Phil Woosnam, who served as the commissioner of the North American League Soccer (1969-83) and under whose guidance pro soccer took off in the United States in the 1970s, die Friday due to complications related to prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 80 in Dunwoody, Ga. Less known is the fact he served as U.S. national team coach during part of its qualifying campaign for the 1970 World Cup.
(Paul Gardner remembers Phil Woosnam.)
Woosnam, who held a university degree and taught high school physics before he turned professional at the age of 26, played for Leyton Orient, West Ham United and Aston Villa before moving to the United States to play for the Atlanta Chiefs in 1967. He served as their player-coach in 1968 and became commissioner of the NASL the following year when it contracted from 17 to five teams.
Operating out of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, where they got free rent and free phones by using an office in the visitors locker room, Clive Toye and Woosnam kept the NASL alive in 1969 thanks to the financial backing of Lamar Hunt.
While Woosnam took on the task of growing the league, Toye started the league's New York franchise, known as the Cosmos, in 1971 and later signed Pele to join the team in 1975.
By 1978, the NASL had 24 teams, and it would attract many of the world's greatest players, not only Pele but Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and Gerd Mueller.
But the rapid growth was too much, and the NASL collapsed almost as quickly as it had grown. By 1982, the NASL was down to 14 teams and Woosnam was out as commissioner.
Woosnam remained involved in the game after the NASL's demise. He was close to U.S. Soccer president Werner Frickerwho spearheaded the successful bid to host the 1994 World Cup, but disagreements Fricker had with FIFA led to FIFA backing Alan Rothenberg in his successful campaign to unseat Fricker in 1990.
The marketing agency former NASL marketing executive Steve Caspers and Woosnam operated was cut out of the growing soccer marketing business in the early 1990s, though they later successfully sued.
Woosnam, who was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1997, is survived by his wife, Ruth, sister, Mair, daughter, Valerie, son, David, stepson, Randy Pearson, daughter-in-law, Susan Pearson, and grandchildren Carleigh, Cole and Luke Pearson.