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Remember Team America? A Brief History of DC Soccer Teams That Didn’t Work Out

One player dropped his pants in response to a ref's call. Another showed up for work in leather pants and a studded vest.
The well-coifed 1977 Diplomats line up for a penalty kick. Photograph by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images.

D.C. United’s new stadium, Audi Field, which opens July 14, represents a major commitment to soccer in a city where the sport once had trouble catching on. Here, a brief history of Washington teams that didn’t work out.

Washington Whips (1967–68)

History: When the fledgling North American Soccer League needed a DC club, it simply imported one from Scotland. The players of Aberdeen FC “came across as a high-spirited, youthful, clean-cut group” when they arrived in 1967, the Washington Post reported, “an image only slightly undercut by the liquor bottles carried by several of them.” The team played at D.C. Stadium (later RFK) and made it to the championship game that July; they lost on an own goal. The next year’s squad was an entirely different group of players from around the world and drew a tepid response. The team folded after a mediocre season, and the NASL suspended operations.

Notable players: Midfielder Victorio Casa, who lost an arm serving in the Argentinean military, was a top scorer. Forward Roberto Mauro had to leave partway through the season to reclaim his seat as a city councilman in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Washington Diplomats (1974–81)

History: Announced with great fanfare when the NASL reconstituted itself, the Dips slowly gained ground among Washington-area fans and made the playoffs four times in seven years. But their owner, the Madison Square Garden Corp., lost patience with red ink, and the club folded. The NASL then moved the Detroit Express to Washington and rebranded them as the Dips, but after one losing season, owner Duncan Hill shut down operations and quietly left the US, expressing confidence in a later interview that he wouldn’t have to pay the team’s debts in full.

Notable players: Joseph “Nana” Gyau, who also played for the Whips, and Johan Cruyff, one of the best soccer players in history. Paul Cannell, who earned a yellow card after dropping his pants in response to a referee’s call, once hung out with First Daughter Susan Ford at the DC bar Winston’s (though he didn’t know who she was).

Team America (1983)

History: Based in Washington, Team America was meant to be a national NASL team that would then make a run at the World Cup. A game that included a free Beach Boys concert at the end brought up Team America’s average attendance dramatically, but they lost fans almost as quickly as they did money: RFK Stadium locked their dressing room due to unpaid rental fees.

Notable players: Rudy Glenn, a David Coverdale look-alike who once showed up at the airport in leather pants and a studded vest.

This article appeared in the July 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.