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History of Soccer in Los Angeles: Groundwork for 1990s revival laid a decade earlier

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It wasn't the best decade for soccer, but it was also pretty important in soccer history nonetheless.

The 1984 Olympics and Lazers (not quite these) helped keep soccer alive in LA.
The 1984 Olympics and Lazers (not quite these) helped keep soccer alive in LA.
Steve Powell/Getty Images

As the NASL era in Southern California died, in 1981 the California Surf and the LA Aztecs folded, thus ending top division soccer in the area until the LA Galaxy came about in the mid 1990s. What filled the void was lower league soccer, Olympic soccer, and college soccer. UCLA would become one of the better dynasties in the years between pro leagues, and even smaller college programs (the likes of Cal State Northridge, Cal State Los Angeles and others) were successful in their respective levels.

What stepped into the void on the pro level in the 1980s? Indoor soccer! The phenomenon, which still exists in pockets around the country, became the predominant trend in American soccer. It may be looked back with embarrassment now, but scores of Americans turned out for local indoor teams in the pre-MLS era.

Despite that, the local indoor team, the Los Angeles Lazers, were never a huge success in the area. Despite being owned by legendary Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss and featuring some very prominent names, including Fernando Clavijo, Cle Kooiman, and former Chivas USA coach Martin Vasquez, among others, the Lazers made the playoffs three times in seven seasons between 1982-89 before folding.

If college soccer was laying the groundwork for future American soccer success, and pro soccer was struggling, the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles were arguably a case for not only the 1994 World Cup to be hosted in the United States, but the eventual formation of Major League Soccer.

As David Litterer notes, while only 10 minutes of the gold medal game were televised, encompassing the soccer tournament's TV coverage in the U.S., attendance for the soccer portion was a complete success, by far the best-attended sport at the Olympics, which altogether were a landmark success. It can be forgiven if the rest of the country didn't realize soccer would soon become a force on the national stage, but the demand for the sport was certainly apparent in Southern California, and the region became a destination for U.S. Men's National Teams once more, though usually not at the numbers seen now.

It's obvious that the pieces were coming together for a full-on revival of soccer in the United States from the 1980s, considered a "dead zone" in American soccer history. The development of the college scene helped to stock the National Teams (men's and women's alike) and produce future pro player and coaching prospects. The indoor soccer scene, while not a rousing success locally, helped keep the careers of some key figures in the 1990s and beyond alive, and the 1984 Olympics showed that a country that had recently witnessed the slow, painful demise of the NASL still had an appetite for soccer. And that paved the way for the golden age to emerge.

In the next edition of the series, the 1990's hit, the World Cup comes to America, the ASL comes back for the third time, hoping to become the First Division, UCLA becomes a hotbed of coaches and players, and Major League Soccer comes into the minds of the federation.

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

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