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We’ve Got History - Archie Stark

For many critics of the American game (among a plethora of other complaints) they cite a lack of history of the sport in the United States. But contrary to popular belief, the beautiful game was established here for much longer than most realize.

It goes past 1996 and the foundation of Major League Soccer. Past the 1960s and 70s of the New York Cosmos and the North American Soccer League. Even past Joe Gaetjens and the 1950 "Miracle on Grass". American soccer history is long and storied; nearly as old as it's European foundations.

We've got history. It's time to tell those tales.

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This week saw Barcelona forward Lionel Messi break a whole host of records with his hat-trick versus Malaga and then added four goals versys Espanyol in the Spanish La Liga.

His 50 goals in La Liga puts him nearly out of reach of Cristiano Ronaldo for the Golden Boot and the most ever in Spain. With strike number 68, Wednesday against Malaga, his third on the night in front of the home crowd at the Camp Nou, he passed up Germany legend Gerd Mueller's 67 goals in 1972-73 for most in a European season.

Three days later, not satisfied with a European record, Messi smashed the global record for most goals in a top-division league by banging home four goals and taking his total to 72 goals with Barcelona's final La Liga game and the Copa del Rey final against Bliboa still in hand.

With players like Pele (66 for Santos in 1958) and Mueller in the rear-view mirror for global scoring tallies who could have Messi blown by to set yet another record?

An American, of course.

Yes. Someone from the United States of America.

Buried in a host of articles celebrating Messi's accomplishment (many omitting any mention of it at all) was the name Archie Stark.

In the 1924-25 season of the America Soccer League (plus the inaugural Lewis Cup) Stark scored 70 goals for Bethlaham Steel, the East Coast soccer juggernaut owned by the company of the same name. Stark's 67 goals in that season (44 games) will probably never be broken in our modern-day Major League Soccer (34 games plus playoffs), but Messi's third of four on Saturday put the Argentine firmly at the top in the world. (One important thing to realize, though, is that Messi will have played 55 games this season including La Liga, Champions League, and Copa del Rey allowing him more games to break the record.)

Stark, born in Scotland and immigrating to the U.S. at 13, was one of American soccer's most prolific goal scorers perhaps tallying over 300 goals over his nearly 20 year career. He missed out in representing the U.S. National Team in the first World Cup due to sorting out personal finances (soccer was not a full-time occupation back then), but still managed to snag another American record by scoring four goals against Canada in 1925, a record matched, but not yet eclipsed by anyone in the red, white, and blue since. (Editor's Note: the other four-strike goalscorers for the Nats are: Buff Donelli in 1934, Joe-Max Moore in 1993 and Landon Donovan in 2003).

Stark scored five goals three times during that season, a time when most teams sported FIVE forwards (with three halfbacks and two fullbacks attempting to stem what we're sure a flood of goals).

The Kearny, New Jersey native (a town worthy of its own article in American soccer history) played for 10 years in the ASL knotching 260 goals for Steel and two other ASL teams (another American record still unbroken). Giorgio Chinglia came close with his 242 in eight NASL season, including 50 in 1980. His total goal scoring mark would have certainly been higher had his career not been briefly interrupted by service in the U.S. Army in World War I.

Stark's contribution to the early landscape of American soccer was invaluable:

The very foundations of the United States National Team were built on immigrants like Stark, which would make perfect sense. America, as many have said over the years, is a land of immigrants, one which celebrates it’s diversity, and many of these late 19th and early 20th Century immigrants brought with them a passion for football.

Many of the first clubs and associations in America were started by immigrants, their numbers supplemented over time by companies eager to promote themselves by starting “work’s teams” or sponsoring local sides - Bethlehem Steel being one prime example.

Over time the make-up changed so that many more American-born players, often second and third generation immigrants, took up soccer. Still, by the time of the first ever World Cup in 1930 six UK born players represented the US in Uruguay.  

Archie Stark's American (and worldwide) goal scoring record made him one of the era's greatest players just like Lionel Messi's season (and previous ones) will certainly make him one of the greatest players of all-time. If Stark had played professionally in his native Scotland or neighboring England this record would have certainly garnered more than one sentence mentioned in most publications (or not at all), but fortunately for American soccer fans, we can claim his as a part of our history and our domestic version of the world's game.

American soccer history needs to be dusted off every once in a while, but it as Messi's recent form has shown it is also more relevant than ever before.

Sources: Roger Allaway (Big Soccer), Kevin Alexander (In Bed With Maradona), the American Soccer History Archives, and U.S. Soccer.

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