One way to lose a generation of soccer players is to continually change the names of the leagues in which they languished. Over the years, many American leagues have gone defunct, revived, and died again, often with subtle but hopeful name changes. The confusion continues, making it nearly impossible to align today’s American leagues with the equivalent first, second, and third divisions in other countries.

Many Americans consider the North American Soccer League (NASL) to be the kickoff for professional soccer in the United States. Wrong. The NASL was Frankenstein stitched together from the merger between the United Soccer Association (USA) and the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) in 1968. Much earlier, the boom/bust cycle of American soccer name-changing started in the 19th century. In 1884, the American Football Association (AFA) became the first group to organize. The AFA’s regional approach conflicted with the coast-to-coast view from the emerging American Amateur Football Association (AAFA). The AAFA changed its name to the United States Football Association (USFA) and gained FIFA recognition in 1913. The names of governing bodies, leagues, and leaders continued to morph for another 100 years.

Throughout the 1970s, particularly with the arrival of Pelé in 1975, the NASL achieved a new level of legitimacy among American soccer fans. Famous international players saw greener pastures in the NASL, perfect for final grazing. Running from 1968 to 1984, the NASL story line started with the New York Cosmos attracting Brazilians Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento) and Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer (Germany), Giorgio Chinaglia (Italy), Andranik Eskandarian (Iran), and other global stars. The Cosmos held power in the middle phase of the NASL story. But then the Cosmos themselves faded and the league finally died in 1984. At that point, the cities with the strongest soccer cultures quietly kept the game alive, sort of like the Centralia mine fire in Pennsylvania.

Before and after his pro career, my friend John Purtteman’s teams played in the Continental Indoor Soccer League (CISL), the NPSL, the Premier Soccer Alliance (PSA), the World Indoor Soccer League (WISL), and one of three incarnations of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL).

Questions about the MISL might pertain to the first version (1978–1992), the rejuvenation a decade later when former NPSL teams combined with WISL teams to call their league MISL (2001–2008), or the current league founded in 1998 and renamed with the familiar MISL moniker.

To clarify, the name of the league for the final two seasons of the initial MISL (1991–1992) was “Major Soccer League” (MSL), not to be confused with today’s top level in the nation, Major League Soccer (MLS).

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