The name North American Soccer Football League sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? It’s just a little off. Knock out the word “Football” and you’d have something everybody would remember.

This is not a made-up name, however. It’s something that really happened. During the years when the East Coast-based American Soccer League was the best in American soccer, a common theme was that a way to expand the sport in the United States would be to establish a midwestern equivalent of the ASL. That’s exactly what the NASFL was. If it had really gotten off the ground, it might have made a considerable difference in the face of American soccer. As it was, it proved that a midwestern ASL was easier said than done.

The North American Soccer Football League only lasted for two seasons, 1946 and 1947. In the first of those, it included five teams, the Chicago Maroons, Chicago Vikings, Detroit Wolverines, Pittsburgh Strassers and Toronto Greenbacks. All were connected to a greater or lesser degree to the sponsors of existing semipro teams. One of them even carried its owner’s name: Strasser Jewelers of Morgan, Pa., near Pittsburgh, had been sponsoring a team that reached the final of the U.S. Open Cup twice, in 1943 and 1944.

Detroit won that first NASFL title, finishing the season with 11 points in the standings, to 10 for runner-up Toronto. Perhaps the best achievement by an NASFL team in 1946 was by the last-place Chicago Vikings, who won the U.S. Open Cup that year, beating Ponta Delgada of Fall River, Mass. in the final.

In 1947, the five teams from the first season all were back, and the St. Louis Raiders had been added. Pittsburgh, which had been renamed the Indians, won the title, thanks to the fact that the 1947 season’s format included a playoff at the end. Toronto led the regular-season standings with 14 points, followed by Pittsburgh with 12. The Indians then took the championship in the two-leg final, beating Toronto in each leg by 3-2. To say that the league was on its last legs by this point would be a horrible pun, but true.

Although the NASFL didn’t produce any teams of lasting fame, it did produce one noteworthy individual. That was Gil Heron, who was the star of the Detroit team that won the title in the league’s first season and who later played a season in Scotland for Glasgow Celtic. Heron occupies an interesting place in American soccer history as one of the first black players with a U.S. pro team. Heron, who was from Jamaica, was followed within a couple of years by two more black Caribbean pros, Pito Villanon from Cuba and Joe Gaetjens from Haiti, both of whom played for Brookhattan in New York.

A version of this article first appeared at Roger’s Big Soccer blog on Dec. 14, 2011.

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