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Black History Month: The Lassiter standard

In the first year of MLS, Roy Lassister set the goals record that would stand for 22 years.

Roy Lassiter

In 1996, Major League Soccer debuted with 10 teams across the country attempting to show the world that the United States could sustain a domestic soccer league. The league was filled with some of the world’s brightest stars. However, it was a man from North Carolina who would set the gold standard that would last for 2 decades.

Roy Lassiter was born in Washington, DC, but grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was a high school All-American as a kid, leading his team to the high school state championship as a senior and scoring a state record 47 goals. That type of prolific goal scoring would be his calling card throughout his career.

His professional career began in Costa Rica, coincidentally after being called up for the USMNT after a career at NC State Wolfpack. He was injured in camp and while he was injured, he was contacted by Costa Rican club Turrialba, who brought him in for a season in 1992. He also played a season for Carmelita, and 2.5 seasons for Alajuelense before moving to Major League Soccer in 1995. In August 1995, shortly after returning to the United States, Lassiter was arrested on burglary charges that came when his name was in the Raleigh paper after scoring a USMNT goal. Lassiter was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Still, he was available to play in Major League Soccer’s inaugural season in 1996, and he did so with the Tampa Bay Mutiny. And this man from North Carolina was the player who arguably made the biggest impact on his team in the league’s first season.

He started the season with a goal in the first game of the season and added another a couple games later. However, entering mid-May, he only had the 2 goals on the season. But as the weather started to heat up, so did Roy Lassiter. He scored 9 goals over his next 8 matches to take his total to 11 on the season.

He added 2 more goals in the month of July, then opened August with a bang, scoring all 3 goals for the Mutiny in a 3-1 win over the Colorado Rapids. In total, he scored 8 goals in August 1996 to take his total to 21. Entering September, the Mutiny were in a race with D.C. United for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and with United and the LA Galaxy for top seed in the entire league. Roy Lassiter knew he needed to play his best soccer to close out the regular season, and that he did. He scored in every match down the stretch, including 2 on the final day, to end with 27 goals on the season. The Tampa Bay Mutiny ran away with the top seed in the league, winning their final 6 games of the season (1 of those coming via penalty shootout) to be 12 points clear of the Galaxy.

Roy Lassiter’s 27 goals were 4 more than D.C. United’s Raúl Diaz Are to win the scoring championship. He also had 5 assists on the season. And that single season tally became the gold standard for goal scoring in MLS for 22 years. It was equaled by Chris Wondolowski in 2012 and Bradley Wright-Phillips in 2014, but it wasn’t until 2018 that Lassiter’s record was finally broken. Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez scored 31 goals that year to set the new record, which lasted until Carlos Vela scored 34 goals the very next season. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored 30 in 2019, the only other person to score more goals in a season than Roy Lassiter.

Roy Lassiter went on to score 120 goals in his career that took him to Genoa, D.C. United, the Miami Fusion, the and the Kansas City Wizards before finishing with the Virginia Beach Mariners and the Laredo Heat. However, the 27 goal standard was one that lasted a generation, and in a sea of stars, Roy Lassiter just went out and set the standard that all the league’s goal scorers were judged by for 22 years.

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For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing stories throughout the month to highlight some of the biggest moments in Black American and world soccer history.