North American Soccer League Commissioner Phil Woosnam will head a delegation from the league that will attend the European Nations Cup in Rome June 11-22.
The major reason for the trip: to drum up support for a United States bid to host the World Cup in 1986. The 24-team tournament is scheduled to be played in Colombia. But because of the political situation there, FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, is considering relocating the tournament.
"We're going over there for several reasons but the World Cup is certainly one of them," Woosnam said recently. "We think it's important to get to know more people in the soccer community in general and to talk to people about the rules here which some have objected to."
FIFA has three major complaints about NASL soccer: the 35-yard line (which creates a more wide-open game), the shootout and artificial surfaces. All three of those changes from standard international soccer have long been thought of as stumbling blocks for any U.S. bid for the World Cup.
Woosnam conceded that there still was opposition to the changes but said he felt it had slackened. "A couple of years ago, people were outraged," he said. "But now they're beginning to understand why we made the changes. I think people around the world are impressed with the promotional abilities of soccer people here."
Getting the World Cup for the United States has almost been an obsession with Woosnam for years. He always has maintained that a World Cup tournament here would be the final step toward putting soccer over the top in this country.
Among those in the delegation will be Steve Danzansky, president of the Washington Diplomats. If the World Cup does come to this country Washington will be one of the proposed sites, although New York or Los Angeles would be the first two choices for the finals.
Woosnam said he thought the United States has a "realistic," chance of getting the 1986 World Cup, although right now it clearly is an outsider in the eyes of the FIFA.
While Woosnam dreams of World Cups, several NASL franchises find themselves in nightmarish situations.
In New England Monday 254 people showed up on a rainy night to see the Tea Men in action. Management was so grateful the 254 will be given season tickets by the club.
Two nights later in Philadelphia an announced crowd of 2,478, which looked more like 1,000 or less to an out of towner, showed up to watch the Fury.
At the same time the Philadelphia club's 15 owners are looking for new financing or a buyer. Coach Eddie Firmani has several top players ready to come to Philadelphia but can not afford to purchase them.
The Rochester Lancers, playing in ancient Holleder Stadium, are going nowhere fast; the Atlanta Chiefs, promoting like crazy, are averaging 5,000 fans per game with a good team; the Chicago Sting, with one of the most talented teams in the league, cannot find a permanent stadium and still are averaging fewer than 10,000 fans a game; Edmonton, Houston and San Jose are struggling; Portland desperately needs a new stadium, and Dallas, another excellent team, is averaging 6,000 fans per game in its 14th year in the league.
"It's about time Phil Woosnam and the league office quit worrying about the . . . World Cup and the . . . Cosmos and their exhibitions and start worrying about the eight franchises in this league that may not survive another year," one league executive said Friday. "A lot of people in this league are living in a fool's paradise. You can't keep losing money forever."
Some of the owners of stronger franchises would like to see the league cut back to 16 or 18 teams next year. "I'm against that," Woosnam said. "It's easy for the stronger owners to say that. But all these clubs are just one or two things away from making it." Those two things could be a Pele-type player and $10 million.
Refereeing continues to be a subject of controversy around the league. Two games last week saw seven yellow cards each and outraged coaches seeing red.
"Refereeing should be this league's top priority right now," Toronto Blizzard President Clive Toye said. "We must start developing better young officials." Most league people quickly add that Keith Walker, the director of officials, is working hard to improve the situation.