I’ve just finished reading Soccer in a Football World by David Wangerin. It’s published by the folks at When Saturday Comes, “the half-decent football magazine,” which is consistently one of the smartest sports mags out there. Like the magazine that published it, this book is smart and readable, and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the sport here in the US.
The book covers the history of soccer in the US, from the earliest days in the late 19th century, through the hopeful yet ultimately unsuccessful attempts at creating a widely-followed pro league in the 1920s and 30s, the rise and fall of NASL in the 1960s through 80s, the brief dominance of MISL and indoor soccer in the 1980s, to MLS today. It also charts the ebbs and flows in the fortunes of the US on the international stage over the decades. Much of this history is not well-known to Americans — Wangerin notes that early records on things like international matches played by the national team are non-existent in many cases. I knew some of the history from reading Andrei Markovits’ and Steven Hellerman’s more academic Offside: Soccer & American Exceptionalism a few years ago, but Wangerin fills in more that I did not know. And his book is a more straightforward popular history of US soccer, whereas Markovits and Hellerman have a more theoretical/sociological bent and seek to explain more about how a country’s “hegemonic sport space” develops (which is an interesting theory, and one that could potentially be applied to the situation of hockey in the US).
An American who now lives in the UK, Wangerin really comes at the material from a good, fair-minded perspective. He manages to avoid both the excessive dismissiveness and condescension that sometimes comes from Europeans looking at US soccer, but equally stays away from the hyper-boosterism and defensiveness that American fans sometimes adopt.
All in all, this is a well-balanced, well-written, interesting history of soccer in America. I’d recommend it to any fans of the sport. Although it’s unfortunately not out in an American edition that I know of, so you’ll have to order it from the UK. I’d say it’s worth the 2-to-1 exchange rate, though.