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Soccer's Long History as America's Sport of the Future

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Much has happened in the last century. We harnessed the power of satellites so we can order delivery pizza without talking to anyone. We invented flying machines, then promptly figured out how we could kill each other with those flying machines. We poisoned our planet. We learned that smoking poisons ourselves. EZ-Pass was invented, thus marking the zenith of human ingenuity. One thing that did not happen, however: Soccer did not become America’s Next Big Thing, despite 100 years of people saying otherwise.

Here is a brief history of soccer as America’s next big sport.

SOCCER: AN ALTERNATIVE TO DEATH BY FOOTBALL

The first time soccer (or, as it was called then, “socker”) was seriously put forward as an American trend was in 1905, when President Teddy Roosevelt strayed quite far from his Rough Rider roots by asserting people needn’t die playing American football. This coincided with an American tour by the English team, previewing several decades of good soccer teams coming to America for the privilege of beating us.

The following year, the Washington Post ran an article, “IF NOT FOOTBALL, WHAT,” that argued “socker” was no substitute for American football despite its adoption on several college campuses. The piece made some strong points about “socker” being the true football because “it is altogether a kicking game,” unlike our incorrectly named sport. However, the author noted this would be a major turnoff for most Americans, since we have quite the hand fetish.

Despite the Post’s metacarpals-based claims, soccer indeed experienced a bit of a boom, particularly in St. Louis. In “SOCCER AS MEANS OF GOOD EXERCIZE”—who says clickbait is a new phenomenon?—the Post Dispatch reported “new amateur clubs and leagues are being formed almost weekly.” Although soccer would remain atypically popular in St. Louis for most of the 20th century, it failed to spread far outside the city limits.

EXPORT WAR, IMPORT SOCCER

1916 U.S. Soccer Team, via Wikimedia Commons

About a decade later, America sent most of its able-bodied men to faraway, soccer-loving lands—but not to play soccer. So, a new theory of the sport’s impending popularity sprouted: WWI soldiers will be infected with soccer’s spirit and return to poison us all.

ADOPTION OF GAME AS ARMY RECREATION SHOULD GVE [sic] THE SPORT ITS BIGGEST BOOST,” reported the Detroit Free Press in 1918. The subhead continued the theme: “AFTER PEACE COMES GAME SHOULD BOOM.” As the article states, the government bought up much of the country’s soccer ball supply and shipped them to army camps, “doing all in its power to foster the game amongst its soldiers.” It’s not clear why the Army was so interested in soccer, although the usual pro-soccer arguments of inexpensiveness, ease, and fitness could have been reason enough.

Not much was heard from soccer again in the United States until 1950, when the U.S. experienced its greatest international victory, beating England in the World Cup by the score of 1-0. In 1955, the U.S. soccer booster otherwise known as the US Armed Forces was back at it: “OVERSEAS AIRMEN LEARNING SOCCER, MAY SOON BOOM SPORT BACK IN U.S.” This time, they had a plausible reason for supporting the game: foreign relations.

The idea was quite simple: rather than American soldiers reinforcing the colonial perception of our culture being forced upon others, they would learn from the locals instead. Instead of teaching others how to play baseball or basketball, the soldiers learned to play soccer. This practice was most commonly deployed on the Air Force’s European bases. Lt. Al Aspen Jr., coach of the Air Force European command’s all-star soccer team, told the Daily Boston Globe, “Ten years from now America will be a power in soccer.” Lt. Aspen was a bit off the mark: 11 years later, the United States did not qualify for the 1966 World Cup.

NASL COMMISSIONER PHIL WOOSNAM MAKES CRAZY TALK

NASL's International Stars, via Wikimedia Commons

The next era of soccer threatening to dominate the American way of life began in 1968, thanks to Phil Woosnam, the North American Soccer League Commissioner who, in his spare time, predicted we will all bow to Socclor, the God of American Soccer.

As you may recall, the NASL had its moment in the sun which, in retrospect, was just the reflected glow from the great eternal sunshine of Pele’s spotless mind. Still, this led Woosnam to say all kinds of crazy things: the United States would contend for the World Cup title in 1990 and be the “center of world soccer” (the U.S. finished last in its group, losing all three games), or the NASL would catch the NFL in popularity by 1985 (the NASL folded in 1984). Woosnam also believed “there’s little doubt the American fan will someday achieve the same emotional frenzy as his counterpart in Brazil and England.” It’s a testament to his “good job, good effort” mentality that this was one of his more accurate predictions.

