Howard Samuels, the new president of the North American Soccer League, has proposed that the league field a team made up entirely of American players and said that Washington is one of two or three cities being considered as the team's home base.
"Right now, it's still a longshot for next year because there is so much that would have to be done," Samuels said recently. "But if we could put it together, Washington would be a city we would look at very closely. I don't think there's any question but that the league wants to go back there, and this might be a great way to do it. After all, an American team playing in the nation's capital preparing for the World Cup seems like a natural."
Another candidate for the team -- if the league decides to seriously pursue the proposal--is Milwaukee, largely because a major beer company might become the team's sponsor.
Holding back the concept is the generally bleak financial situation of the NASL. Even with the loss of 10 franchises the past two years, the league, now down to 14 teams, faces almost certain attrition at the end of this season. Samuels said that at least seven of the 14 franchises have major financial problems and that he expects to operate with about 10 teams, "maybe 12 at most," next season.
It was the financial situation that prompted owners to demote Commissioner Phil Woosnam to the No. 2 post in the league hierarchy and hire Samuels, 62, as NASL president in June.
Samuels, who has a two-year contract, is best known for putting together New York's Off-Track Betting system. He is a longtime businessman and politician, having lost the 1974 Democratic primary for governor of New York to Hugh Carey.
"I think one of the major reasons I was brought in by the league is because I'm a businessman," Samuels said. "The fact is, in the last 15 years professional soccer franchises here have probably lost half a billion dollars. This year, our clubs will lose anywhere from $1 million to $1.5 million. You just can't ask people to continue sustaining those kinds of losses no matter how civic-minded they may be."
Samuels, who has only been on the job seven weeks, has a list of priorities for the league if it is going to survive the 1980s.
"It will not be easy," he said. "It's going to take this league at least five years to stop the bleeding, maybe as many as 10 before it really gets to the point where it is seeing money coming back.
"One thing I know, though, is coaches in this league have to stop selling owners on the idea that this one player or that one player at some incredible price is going to make the difference. They don't. We have to build the league around young American and Canadian players; that's the only way to do it.
"What's more, the teams have to stop paying such high salaries. Costs have got to be reduced. We've gone beyond the point of sensibility. Salaries have to be reduced not a little but one hell of a lot."
Samuels' first step will be moving the NASL toward a merger with the Major Indoor Soccer League, which has operated the last four winters with more success than the NASL's indoors operation.