Phil Woosnam, who managed and played for the Atlanta Chiefs and blazed a trail for the sport in the U.S., died on Friday in Marietta from complications related to prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. He was 80 years old.
Woosnam, a native of Wales, joined the Chiefs in 1966 after stints with several professional clubs in England, including Leyton Orient, West Ham and Aston Villa.
“Phil was one of the pioneers of professional soccer in North America,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said. “When we started MLS, Phil was always willing to share with us his time and his experiences with the NASL. We will always remember his passion for, and his contributions to, our sport. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
Hired to be a manager, he also played, scoring the first goal in the first soccer game in the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium history. He led the Chiefs to an NASL championship in 1968, the first for a pro sports team in the city. He also made 17 appearances for the Welsh national team as a striker.
Woosnam was a pioneer for the sport in the United States. He coached the national team in 1968 and was hired in 1969 as commissioner of the North American Soccer League, a role he held until 1983. Under his guidance, the NASL brought in world-class players such as Pele and eventually reached 24 franchises.
“There’s no one person that you can point to that had more to do with success of soccer in this country than Phil Woosnam,” said Dick Cecil, who hired Woosnam to coach the Chiefs. “He was the pied piper of the game. He really brought players and people out to spread it into the suburbs. He took it to a whole new level.”
Woosnam was an honoree in several hall of fames, including the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Georgia Soccer Hall of Fame earlier the same year.
“I’d like the younger generation to realize what Phil Woosnam did for the game,” said Angus McAlpine, a friend and co-worker of Woosnam’s. “He was soccer in America in the 1970s. He was a tremendous figure in the game. He did it all as a player-caoch and commissioner. He was a great friend.”
Woosnam was also instrumental in helping the U.S. secure the 1994 World Cup.
“I considered him a mentor,” former Chiefs player Graham Tutt said. “The sport will miss him.”
He is surived by his wife, Ruth, sister, Mair, daughter, Valerie, son, David, stepson, Randy Pearson, daughter-in-law, Susan Pearson, and grandchildren Carleigh, Cole and Luke Pearson. He was preceded in death by stepson Rick Pearson.
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