Woosnam was not the only one to harbor such grandiose visions of American soccer’s future. In 1981, the Boston Globe ran an article about youth soccer’s popularity in New England, in which they interviewed Peter Giannacopoulos, a man largely described by the Greek he shouts at his youth soccer players. Like Woosnam, Giannacopoulos also believed “the American kids coming along now are better than their European counterparts.” If only that were true at the time.

THE BACKLASH

The Face of American Soccer in 1994, via Getty

The decade after the NASL’s collapse was a dark time for American soccer. Optimists became skeptics, skeptics became naysayers, and naysayers basked in their own sense of self-righteousness. For sportswriters, this meant anyone who had previously voiced opposition to soccer as The Next Big Thing became insufferable epicenters of bad logic.

In 1994, Anthony Day of the Los Angeles Times expressed doubt “American audiences can be brought to like a game not susceptible to statistical analysis.” Because Americans love to calculate batting averages and completion percentages, Day thought, they would never embrace a game that rendered their wrist calculators useless. Still, Day promoted soccer as a “rich smorgasbord of styles and tactical concepts,” which would almost surely be lost on the “natives in short pants,” as the Wall Street Journal described American soccer fans in 1989.

Reporters mocked the optimistic youth participation statistics from the 1980s and early 1990s as false alarms. Phil Hersh, a Chicago Tribune columnist, wryly noted: “And wait, here’s a news flash: According to reliable sources, more than 230 million Americans polled last week admitted knowing that a soccer ball is round.” In 2002, the New York Times ran “SOCCER IS STILL NOT A PASSION IN THE U.S.”—as close to “Nothing Continues To Happen” as you’ll ever see in a headline—where Ira Burkow goes on to provide as apt a description of America’s dismissiveness towards soccer as one can find:

“The fact is, while soccer has become popular with some moms and a ton of tots, it seems to lose spectator interest when the children reach adulthood…[baseball, football and basketball] are in our blood the way soccer is for most of the rest of the world...we would need a sports transfusion to change, but regardless of how far the American team advances in this World Cup, the paramedics still appear a long, long way off.”

It just isn’t our thing, they all say.

MODERN TIMES: SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE

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By the time the 1994 World Cup was awarded to the United States, most observers were permanently skeptical of the game’s American hold. Major League Soccer was created as a condition of the 1994 World Cup’s arrival, not purely out of existing interest in the sport. 

The league’s controlled, steady rise, like an old man rising from a tepid bath, was American soccer’s direct response to the NASL’s errors. Don Garber, Commissioner of MLS, is the anti-Woosnam: calculating, reserved, cautious. In an interview for the New York Times in 2007, Garber spoke in business buzzwords: "[MLS] continues to grow in value, which speaks to the investor community that believes soccer has a long-term value as a sports investment.” No “the MLS Cup will be God’s beverage cannister” predictions here.

Just because such brazen predictions aren’t coming from Garber doesn’t mean they aren’t coming at all. “HAS NBC SPORTS FOUND THE SECRET OF SELLING SOCCER TO U.S. TV VIEWERS?” asks The Hollywood Reporter, for instance.

However, there is some reason to believe that this time really is different. Gone are the days where Jack Bell could write a column about satellite TV bringing soccer to the masses, as he did in 2003; we have the internet now, making the game easier to follow than ever. Perhaps, for the first time in American soccer history, there’s more than just youth soccer participation stats to make soccer fans optimistic. Google recently published a report on soccer’s growth in the United States over the last four years, and it is as convincing an argument as American soccer has ever had.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe soccer finally is the Next Big American Thing. If it’s true, then we’re only a century behind.

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8 Allegedly Cursed Places
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Some of the most picturesque spots in the world hide legends of a curse. Castles, islands, rivers, and more have supposedly suffered spooky misfortunes as the result of a muttered hex cast after a perceived slight—whether it's by a maligned monk or a mischievous pirate. Below are eight such (allegedly) unfortunate locations.

1. A WALL FROM MARGAM ABBEY // WALES

An 800-year-old ruined wall stands on the grounds of a large steelworks in Port Talbot, Wales. The wall is surrounded by a fence and held up by a number of brick buttresses—all because of an ancient curse. The story goes that when King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the 16th century, one of the local Cistercian monks evicted from Margam Abbey told the new owners of the site, in a bid to protect it, that if the wall fell, the entire town would fall with it (it's unclear why he would focus on that particular part of the structure). Since then, the townsfolk have tried hard to protect the wall, even as an enormous steelworks was built around it. Rumors abound that the hex-giving monk still haunts the site in a red habit, keeping an eye on his precious wall.

