The North American Soccer League took a bold step tonight in its attempt to strengthen the position of the United States for hosting the 1986 World Cup by approving plans for a Team America.
NASL President Howard Samuels was given the go-ahead by the league's 12 owners to seek $4 million in the next six to eight weeks to begin the project, believed to be the first of its kind in the world in soccer.
Reports were that the team would be based either in Washington, D.C., or St. Louis, Mo.
"Despite what has happened in Washington (two teams have folded), that city seems to fit the whole concept of a national team," said Vince Casey, the league's director of public relations. "St. Louis also is in the running because of hopes of getting the Busch money behind it."
Team America, to be stocked with U.S. players from existing NASL teams, would form the basis of the U.S. national soccer team. The national team of a country competes for a berth in the World Cup.
The World Cup was to be held in Colombia in 1986 but the government said Monday it would not host the tournament, citing economic hardship. The United States, Brazil and Canada are considered the leading candidates to replace Colombia.
By entering a national team in the top professional soccer league in the U.S., the NASL is attempting to generate greater fan interest while allowing native players to develop. In the NASL, U.S. players often are benched in favor of more experienced foreigners.
The news of Team America was the highlight of a relatively light day of decision-making for the NASL at its winter meetings.
"Personally, I don't know if we can pull it (Team America) off this year given the time factor, but it's almost certain it will go in 1984," Samuels said following a four-hour meeting.
The vote was 10-1 with the Cosmos abstaining and the Tulsa Roughnecks casting the no vote.
Samuels said he already had contacted several corporations concerning Team America and said he hoped he could gather the funding for the team.
"We have some 30 players in the NASL right now that are World Cup caliber," he said. "This is where they can develop together and, even if we don't have a franchise this season, they'll play 15 games against competition from around the world."
Team America would be a regular member of the NASL and would play the same schedule as the other teams.
The U.S. Soccer Federation has committed about $1 million toward Team America and the USSF still is conducting its search for a national team coach. Samuels said that person would coach Team America.
Gordon Bradley, the former coach of the Washington Diplomats who has been active in trying to bring professional soccer back to the District, said Team America "is a good idea. Yes, it can work.
And I think they (the NASL directors) would prefer Washington because this is the hub of the country.
"The mechanics of it are going to be difficult to work out; for example, a team such as the Cosmos, who could have four or five (U.S. players), which really forms the nucleus of the national team. It is in essence asking them to release these players and that would reduce the strength of their squad."