Phil Woosnam, a Welsh professional soccer player who became the commissioner of the North American Soccer League in 1969 and held that post until 1983, helping to increase the sport's profile in the United States, died July 19 in Marietta, Ga. He was 80.
The cause was advanced prostate cancer and Alzheimer's disease, said his wife, Ruth.
A physics and mathematics teacher who played amateur soccer with a number of teams in Wales and England before turning pro in 1958, Mr. Woosnam moved to the United States in 1966, lured by the promise of a new start in soccer in a country largely lukewarm to the world's game. He was hired as the coach of the Atlanta Chiefs of the fledgling NASL, but could not resist a chance to get back on the field; in 1967, he scored the first goal in the first soccer game in Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium.
He was named the league's coach of the year in 1968. That same year, he also coached the U.S. national team.
He became the commissioner of the league in 1969, when it had only five teams, and presided over its growth to 24 teams across the U.S. and Canada in 1980.
"Phil was one of the pioneers of professional soccer in North America," Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer, said on the league's website. "When we started MLS, Phil was always willing to share with us his time and his experiences with the NASL."
Mixing his passion for soccer with a flair for marketing and promotion, the affable Mr. Woosnam helped to attract well-heeled owners to the NASL: Warner Communications owned the New York Cosmos; Elton John was part owner of the Los Angeles Aztecs; and rock stars Peter Frampton, Rick Wakeman and Paul Simon were part owners of the Philadelphia Fury.
On the field, Mr. Woosnam was the smiling face of the NASL as it gained attention and a spell of success, attracting stars like Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff and Giorgio Chinaglia.
But overexpansion and bad business decisions, from the league's offices in New York City and among the clubs, led to a slow decline. In a vote of league owners, Mr. Woosnam was removed as the commissioner in 1983, replaced by Howard Samuels, a businessman and former chairman of the Democratic Party. The league folded after the 1984 season.
Despite the league's ultimate failure -- caused by its top-down approach, some said -- it planted the seeds of soccer's growth in the United States, which led to the country's hosting the 1994 World Cup and to the growth of MLS, which began play in 1996 and will have 20 teams spread across North America by 2015.