2. ALLOA TOWER // SCOTLAND

Alloa tower in Scotland
HARTLEPOOLMARINA2014, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 4.0

Alloa Tower in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, has reportedly been subject to a curse for hundreds of years. In the 16th century, the Earl of Mar is said to have destroyed the local Cambuskenneth Abbey and taken the stones to build his new palace. The Abbot of Cambuskenneth was so furious he supposedly cast a multi-part curse on the Erskine family—ominously known as “The Doom of Mar." It is said that at least part of the curse has come true over the years, including that three of the children of the Mar family would “never see the light” (three of the earl’s ancestors’ offspring were reportedly born blind). The curse also supposedly predicted that the house would burn down, which occurred in 1800. Another part of the curse: The house would lay in ruins until an ash sapling grew from its roof. Sure enough, around 1820 a sapling was seen sprouting from the roof, and since then the family curse is said to have been lifted.

3. A WORKERS' CEMETERY // EGYPT

In the fall of 2017, archeologists reopened an almost-4500-year-old tomb complex in Giza, Egypt, that contains the remains of hundreds of workers who built the great Pyramid of Giza. The tomb also contains the remains of the supervisor of the workers, who is believed to have added curses to the cemetery to protect it from thieves. One such curse reads: "All people who enter this tomb who will make evil against this tomb and destroy it, may the crocodile be against them in water and snakes against them on land. May the hippopotamus be against them in water, the scorpion against them on land." The complex is now open to the public—who may or may not want to take their chances.

4. RUINS OF THE CHATEAU DE ROCCA SPARVIERA // FRANCE

A chateau just north of the French Riviera may sound like a delightful place to be, but amid the ruins of the Chateau de Rocca-Sparviera—the Castle of the Sparrow-Hawk—lies a disturbing legend. The tale centers around a medieval French queen named Jeanne, who supposedly fled to the castle after her husband was killed. She arrived with two young sons and a monk known to enjoy his drink. One Christmas, she went into the village to hear a midnight mass, and when she returned, she found that the monk had killed her sons in a drunken rage. (In another version of the story, she was served a banquet of her own children, which she unknowingly ate.) According to legend, Jeanne then cursed the castle, saying a bird would never sing nearby. To this day, some travelers report that the ruins are surrounded by an eerie silence.

5. THE PEBBLES OF KOH HINGHAM // THAILAND

Stopped off at a small uninhabited island that, according to Thai mythology, is cursed by the god Tarutao. If anyone dared to even take one pebble off this island they would be forever cursed! 😈 I heard from a local that every year the National Park office receive many stones back via mail from people who want to lift the curse! I was never much of a stone collector anyway... ☻☹☻☹☻ #thailand #kohlanta #kohlipe #kohhingham #islandhopping #islandlife #beachlife #pebbles #beach #speedboat #travelgram #instatraveling #wanderlust #exploringtheglobe #exploretocreate #traveleverywhere #aroundtheworld #exploringtheglobe #travelawesome #wanderer #earth_escape #natgeotravel #serialtraveler #awesomesauce #picoftheday #photooftheday #potd

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The tiny uninhabited island of Koh Hingham, off the coast of Thailand, is blessed with a covering of precious black stones. The stones are not precious because they contain anything valuable in a monetary sense, but because according to Thai mythology the god Tarutao made them so. Tarutao is said to have invoked a curse upon anyone who takes a stone off the island. As a result, every year the national park office that manages the island receives packages from all over the world, sent by tourists returning the stones and attempting to rid themselves of bad luck.

6. INITIALS OUTSIDE THE CHAPEL AT ST. ANDREWS UNIVERSITY // SCOTLAND

The "cursed" PH stones of St. Andrews University
Nuwandalice, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The initials PH are paved into the ground outside St. Salvator’s Chapel at St. Andrews University in Scotland. They mark the spot where 24-year-old preacher and faculty member Patrick Hamilton was burned at the stake for heresy in 1528—an early trigger of the Scottish Reformation. The location is therefore supposed to be cursed, and it is said that any student who stands on the initials is doomed to fail their exams. As a result of this superstition, after graduation day many students purposefully go back to stand on the spot now that all danger of failure has passed.

