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100 Moments: U.S. Soccer’s Origins at The Astor House Hotel in 1913


Like Rome, U.S. Soccer was hardly built in a day.

It took several years before the founding fathers - several men with a bold vision - agreed to form a Federation to govern soccer in the United States on April 5, 1913.

The fledgling organization was called the United States Football Association.

U.S. Soccer will celebrate its Centennial this week with a series of activities in New York City, culminating with a joint press conference with Deputy Mayor for Government Affairs and Communications Howard Wolfson on Friday, April 5, at City Hall, a long free kick from where the federation's charter was signed at the Astor House Hotel on lower Broadway (between Vesey and Barclay Streets).

Talk about going full circle.

A century ago, it seemed efforts to organize the sport in this country were going in circles.

Soccer had been played in the United States mostly at the amateur, scholastic and collegiate levels for a few decades, but there was no national organizing body to govern the sport. Some teams even played as "professionals" when they split the gate at certain games.

It was agreed there would be a governing body but disagreement as to who should govern the sport.

Two organizations emerged trying to represent the country with FIFA, the world's soccer governing body that was formed in 1904.

The American Football Association, created in 1884, had the backing of the English Football Association. According to Tony Cirino's book, "U.S. Soccer Vs. the World," the AFA never tried to expand its influence outside of its core area of New York, New Jersey, New England and Pennsylvania.

The American Amateur Football Association, formed in 1911, had influence in similar east coast areas, but expanded to other regions of the country as well, giving it more clout to own the road.

The two sides could not come to an agreement, and needless to say, negotiations and some politicking - domestically and internationally - were needed before FIFA would give any federation official recognition.

E.L. Mockler wrote about the need for a national governing body in the 1911 edition of Spalding's “Official Association Soccer Foot Ball Guide." Soccer was being played in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, New England, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland, Michigan, Chicago, St. Louis, Georgia, Colorado, Utah and California.

"Soccer football in the United States seems to have thrived as it has solely on its own merits and without any general or uniform promotion on the part of those who play it," he wrote. "To be sure, there have been local leagues formed, but these have been exclusively local in nature. No serious effort has ever been made at organizing the votaries of the game in one national organization so that it can take its rightful place near the head of desirable athletic exercises."

"If such an organization is formed and will attack the tremendous work it will have to face to bring proper order out of the prevailing chaos, there is no question that soccer football will in a short time become the great winter sport in the United States."

The wheels toward a national organization really started turning in 1912, when AAFA secretary Thomas Cahill attended FIFA's ninth Congress in Stockholm, Sweden and submitted an application for his group to become the U.S.'s governing body in the U.S.

Cahill made a speech at the Congress which, according to David David Wangerin's 2011 book "Distant Corners," found its way into FIFA's minutes:

"The representative of the AAFA [Cahill] gave a review of association football in the United States. It is badly lacking organization. He expressed the opinion that a delay in recognizing the AAFA would be dangerous. It is doing missionary work in public schools and in educational institutes. He strongly urged that if the recognition could not [be given in perpetuity], it should be given for one year. The AAFA knew what was expected from them and their earnestness was shown by sending a delegate to the Congress."

F.J. Wall, secretary of England’s F.A., represented the AFA, claiming that the AAFA could not speak for American soccer because it did not represent professional teams, and asked FIFA to give the AFA recognition.

According to "Distant Corners," Cahill said "Mr. Wall [made me understand] that he could not support our organization in its present form, namely until its constitution was changed so as to take care of the professionals as well as the amateurs. I told him that we had under consideration just such a plan, but did not consider the time ripe for such a change. But it was our idea when the time required us to take care of the professionals, we would be in a position to do so. His other objection was that our title was wrong for a national body. In other words, we should select a name, such as the United States Football Association or the National Association Football Union or the United States or in words any name which would indicate a national body."

FIFA, however, did not want to be in the middle of a dispute and turned the application over to its Emergency Committee and told Cahill to resolve the differences between the organizations.

Cahill stayed in Europe, establishing relationships with other FIFA delegations and attending the Olympics in Stockholm, watched Great Britain capture the soccer gold medal.

The AAFA and AFA made an attempt to work together and at an Oct. 12, 1912 meeting at the Astor House, an agreement between the two organizations was on the verge of being reached. AFA, however, voted 7-6 to stop negotiations, although its president, Andrew M. Brown, wanted to work with his rivals.

But the momentum was moving toward the AAFA. The Allied American Association, the leading soccer organization in Philadelphia, switched sides from the AFA to the AAFA, which now felt it had a critical mass of regional and state associations to form a national body.

On the eve of the historic agreement at the Astor House on April 5 during the "national soccer congress," Cahill talked about taking that last step to several newspapers, including the New York Tribune and Hartford Courant, according to “Distant Corners.”

"The question has now been raised as to whether or not the time is ripe to open the doors to be so-called professional clubs in the United States," he was quoted as saying by the New York Tribune. "Professional football is really not professional at all, in the sense applied to baseball. Professional baseball players are paid regular salaries, while professional football players are so called because they divide a certain percentage of the gate receipts among themselves.”

"Despite the comparatively poor development of the professional game, the suggestion has been made that the professional be also admitted to the controlling council in this country, and the American Amateur Football Association and the Allied Amateur Football Association are anxious to hear the views, not only of its members, but all men interested in the game in any way, upon this subject."

Most of the country's top soccer organizations attended the historic meeting.

For the record, Douglas Stewart, president of the Referees Association of Philadelphia, chaired the meeting. Dr. G. Randolph Manning of the AAFA, also attended, along with Archibald Birse of Chicago, A.R. Jones of the Utah Association, E.L. Mockler of Michigan, Andrew M. Brown of the American League of Association Football Clubs of Philadelphia; Cahill, AAFA secretary; A.N. Beveridge, American Football Association; John Lone, National League; J.W. McPhee, Field Club Soccer League, E. Cowly, Connecticut Association, C. Blamphin, Associated Cricket Clubs of Philadelphia; George Walls, New Jersey State League; Thomas Bagnell and Nathan Agar, New York State League; John B. Farrell and Oliver Hemingway, Allied Association of Philadelphia, and S. Nadel of the Metropolitan League. Dr. Babitt of the Collegiate Athletic Association attended as a guest.

After the federation was formed, committees were created to draft a constitution, rules and bylaws. In June, Manning was named USFA president, Hemmingway was selected vice president and Cahill was picked as secretary. Manning, who wanted the U.S. to participate in the 1916 Olympics, traveled to the FIFA Congress in Norway that summer to submit the organization's application. FIFA granted the USFA provisional membership and full membership in 1914.

AFA eventually gave up is resistance and joined the USFA.

No one in 1913 could have imagined how the sport would have grown in 100 years. The Men's National Team has become a regional power in CONCACAF and is trying to qualify for its seventh-consecutive FIFA World Cup. The Women's National Team quickly became a world power, winning two FIFA Women's World Cups and the last three Olympic gold medals, four in all.

Major League Soccer recently kicked off its 18th season and the National Women's Soccer League is scheduled to begin its first season in April.

Millions of children play the sport in hundreds of leagues and for thousands there are teams for every playing level, age group and ability.

U.S. Soccer, a century on, has accomplished so much. And still many challenges lie ahead during the next 100 years.

-- Michael Lewis
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