June 11, 2014


How the U.S. Military Shaped American Soccer (AARON GORDON, June 09, 2014, Pacific Standard)

ONE COULD SAY WITH only the wryest of smiles that the Soviet blockade of Berlin was the most important event in U.S. soccer history. Once the blockade began, it was clear to the United States military that the Cold War would demand permanent bases in Germany. During the Cold War, there were hundreds of installations and nine major air bases in West Germany, including the U.S. Air Forces in Europe headquarters. The population of military bases, often numbering in the tens of thousands, would dwarf those of the small surrounding towns.

In an effort to "improve their contacts with the local people," the Air Force created soccer teams where soldiers would learn the game and compete against the local population. As reported by the Daily Boston Globe, within a year of the program's 1954 inauguration, 50 European bases had teams, while some had multiple squads that would compete against each other and in local leagues. The Globe called the Air Force's efforts "a scheme to popularize soccer, which soon may have its effect back home in the United States." While this prediction was off the mark, relationships with the locals certainly would improve, whether due to soccer or not.

As of 2009, there were 227 active bases in Germany. Despite many base closures in recent years--it's difficult to tell, based on military documents, which have actually closed or are scheduled to--there are still 40,328 United States military personnel deployed in Germany. Because the bases have existed for decades, many locals have developed an affection for them and the soldiers themselves.

For U.S. Soccer, these bases have proved fertile ground for new talent. Germany, like all of Europe, is soccer-obsessed. The German team is one of the best in the world, currently ranked second in FIFA's World Rankings. Players who wouldn't stand a chance to make the German roster seek out other countries for which they may be eligible that may not have Germany's soccer pedigree. For children of U.S. military personnel, America is an obvious second choice. U.S. Soccer has been happy to recruit these Americans who have been trained elsewhere.

Posted by at June 11, 2014 5:54 PM

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