7. CHARLES ISLAND // CONNECTICUT

Charles Island, Connecticut
Michael Shaheen, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Charles Island lies off the coast of Milford, Connecticut, and is accessible from the mainland via a sandbar when the tide is low. Today it's home to a peaceful nature reserve for local birds, but its long history supposedly includes three curses. The first is said to have been cast in 1639 by the chief of the Paugussett tribe, after the nation was driven off the land by settlers—the chief supposedly cursed any building erected on the land. The second was supposedly laid in 1699 when the pirate Captain William Kidd stopped by the island to bury his booty and protected it with a curse. Shortly afterward, Kidd was caught and executed for his crimes—taking the location of his treasure to his grave.

The third curse is said to have come all the way from Mexico. In 1525, Mexican emperor Guatimozin was tortured by Spaniards hoping to locate Aztec treasure, but he refused to give up its whereabouts. In 1721, a group of sailors from Connecticut supposedly stumbled across the Aztec loot hidden in a cave in Mexico. After an unfortunate journey home in which disaster after disaster slowly depleted the crew, the sole surviving sailor reportedly landed on Charles Island, where he buried the cursed treasure in the hope of negating its hex.

8. THE GHOST TOWN OF BODIE // CALIFORNIA

A house in Bodie, California
Jim Bahn, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Bodie, in California's Sierra Nevadas, sprang up as a result of the gold rush. The town boomed in the late 19th century, with a population nearing 10,000 people. But as the gold seams ran dry, Bodie began a slow and steady decline, hastened by a series of devastating fires. By the 1950s, the place had become a ghost town, and in 1962 it was designated a State Historic Park, with the the buildings kept in a state of “arrested decay." Bodie's sad history has encouraged rumors of a curse, and many visitors to the site who have picked up an abandoned souvenir have reportedly been dogged with bad luck. So much so, the Bodie museum displays numerous letters from tourists who have sent back pilfered booty in the hope of breaking their run of ill fortune.

But the curse didn't start with prospectors or spooked visitors. The rumor apparently originated from rangers at the park, who hoped that the story would prevent visitors from continuing to steal items. In one sense the story worked, since many people are now too scared to pocket artifacts from the site; in another, the rangers have just succeeded in increasing their workload, as they now receive letter after letter expressing regret for taking an item and reporting on the bad luck it caused—further reinforcing the idea of the Bodie curse.

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21 Other Royal Babies Born In The Last 20 Years
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by Kenny Hemphill

At 11:01 a.m. on April 23, 2018, the Royal Family got a new member when it was announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have welcomed their third child, a (yet-to-be-named) boy, who will become fifth in line to the throne. While William and Kate's three children may be the youngsters closest to the throne, they're not the only pint-sized descendants of Queen Elizabeth II to be born in the past 20 years. Here are 21 more of them.

1. ARTHUR CHATTO

Arthur Robert Nathaniel Chatto, who turned 19 years old February 5, is the younger son of Lady Sarah and Daniel Chatto. He is 23rd in the line of succession—and has been raising some royal eyebrows with his penchant for Instagram selfies.

2. CHARLES ARMSTRONG-JONES, VISCOUNT LINLEY

The grandson of Lord Snowden and Princess Margaret, and son of the 2nd Earl and Countess of Snowdon, Charles—who was born on July 1, 1999—is the heir apparent to the Earldom of Snowdon.

3. LADY MARGARITA ARMSTRONG-JONES

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (R) speaks to Serena Armstrong-Jones, Countess of Snowdon (L), David Armstrong-Jones (2L), 2nd Earl of Snowdon, and Lady Margarita Armstrong-Jones (2R).
JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images

Born on May 14, 2002, Lady Margarita is sister to Charles Armstrong-Jones, and great-niece to the Queen. She's 20th in line to the throne.

4. LADY LOUISE WINDSOR

Lady Louise Windsor is the eldest child and only daughter of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex. She was born on November 8, 2003 and is 11th in line for the throne.

5. ELOISE TAYLOR

The third child of Lady Helen and Timothy Taylor, Eloise Olivia Katherine Taylor was born on March 2, 2003 and is 43rd in line for the throne.

6. ESTELLA TAYLOR

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge chats to Estella Taylor on the balcony during Trooping the Colour - Queen Elizabeth II's Birthday Parade, at The Royal Horseguards on June 14, 2014 in London, England
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Eloise's younger sister, Estella Olga Elizabeth Taylor, was born on December 21, 2004. She is the youngest of the four Taylor children and is 44th in succession.

