Born in the mid-Wales village of Caersws in 1932, Phil Woosnam would make 17 international appearances for Wales during a professional playing career that included spells with Leyton Orient, West Ham United and Aston Villa during the 1950's and 60's. However, when he passed away at the age of 80 back in 2013, it was the New York Times who led the tributes, describing the former striker as the pioneer of US soccer.
Prior to his switch from the playing field to the boardroom, Woosnam's American adventure started when he was appointed as player-manager of the Atlanta Chiefs in 1966. His knowledge and experience saw him make the step-up to the US national team two years later, but this was just the start of a story that would see Woosnam become one of the most important and senior figures during an era that brought some of the biggest names in the world game to the US. In 1969, the man from Caersws was made commissioner for the North American Soccer League (NASL), and the rest is history.
Over the course of the next 15 years, he played a significant role in bringing star names such as Bobby Moore, Johan Cruyff, George Best, Pele, and other international headliners to the US. Although they were not all at the peak of their careers, the US quickly became the place to be for these famous names of the European and world game, and their presence revolutionised the sport in a country that had previously failed to accept or support it with anything close to the same enthusiasm as the rest of the world.
Combining his professional football experience with his business acumen, Woosnam was not afraid to make big commercial decisions as he recognised the potential for growing the game in the US in an era of rapidly-expanding television coverage, and he ensured the finances were in place to attract the biggest names in the world game to front this bold sporting revolution. Although the NASL project came to an end in 1984, Woosnam remained an influential figure in US soccer politics, and was subsequently appointed into a key marketing role at the United States Soccer Federation (USSF).
During the following decade, Woosnam played a crucial role in the US being awarded the 1994 FIFA World Cup in addition to establishing Major League Soccer (MLS). His legacy continues as the game moves from strength to strength, and Woosnam's contribution to US soccer over the course of those three decades will define the history of the game in the country and cannot be denied. Meanwhile, the tributes that followed his death in July 2013 at the age of 80 emphasised just how much he was revered in his adopted country.
“Phil Woosnam was a true pioneer of soccer in the United States in every sense of the word and his contribution to the sport in this country is immeasurable,” said former NASL commissioner Bill Peterson about the man who was included in the US National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1997. “He took soccer into uncharted waters, and through his passion, he carried the game on his shoulders for many years.”