Woosnam played for a variety of English clubs, including West Ham, and was a pioneer of U.S. soccer.
Woosnam played for a variety of English clubs, including West Ham, and was a pioneer of U.S. soccer.
Popperfoto/Getty Images

July 21 (Reuters) - Phil Woosnam, the former commissioner of the North American Soccer League (NASL), who oversaw the arrival of Pele and other international greats to the fledgling league, has died, NASL said on its website.

Woosnam, who served as commissioner from 1969 to 1982 and was also a coach of the United States men's national team, was 80. He died in Marietta, Georgia on Friday.

"Phil Woosnam was a true pioneer of soccer in the United States in every sense of the word and his contribution to the sport in this country is immeasurable," said NASL commissioner Bill Peterson in a statement on the NASL website. "He took soccer into unchartered waters and through his passion, carried the game on his shoulders for many years. Our thoughts are with his family."

After a successful playing career in England with Leyton Orient, West Ham and Aston Villa, Woosnam came to the United States and became coach of the Atlanta Chiefs in 1968, winning the inaugural NASL coach of the year honor.

He took over as commissioner the following season and remained in charge for 14 years, raising the profile of the sport in North America by negotiating the league's first television contract and welcoming big name international players such as Pele and Franz Beckenbauer. The league folded in 1984 and a current Division II league with the same name was founded in 2009.

Woosnam was voted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame and won 17 international caps for Wales.

© 2014 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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