7. JAMES, VISCOUNT SEVERN

The younger child of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, James Alexander Philip Theo Mountbatten-Windsor—or Viscount Severn—was born on December 17, 2007 and is 10th in line for the throne.

8. ALBERT WINDSOR

Albert Louis Philip Edward Windsor, born September 22, 2007, is notable for being the first royal baby to be baptized a Catholic since 1688. He is the son of Lord and Lady Nicholas Windsor, and grandson of the Duke and Duchess of Kent. According to the Act of Settlement, which was passed in 1701, being baptized Catholic would automatically exclude a potential royal from the line of succession. But there was some controversy surrounding this when, up until 2015, the Royal Family website included Albert.

9. XAN WINDSOR

Lord Culloden, Xan Richard Anders Windsor, is son to the Earl of Ulster and Claire Booth, and grandson of the Duke of Gloucester. He was born on March 2, 2007 and is 26th in succession.

10. LEOPOLD WINDSOR

Like his older brother Albert, Leopold Windsor—who was born on September 8, 2009—is not in line to the throne, by virtue of being baptized a Roman Catholic (though he, too, was listed on the Royal Family's website for a time).

11. SAVANNAH PHILLIPS

Autumn Phillips, Isla Phillips, Peter Philips and Savannah Phillips attend Christmas Day Church service at Church of St Mary Magdalene on December 25, 2017 in King's Lynn, England
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Savannah Anne Kathleen Phillips, the Queen's first great-grandchild, was born on December 29, 2010 to Peter Phillips, son of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, and Autumn Kelly. She is 14th in line for the throne.

12. SENNA LEWIS

Senna Kowhai Lewis, who was born on June 2, 2010, is the daughter of Gary and Lady Davina Lewis, elder daughter of Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester. She was a beneficiary of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which abolished the practice of giving sons precedence over daughters in the line of succession, regardless of when they are born. As a result, she is 29th in succession.

13. LYLA GILMAN

Daughter of Lady Rose and George Gilman, and granddaughter of Prince Richard, 2nd Duke of Gloucester, Lyla Beatrix Christabel Gilman was born on May 30, 2010. She is 32nd in succession.

14. COSIMA WINDSOR

Lady Cosima Rose Alexandra Windsor was born on May 20, 2010. She is sister to Lord Culloden, daughter of the Earl of Ulster and Claire Booth, and granddaughter to the Duke of Gloucester. She's 27th in line for the throne.

15. RUFUS GILMAN

Lyla Gilman's brother, Rufus, born in October 2012, is 33rd in line for the throne.

16. TĀNE LEWIS

Tāne Mahuta Lewis, Senna's brother, was named after a giant kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest of the Northland region of New Zealand. He was born on May 25, 2012 and is 30th in line for the throne, following the Succession to the Crown Act 2013.

17. ISLA PHILLIPS

Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Isla Phillips and Peter Phillips attend a Christmas Day church service
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Peter and Autumn Phillips's second and youngest daughter, Isla Elizabeth Phillips, was born on March 29, 2012 and is 15th in succession.

18. MAUD WINDSOR

Maud Elizabeth Daphne Marina Windsor, the daughter of Lord Frederick and Lady Sophie of Windsor and granddaughter of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, was born on August 15, 2013 and is 47th in line for the throne.

19. LOUIS WINDSOR

Louis Arthur Nicholas Felix Windsor, who was born on May 27, 2014, is the youngest child of Lord and Lady Nicholas Windsor, and brother of Leopold and Albert. As he was baptized into the Roman Catholic church, he's not in line to the throne.

20. MIA GRACE TINDALL

Mike Tindall, Zara Tindall and their daughter Mia Tindall pose for a photograph during day three of The Big Feastival at Alex James' Farm on August 28, 2016 in Kingham, Oxfordshire.
Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Daughter of Zara Phillips and her husband, former England rugby player Mike Tindall, Mia Grace Tindall was born on January 17, 2014 and is 17th in the line of succession.

21. ISABELLA WINDSOR

Isabella Alexandra May, the second and youngest daughter of Lord Frederick and Lady Sophie of Windsor, was the last addition to the royal family. In July 2016, she was christened at Kensington Palace wearing the same gown worn by both Prince George and Princess Charlotte (it's a replica of the one that Queen Victoria's children wore). Looking on was celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who is one of Isabella's godparents.

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