Phil Woosnam, who managed and played for the now-defunct Atlanta Chiefs soccer team and blazed a trail for the sport in the United States, died Friday in Marietta from complications related to prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. He was 80 years old.
“Phil was one of the pioneers of professional soccer in North America,” Major League Soccer 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.”
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.
Hired to manage the Chiefs, he also played, scoring the first goal in the first soccer game in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. He led the Chiefs to a North American Soccer League championship in 1968, the first for a pro sports team in the city.
Woosnam coached the U.S. national team in 1968 and was hired in 1969 as commissioner of the NASL, a role he held until 1983. Under his guidance, the NASL brought in world-class players such as Pele and eventually reached 24 franchises. Woosnam also was instrumental in helping the United States secure the 1994 World Cup.
“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 inducted into several halls of fame, including the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Georgia Soccer Hall of Fame earlier the same year.
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