David Wangerin, US Soccer Historian, Passes Away
American Soccer has no Babe Ruth or Jack Dempsey; no Yankee pinstripes or Boston Gardens; no Casey at the Bat or Monday Night Football. But it most certainly has a history, ill-preserved and half-forgotten though it may be. Ever since I discovered the curious path the game has traced across the country’s sporting landscape, I have wanted to chronicle it, to tell the story as best I can.
Dave Wangerin, Distant Corners
Sadly, this past weekend, the soccer world lost one of the best soccer historians far too early. David Wangerin, author of multiple books, most notably Soccer in a Football World, one of the best narratives on the history of US soccer, passed away. He was just 50 years old.
As he states in the opening of Soccer in a Football World, Wangerin, like many of the old guard in soccer fandom, grew up during the NASL days. He was thirteen when soccer came close to home (Wangarin was born in Chicago and grew up in Wisconsin), and he fell in love with the game. As the NASL faded, his love continued. In fact, he did what I can only imagine a lot of people threatened to do: moved to Britain to be closer to his true love. This was 25 years ago, when you rarely could catch action on TV and had to defend your love of the game to the typical American. He started to believe that Americans didn’t deserve soccer, but over time began to wonder if there was a Soccer History before Pele joined the Cosmos. From this curiosity came Soccer in a Football World.
Where the book is at its best is with its recognitions that soccer in the US didn’t begin with Pele, Steve Ross or Giorgio Chinaglia. Instead, he focuses on US Soccer’s true founding fathers and unique characters like Thomas Cahill, Horace Edgar Lewis and Sam Mark of the American Soccer League and, one of the first American Soccer Heroes, Joe Gaetjens. The book is truly a near perfect combination of academic and popular writing, combining personal narrative and humor with the eye of a scholar. His second book, Distant Corners: American Soccer’s History of Missed Opportunities and Lost Causes reads more like a chronological case study, where he dives into the lives of Cahill, Gaetjens coach Bill Jeffery and what he believed to be the best game in the history of the NASL. As Choice said, it was a “worthy successor to his Soccer in a Football World”.
Equal to his love of soccer was his ability as a historian. Wangerin worked diligently on his craft, and worked well with his peers in the soccer historian community. Colin Jose, a close friend to David and likely the foremost historian on North American Soccer still living, said, “David was a dedicated and diligent researcher and to me Soccer in a Football World will always be one of the finest books ever written on the history of soccer in the U.S.”
I have been working on my history thesis on the Minnesota Kicks for a couple years now. Throughout my research, I actually had a couple of occasions to interact with David about resources and information used in his work. He was always willing to share info and pass along resources. Though he likely would never read my thesis, he was always polite and willing to help out. If and when I complete my thesis, it will be in no small part a credit to him, not only for his assistance, but his inspiration.
Finding information on US soccer’s history has been truly challenging. A quick search of WorldCat finds that there are five times more books written about David Beckham (260) than on US Soccer History (50). Good books on US Soccer History are hard to come by and great authors even harder; Wangerin leaves behind tough shoes to fill.