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History of Soccer in Los Angeles: Ethnic origins get sport off the ground

The roots of soccer in LA stretch back over a century.

Los Angeles brought home the U.S. Open Cup in the pre-MLS days.
Los Angeles brought home the U.S. Open Cup in the pre-MLS days.
Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

Editor's Note: The Goat Parade welcomes back ThatJayhawk to the writing staff, as he embarks on a series discussing the history of soccer in the Los Angeles area.

There's a misconception in soccer fandom, that soccer in this country has only been around since the establishment of MLS. That's not the case, in fact in some parts of the country the sport goes back to the late 1800's. In Los Angeles there were teams as far back the 1900s, with the most famous probably being Maccabi Los Angeles of the 70's and 80's. They became one of the standard-bearers in the area when MLS and NASL weren't in the picture.

Let's start out in the early days, specifically in 1902, when the South California Foot Ball League was founded. The next year another league was founded in South California League (which would be renamed later the Greater Los Angeles Soccer League), and would be part of the amateur soccer scene for many years. At the turn of the century, the clubs in America were filled with Scottish Immigrants, mostly working in the factories and the mills. Why did they dominate the sport in the early going? Because they were among the first to take to it, and they emigrated throughout the world. The early champions were Los Angeles Athletic Club, Guernsey SC, and Los Angeles United. There was the Senior Challenge Cup which the State Association started, which the Los Angeles Scots were the first to win in 1941, and again in 1942.

In fact, like soccer elsewhere in the United States, the scene in California was dominated by ethnic-based teams, with groups of immigrants and second- and third-generation descendants playing for "their" group's team. At the same time, given the diversity of Southern California, even back in the early part of the 1900s, and there were more "outsiders" welcomed into ethnic teams than perhaps in other parts of the United States. But overall, players tended to play for teams along ethnic or national lines until the professional era began.

World War II was a turning point in many respects in LA, with several leagues joining the fun and spreading the sport. This was partly due to the fact that Los Angeles is as it was back then a tourist destination, as well as a place for people to migrate to, for a variety of reasons (including poverty during the Great Depression and the job boom in LA due to the war). By the late 1940s, visiting international clubs began to make Los Angeles a stop on their tours. Hapoel FC of Tel-Aviv came in 1948, and then Atlante of Mexico made a visit that year, beating the LA Scots and the Maygars.

However, there was one club that made it a habit of sorts of coming over: Manchester United. In the early 1950s Manchester United came over multiple times and playing two matches each time (perhaps not surprising considering the distance involved).

The Los Angeles Scots, like many clubs in America, became dominant in their local league. In the GLASL, they won titles in 1950, '52 and '54. In 1953 the Los Angeles sides started entering the U.S. Open Cup. And in 1955, the Danish Americans made it to the final, though losing to New York's S.C Eintracht, another ethnic team. They would follow this up by winning the State Cup in 1957.

As we see, like with anything in Los Angeles soccer was doing the job, and doing it big. Winning cups, league titles, and developing leagues. This started the foreign clubs coming to the city to play, and to this day international clubs make that a habit.

Note: Background information provided by "History of Soccer in Greater Los Angeles" page, maintained by David Litterer.

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