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A little history to consider re MLS and the wonderful old NASL

Nov 2, 2012, 3:35 PM EDT

NASL ball

Assuming the unthinkable doesn’t darken our world, or somehow trouble our soccer world, Major League Soccer will return for its 18th season next year.

And that will be something of a milestone to celebrate.

I had not thought of this before, and recently needed Marc Stein, the co-host of our Soccer Today weekly radio show and podcast, to point out that reaching season No. 18 represented a fairly significant if slightly obscure milepost. Why?

Because the previous incarnation of top tier American soccer, the ill-fated and probably “before its time” North American Soccer League reached only 17 seasons.

I suppose you could quibble that top-tier professional soccer lasted 18 seasons here previously, before the NASL shuttered for good in 1984. That’s because two competing organizations operated in 1967; they merged in 1968 to form the North American Soccer League. The NASL’s rise and fall – it dwindled to a paltry nine teams for that final, bleak campaign – was told over 17 seasons.

That league was clearly, fatally flawed. Sometimes it got pretty ridiculous. But it was glorious in some ways, and it beat the trail for so much that would follow. At some point, all those fantastic crowds in Portland, Seattle, Philadelphia and elsewhere, every splendid free kick off David Beckham’s right boot, every single MLS memory ever made for any living soul, all of it, owes the debt to NASL and its architects.

That’s why when so many people of a certain age think back on the old NASL, they remember the romance of it all rather than the chalk marks, pockmarks and the outright disaster zones it sometimes left behind.

There’s plenty of information available on the old NASL and everyone’s favorite bellwether, the Cosmos. It’s all out there on the answer webs; go ye and discover.

But as the 17th MLS playoff season reaches full speed, with MLS franchise No. 20 inching nearer every day, know this:

Major League Soccer has already accomplished so very much – and now it’s got an extra link of solid history on an increasingly durable chain.

  1. mkbryant3 - Nov 2, 2012 at 5:12 PM

    Amen! I grew up on the Dips and Team America at RFK. Tony Crescetelli was my hero back then. Little did I know how rad it was to have Pele and Cruyff in the league at their primes (or close to it). Could you imagine Messi coming here now? Wow.

    • east96st - Nov 2, 2012 at 8:51 PM

      I may be wrong about his, and frankly I’m too lazy to look it up, but I’m pretty sure Pele was already in his mid 30s when he first played for the Cosmos. Messi is 25.

      • bishopofblunder - Nov 2, 2012 at 9:25 PM

        You are correct, sir. Pele was 34 when he arrived at the Cosmos in 1975. I was a mere lad of 12.

  2. footballer4ever - Nov 2, 2012 at 10:11 PM

    To the dismay of the naysayers and the delight of all football fans, MLS has not only survived, but it has thrived in many ways. Unlike the last league version, MLS is being run in a serious and respectful manner which the NASL was run as a circus. Long live football!

  3. mkbryant3 - Nov 2, 2012 at 10:19 PM

    Yes, but your prime years were much later in your career back then. (He says, hoping to bluff his response). :-)

  4. BigBeachBall - Nov 2, 2012 at 10:36 PM

    Was nasl even profitable… Mls is now

    • Steve Davis - Nov 3, 2012 at 10:45 AM

      NASL was never anything close to profitable in the collective. (And neither is MLS; precious few teams make a bit of money at this point.)

      • BigBeachBall - Nov 3, 2012 at 1:25 PM

        If I owned an MLS franchise, the first thing I would do is invest in a cheerleading squad…. wiki: CowBelles & Beaux. Use highschool cheerleading squads to save money at first then move onto full-time professional cheerleaders later. That would expedite the popularity of this sport…. Old farts need to be able to come to games and gawk at girls 1/3 of their age just like they do at football and basketball games… it’s obscene but somebody has to be the first Dallas Cowboys of the MLS.

      • joeyt360 - Nov 6, 2012 at 7:24 PM

        I’m a little suspicious. If you look at what the franchise value has done between 2004 and today (roughly quadrupled or so), and how many teams the league is able to sell at the new price, I’m not thinking MLS ownership is an unprofitable venture at this point. The teams themselves may not show profit, but I bet the stadiums they play in do.

  5. brad9000 - Nov 3, 2012 at 9:09 AM

    I’m in my mid 30’s and neither I nor any of my soccer loving friends remember anything about the NASL. From what we know of it, we consider it to have been something between a freakshow and a joke and frankly wish people would stop talking about the stupid cosmos and the NASL altogether. Now you can proceed to rip us young whippersnappers apart for having no sense of history.

    • Steve Davis - Nov 3, 2012 at 10:47 AM

      No, no ripping. I get it. And I don’t really blame you. BUT … the important thing is that NASL taught valuable lessons that are being applied today, mostly about the danger of overreach in expansion and player salaries. It’s really OK if fans don’t necessarily have a sense of history … but it’s critical that league deciders do.

  6. footballer4ever - Nov 3, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    *Pukes at BigBeachBall.*

    • BigBeachBall - Nov 3, 2012 at 4:06 PM

      the MLS execs have a 70 year plan to be profitable…. my plan(s) would cut that time down to 10 years…. there is a whole generation of fans getting bamboozled by their conservative vision of the sport…it’s actually very unfortunate for this generation of soccer fans…if someone like me ran the show, there would be a lot more people wearing donovan jersey’s in Los Angeles instead of Kobe jersey’s….

  7. footballer4ever - Nov 3, 2012 at 4:52 PM

    (Megaphone on hand)

    We got a hater (BiigBeachBall) dressed as a clown!

    • BigBeachBall - Nov 3, 2012 at 5:12 PM

      say what you want, I know how to score goals… you can’t beat teams if you don’t play on their level… the team that wins 50/50 balls on the ground and in the air usually wins the game…right now, football, baseball, and basketball are winning all the 50/50 balls…and soccer is content playing a finesse game and hoping for the best result…

  8. footballer4ever - Nov 4, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    (Megaphone on hand)

    Rephrase:
    We got a hater and a clown(BigBeachBall) dressed as a fake football fan!

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