Phil Woosnam, the longtime commissioner of the original North American Soccer League, passed away on Friday night. He was 80 years old.
Woosnam, who was born in Wales, enjoyed a long and accomplished career in the English leagues, suiting up for West Ham United and Aston Villa, among others, before coming to America in 1967 to play for the Atlanta Chiefs. He later became the club's coach.
Over the next 15 years, he had a major impact on the growth and development of professional soccer in North America. In 1968, he became the commissioner of the NASL, having helped found the league.
Under Woosnam's leadership, the nascent league grew into a national phenomonen, particularly after he helped facillitate the founding of the New York Cosmos with Clive Toye in 1971.
"Phil was one of the pioneers of professional soccer in North America," MLS Commissioner Don Garber said on Saturday. "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 was remembered by many in the soccer community on Saturday. Ted Howard, who served as executive director and deputy commissioner of the NASL under Woosnam and is now CONCACAF deputy general secretary, called Woosnam "the father of professional soccer in this country," according to BigAppleSoccer.com.
Longtime soccer commentator Paul Gardner, who worked with Woosnam in the early 1970s, remembered him as being supremely "quick, sharp, and devoted to soccer."