Lifton, who in turn brought in his long-time associate Howard Weingrow and a couple of NASCAR impresarios, Mike Curb and Warner Hodgdon.  Lifton’s group managed to secure a $1 million corporate sponsorship from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. to promote its Winston Cigarettes brand through the club.  Team America’s 1983 NASL schedule, along with handful of dates against international competition, was promoted as the “Winston Team America Series”.  A tobacco sponsorship for the U.S. National Soccer Team would be unthinkable in contemporary America, but back in the early 1980’s it was one of the largest team-level corporate sponsorships in the history of American pro soccer.

The Winston deal was also one of the only things that went well for Lifton’s group and for the Team America concept.  One major problem was the composition of the team.  The best American players, of course, were already under contract with other NASL clubs or with the rival Major Indoor Soccer League.  A mechanism was set up to allow rival NASL clubs to loan their players to Team America, but no one seemed to anticipate that some players wouldn’t want to go.  Top Americans such as Rick Davis, Angelo DiBernardo and Steve Moyers of the New York Cosmos and Mark Peterson of the Seattle Sounders declined to leave their clubs to play for Team America.  Peterson was significant, as the NASL’s reigning North American Player of the Year for the 1982 season. (With the Sounders themselves in organizational disarray, Peterson would later reconsider and join Team America for the season’s final month).  Rick Davis’ refusal to go along gained the most press attention.  The 24-year old midfielder was arguably the highest profile American-born player in the country, since the 1980 retirement of Kyle Rote, Jr.  Part of Davis’ stature was related to playing for and touring the world with the star-studded Cosmos club, an organization that he was understandably reluctant to leave.

Among the players who did show up, Team America landed promising young defenders Jeff Durgan from the Cosmos and Dan Canter from the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.  Defense was the strength of the team.  Goalkeeper Arnie Mausser was one of the most experienced American-born players.  But many of the Team America players were recently naturalized citizens, which showed just how shallow the domestic talent pool was in the early 1980’s.  South African-bornAndrew Parkinson was Team America’s leading scorer with 12 goals.

After a strong start at 8-5, Team America’s lack of offensive ability doomed the team to a 2-15 slide to finish the 1983 season with the second worst record in the NASL at 10-20.  Team America’s average attendance of 13,002 was actually 3rd best in the league, trailing only the Vancouver Whitecaps and New York Cosmos.  But the average was inflated by a post-game Beach Boys concert that helped draw 50,000 to RFK (more than a quarter of the team’s annual total) for a June date against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.  By late summer, crowds at RFK dipped below 5,000 per match.

Owner Robert Lifton self-published a memoir in 2012 titled An Entrepreneur’s Journey: Stories From a Life in Business and Personal Diplomacy.  In it, he devotes a few pages to his doomed investment in Team America:

“The team never got the top scoring players from the NASL, either because the players did not want to leave their teams, or the NASL owners were not prepared to give up the American players who could score, since they wanted those players to attractor local fans.  So the team ended up with a strong defense and no offense of consequence… when you have a team that can’t score but can only hold down the scoring of the other side, you end up with games with very little scoring action.  When I had representatives of Winston <Cigarettes> in the owner’s box at RFK Stadium, after a while neither they nor I had an interest in following the game.”

Lifton folded the club immediately after the NASL season ended in September 1983.  Oddly, the failure of the Team America experiment also helped to drag down another NASL franchise in 1983.  The Montreal Manic, owned by Molson Breweries, announced plans to shift to a “Team Canada” concept for the 1984 season, with plans to shed their best foreign players in favor of all-Canadian team to prepare for the 1986 World Cup.  Although the Manic continued to play with an international cast in 1983, the planned transition was so unpopular with the team’s French Canadian fan base that attendance collapsed and Molson folded the club in frustration in November 1983.

Alkis Panagoulias coached the U.S. National Team in the 1984 Olympic Games, but the U.S. failed to qualify for the 1986 World Cup, which was one of the stated aims of forming Team America.  The Americans would finally qualify in 1990, ending a forty-year exile from the planet’s most popular sporting event.

 

==1983 Team America Results==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
4/23/1983 @ Seattle Sounders W 1-0 (SO)
5/8/1983 vs. Tulsa Roughnecks W 1-0
5/15/1983 @ Montreal Manic L 1-0
5/18/1983 vs. Seattle Sounders L 3-2 (SO)
5/19/1983 vs. Watford (UK) T 1-1
5/21/1983 vs. San Diego Sockers W 2-1
5/25/1983 vs. Dynamo Minsk (USSR) T 2-2
5/27/1983 vs. Golden Bay Earthquakes L 1-0
6/1/1983 @ Tampa Bay Rowdies L 3-1 Program
6/4/1983 @ Tulsa Roughnecks W 1-0 (OT)
6/9/1983 vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies W 1-0
6/14/1983 vs. Fort Lauderdale Strikers W 2-1 (SO)
6/17/1983 vs. New York Cosmos  W 2-1 (SO) Game Notes
6/22/1983 @ Golden Bay Earthquakes L 3-0
6/25/1983 @ Chicago Sting W 2-1 (OT) Program
7/6/1983 @ New York Cosmos L 4-0 Program Game Notes
7/8/1983 vs. Toronto Blizzard L 2-1 (SO)
7/13/1983 @ Tampa Bay Rowdies L 2-1
7/16/1983 @ Fort Lauderdale Strikers L 3-2
7/20/1983 vs. San Diego Sockers L 2-0
7/24/1983 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps L 2-0
7/27/1983 @ Vancouver Whitecaps L 1-0 (SO) Program
7/31/1983 vs. Montreal Manic L 2-1
8/1/1983 vs. Juventus (Italy) T 1-1
8/5/1983 @ Fort Lauderdale Strikers L 4-2
8/7/1983 vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies L 4-1
8/10/1983 vs. New York Cosmos  L 2-1 Program Game Notes
8/19/1983 @ Chicago Sting L 3-0
8/21/1983 vs. Tulsa Roughnecks L 3-2 Video
8/24/1983 vs. Chicago Sting  W 5-2
8/28/1983 @ Toronto Blizzard L 2-0
8/31/1983 @ Tulsa Roughnecks L 1-0
9/3/1983 vs. Fort Lauderdale Strikers L 2-0

