U.S. no longer a barren land as MLS turns 20

Thu Mar 5, 2015 5:07pm EST
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By Simon Evans

(Reuters) - Hatched from a promise to FIFA to help secure the hosting of the 1994 World Cup, Major League Soccer is set to open its 20th season after finally establishing the sport at the professional level in North America.

For decades, people in the international game wondered how it was that with soccer having been spread around the world, the United States remained a barren land.

Several attempts to establish fully-fledged leagues were made, glimmered for a while and then vanished.

The American Soccer League ran from 1921-1933 with some success before disputes wrecked its progress.

The North American Soccer League (NASL), with clubs like the New York Cosmos and Tampa Bay Rowdies and international stars such as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Johann Cruyff, caught the popular imagination before collapsing in debt in 1984.

When the United States Soccer Federation put together a bid to host the 1994 World Cup, their opponents highlighted the fact that the game's showpiece would be going to a country without even the basic league structure found elsewhere.

U.S. Soccer officials argued that a World Cup staged in the United States would give the game just the boost needed to help establish a league and promised to set up such a competition.

Eight years after that promise was made, and two years after a well-attended World Cup, Major League Soccer was born.   Continued...