Once in a lifetime was enough
By Simon Allen
It's no secret that I've never been a fan of the old North American Soccer League. You can go back to countless episodes of my podcast and listen to the reasons why I don't think it was all that it was cracked up to be. Nostalgia being what it is, makes the good ol' days seem so much better than it actually was. I'm guilty of being a rose tinted glasses wearing soccer fan myself on occasion as often times you can hear me pine for the long lost days of the old Division One when Liverpool were kings of the world and you could watch them live, standing up, for a Pound. Of course, I know that it's all stuff of childhood remembrances and misty memories. Something people talk about over a beer at the pub with a sparkle in their eyes but deep down they know that weighing the different factors The Premiership and all the great things that come with it is a lot more exciting to watch.
I don't blame the people who were actually involved with the old NASL to believe that it was brilliant soccer. At one point the best soccer players in the world, in history, were playing in America. But some of those folks are wearing the rosiest of rose colored glasses.
This week, Clive Toye, the man who brought Pele to America was interviewed and spoke about the NASL. The interview was conducted by my friends at ProstAmerika.com and it painted a picture of, what I thought, a typical misguided old NASL fan was. Surprisingly, it was Toye who was saying the things that made me laugh and later mad as all hell that I had to completely rewrite the second part of this weeks World Wide Soccer Podcast.
What really got me was the bitterness that was seeping through with every answer given. The interviewer asked Toye about Major League Soccer, possibly thinking that the response would be generally positive instead Toye refers to New York Redbull organization as the “bunch of idiots in New Jersey...the Pink Lambs” and “The New York whatever-they're called.” He nonchalantly plays off MLS' West coast powerhouse as “...whatever they are called. Galaxy.”
It's amazing that someone who supports The Cosmos, which at the time was laughed at as being a pretty strange name would brush off The Galaxy. Galaxy- Cosmos, Galaxy- Cosmos, it's not that far of a stretch. And not knowing the name of the biggest soccer club in your area run by a company with 4.5 billion Euros in yearly revenue who actually play in the State The Cosmos played in. What more does a club have to do? Build a stadium and name it after their own product for you to remember their name?
What really shined a light on the delusions of a lot of old NASL “fans” was when Toye was asked about Major League Soccer compared to NASL. Toyes response was that “soccerwise” the NASL had a “better standard”, paid “more attention to the growth of the game...(and paid) more attention to American players.”
What American players? From 1968 to 1984, one out of the 17 Top Scorers in the league was American. Kyle Rote Jr from Dallas, Texas. The NASL was known around the world for being a league where the Americans were the goalies and defenders. During the NASL years, The US didn't come close to going to the World Cup. Losing twice to Haiti in 1969. Not playing at all in 1970. Not playing Full Internationals in 1971. Not winning any of the 4 World Cup Qualifying matches in 1972. Playing only friendlies in 1973 with a 3-0-9 record. Two losses to Mexico in 1974. 1-0-8 record in 1975. 1-2-2 record in World Cup Qualifiers in 1976. No Significant wins in 1977. No wins in 78. And it goes sadly on, so where was all the “attention” that was being paid to the American player? The rose colored glasses getting double use.
Toye goes on to say what a lot of old NASL fans think. That the NASL was a better product than MLS. Rubbish! If it was a better product then it would have lasted. There would be no need for MLS as the NASL would still be around now. The NASL did nothing for American soccer other than set it back by a decade. Do you remember the late 80's and early 90's in America? There was no soccer anywhere to be found. A generation of kids missed out on becoming professional soccer players and went on to play other sports. Not until MLS came around did the US National team finally have a steady source of players that could hold their own amongst the world's best. The NASL demoted American players to bit-part status on their indoor squads and practice teams. MLS knew rightly that the future of American soccer depended on the American players and the US National Team and they made sure that it was part of the business model.
Later Toye talks about Designated Players in MLS and of course doesn't like it. Much like a lot of old NASL watchers, he believes in a different way of doing things. He goes on to belittle David Beckham and says “He's not a very good player...He spends most of his time...posturing with...celebrities...to get his picture in the paper.” Didn't Pele do exactly the same thing? Spending time at the iconic 70's nightclub, Studio 54, getting his picture taken with the stars of the time? How about the Cosmos goalie that posed nude in Playgirl?. Toye says “I wouldn't have bothered to sign David Beckham”. What a laughable thing to say. Even at his current age, Beckham is a soccer and marketing tour de force. Still recognized in every country he is quite literally the face of MLS. Wasn't Pele brought in at 35 to do the same thing? Sell tickets and help grow the sport of soccer? Pele failed!
Ironically Toye criticizes MLS about Thierry Henry “the man who committed the foul (that) stopped Ireland playing in the World Cup”, Rafa Marquez “a villainous...bad tempered Mexican defender” and Robbie Keane. Saying that if he was in charge he would have placed them on different teams to get assorted ethnic groups to come and watch the matches. I'm wondering where the big French community is in America? The old NASL is a failed league and folks who ran it, ran it to the ground. How much business advice can you take from a failed businessman? It wasn't surprising that MLS didn't want to have any NASL named clubs during the first part of its existence. Why would you align yourself with failure. Of course Toye loved the fact that the teams named after old NASL teams in MLS were doing so well. But MLS is at a point where it can look to the past and not be connected with it.
Old NASL fans think that the NASL invented American Soccer. The NASL was soccer wrapped around a circus where Pele rode onto the pitch on a horse, managers drove hearses to show the crowds that their team wasn't dead and hapless Internationals tried to score goals against a one-eyed goalkeeper. Cue the carousel music! The folks in charge are long gone and play no part in modern American domestic soccer other than perhaps being a lesson in what not to do. The clinics that the NASL teams held didn't amount to any tangible future success. The crowds that watched the Cosmos have long gone and their kids follow other sports and if they do watch soccer they are far more knowledgeable of the game and know that the old NASL was at best quaint and at worst just 90 minutes of entertainment. The teams that bear the old NASL names in MLS are just colorful reminders of a history that people like to talk about with a gleam in their eyes but no one wants to repeat. Once in Lifetime was Enough.