 

==In Memoriam==

Forward Mark Peterson passed away on July 7, 2011 at age 51.

Former Team America manager Alkis Panagoulias died on June 18, 2012 at age 78.

Team America minority owner Warner Hodgdon died on March 20, 2013 at age 80.

Midfielder Pedro DeBrito died July 5th, 2014 from injuries in a car accident two days earlier.  He was 55.

 

==YouTube==

Team America vs. Tulsa Roughnecks at RFK Stadium. August 21, 1983

 

==Downloads==

1983 Team America Group Ticket Sales Advertisement

March 1983 – RJ Reynolds Press Release Announcing Winston Cigarettes Sponsorship of Team America

8-8-1983 – Mark Peterson Joins Team America Press Release

 

==Links==

Ian Plenderlieith USSoccerPlayers.com interview with Team America veteran Alan Merrick

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs

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August 10, 1983 – Team America vs. New York Cosmos

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Peter Ward Seattle SoundersTeam America vs. New York Cosmos
August 10, 1983
RFK Stadium
Attendance: 11,612

North American Soccer League Programs
80 pages

 

This late season 1983 North American Soccer League program comes from the waning days of the league’s doomed Team America experiment.

Team America was a pet project of NASL CEO Howard Samuels who took over leadership of the struggling league from long-time Commissioner Phil Woosnam in midseason 1982.  Samuels seized on “Americanization” as a strategy to reduce unsustainable player salaries and make the sport of soccer more relatable to American fans.  Team America was the tent pole of Samuels’ strategy.  He envisioned the club as both a franchise in the NASL and, simultaneously, as the U.S. National Team in training, as the country competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and tried to qualify for the 1986 World Cup after a 36-year absence from that tournament.

Nothing about the Team America concept went as smoothly as Samuels imagined.  FIFA shot down the U.S. bid to host the 1986 World Cup, which would have provided an automatic bid for the U.S. Team.  Then the International Olympic Committee declined to relax eligibility rules for the use of professionals at the 1984 Olympics, meaning that Team America would not be the U.S. Olympic team after all, as originally hoped.  The rival Major Indoor Soccer League backed out of an agreement to make its American players available to Team America on offseason loan.  Samuels pushed through a rule requiring NASL clubs to release their best American players to Team America.  But there was no rule requiring the players themselves to comply with the transfers.  Several of the best Americans in the NASL, including Rick Davis of the New York Cosmos and Mark Peterson of the Seattle Sounders, refused to leave their existing teams.  By mid-summer 1983, Team America chairman Robert K. Lifton was justifiably questioning whether he had invested in the United States National Team he had been promised, or simply another money pit NASL franchise.

By the time the New York Cosmos arrived in the nation’s capital for this August 1983 match, Team America’s situation was dire.  Head Coach Alkis Panagoulias’ team, losers of eight of their previous nine matches, couldn’t score goals.  Their previous home match against the Montreal Manic on July 31st drew a season-low 5,281 fans to 55,000-seat RFK Stadium.  In early August, Mark Peterson of the Sounders belatedly reversed course and agreed to join Team America.  Howard Samuels, eager to help the sinking team, approved the transfer even though the NASL’s deadline for player transactions had expired two weeks earlier.  After all, Peterson had 13 goals on the season for Seattle.  The entire roster of Team American had only 25.

The Cosmos opened the scoring in the 23rd minute.  Adding insult to injury, New York’s opening goal came off the foot of Rick Davis, the highest profile American star to rebuff an invitation to join Team America.  Twenty minutes later, the Cosmos 22-year old Paraguayan striker Roberto Cabanas headed a Vladislav Bogicevic cross past Team America goalkeeper Paul Hammond for a 2-0 lead.  Team America halved the deficit in the second half when Rudy Glenn converted off an assist from the newly arrived Peterson.  But the team was bedeviled once again by lack of offensive ability and lost the match 2-1.

The home loss to the Cosmos dropped Team America to 10-14.  They would never win another game.  One month later, almost to the day, Team America owner Robert Lifton shuttered the franchise and the players returned to their original clubs for the winter indoor season.

 

==Downloads==

August 10, 1983 Team America vs. New York Cosmos Game Notes

August 8, 1983 – Mark Peterson Joins Team America Press Release

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Written by AC

June 24th, 2013 at 6:10 pm

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