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Throwback Thursday: Team America’s ill-fated stay in the NASL

In the 80s, U.S. Soccer tried something drastic. It didn’t work.

Back in the 1980s, the U.S. Soccer Federation was drastically searching for a way to rebuild the United States Men’s National Team to return to the World Cup. At the time, they were in the middle of a 30-year drought that was ripe with difficulties in developing players and getting them together to build continuity as they sought to return to the world’s greatest tournament.

Enter a zany idea: place the national team in the nation’s domestic league at the time, the North American Soccer League. They would call it Team America, and they operated out of RFK Stadium in Washington, DC, and each of the existing NASL teams would lend Team America some of their best American talent to serve as the national team. It was a way for the national team to get consistent games that would serve as a way to develop the team in an attempt to qualify for the next World Cup.

So, in 1983, the NASL and U.S. Soccer formed Team America and placed them in the Southern Division with the Tulsa Roughnecks, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Other teams like the New York Cosmos, Chicago Sting, Vancouver Whitecaps and the Seattle Sounders were also in the league at the time. Team America initially drew some of the league’s best American players and some of the top crowds to RFK Stadium.

But, in the end, the team failed, mostly because the league, the players, and the fans treated the team more like a franchise than America’s national team. Some players refused to be sent to Team America from some of the more well-known teams like the Cosmos because they wanted to play with some of the world’s best, not just against them. In the end, the attendance declined along with the team’s performance, and Team America was done at season’s end.

Of course, the USMNT would have to wait 7 more years before they appeared in a World Cup, a 40-year drought in all. Still, Team America was an interesting experiment that probably didn’t have the legs to last long, but was an attempt to get the USMNT back to prominence in the confederation and the world.