USA – Canada: North American football was separable only at lower local levels. These championships were outside international interest and who played there is difficult to say. One may argue that popularity of football was gradually increasing. May be.
Pennsylvania Stoners – 1980 ASL champions. American Soccer League… in another country this league would have been second division. In USA/Canada it was separate entity of professional football and could be seen as second level only if money were better than in other leagues. Champions, indeed, but only NASL attracted interest.
NASL was at very interesting point of its existence: there was illusion of stability. No new teams, no teams folding, no teams moving to another city. Foreign players were moving in – the biggest names of world football were playing in North America.
Johann Cruijff joined Washington Diplomats – after he ‘retired’ not long ago. Everybody was here – old veterans, current stars, second-raters, unknown players, touring players, loaned players, temporary players, Europeans, Central and South Americans, Africans, Asians… and some North Americans. Under regulations, the teams had to field 3 domestic players in every match – the number was increased from the previous year by one. Care for local boys… many of them were naturalized, though. And North American clubs were never like the clubs anywhere else: they had only one professional team – no youth system. No wonder North American players were few and hardly good. Building a team was hardly a priority in NASL – although great coaches were hired as well as players, the emphasis was on individual names, so North American teams continued to be bizarre formations, mixing great stars with virtually anonymous teammates. The league and the franchise owners still believed that pouring money would eventually establish football as big North American sport – but it remained a novelty for most Americans and, most importantly, for the media, especially television. A crisis was already settling: the clubs spent too much without returns. Cruijff was not coming cheap – but in order to get crowds, tickets had to be cheap… forget about profit. NASL started the new decade optimistically on the surface, but the future was really bleak. Nothing helped – even the weird rules, which still gave 6 points for a win, 1 point for shoot-out win (there were no ties inNASL), and 1 point for each goal scored during regulation time up to 3 points per match. Foreign players new very well that North American football was not serious – they came for money and fun. Some, like George Best, loved the easy life, some ruined their careers, like Romero, some came to get some extra cash between seasons at home and were smart enough to look elsewhere for serious football, like Hugo Sanchez and Ruud Kroll. Even coaches had lazy view on North American football – Rinus Michels, for instance, was nothing like the severe and stubborn disciplinarian he was in Europe.
Rinus Michels at the helm of Los Angeles Aztecs – one look at the squad tells it all: hardly a team to his liking. So why bother? The rules practically qualified the team to the second stage anyway. In the next stage – direct eliminations – one may argue that Michels had to stand up, for Aztecs played against Washington Diplomats – Michels vs Cruijff, that is – but the argument is lame.
Washington Diplomats with Cruijff. So what? Aztecs eventually prevailed and Cruijff started a vacation. The Aztecs continued ahead and eliminated Seattle Sounders in the next round – only in North America a team can go ahead after winning 3-0 the first leg and losing 0-4 the second… but then Michels faced New York Cosmos and Hennes Weiswailer. The leading coaches of the 1970s, both lead Barcelona, blah, blah… Cosmos had the biggest names in NASL and Michels lost both legs. Vacation.
San Diego Sockers lost the other semi-final – or Conference championship, in NASL terms – to Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The Mexican stars Hugo Sanchez and Leonardo Cuellar played for the team a bit – both played in the Mexican championship in the same year, so it was a brief spell – get the cash and go back to Mexico. Some of their teammates were more involved with NASL – Volkmar Gross, who played UEFA Cup final a few years back, had no illusions about playing in Europe: too old by now and not a strong enough player anyway – North America was great. The Turk Yilmaz Orhan had no chance of playing for serious team in Europe. NASL was largely made of players like these two. Fort Lauderdale was not much different:
Take away Gerd Muller, Francisco Marinho, and Teofilo Cubillas and there would be nothing. Well, Francisco Marinho did not play at the big final – Jan van Beveren was the third big name by then, showing the handicaps of NASL vision fully: depending on few veterans was just enough to go all the way.
Soccer Bowl – the great trophy, the real trophy in the land,where virtually no team was left without winning something. But this was the championship duel – played in Washington, DC, on September 21 in front of 50, 768… fans? Observers? The number is misleading – great crowd, for sure, but accidental one. As for the date – it also spells out another chronic problem of North American football: the season ended just at the beginning of the season in Europe. The flock of part-timers hurried back to real football. Generously paid vacation was over until next year. The final opposed – on paper – the leaders of world football as known by then: Cosmos was coached by German – Hennes Weisweiler – and Strikers by Dutch – Cor van der Hart. A replay of 1974 World Cup final? You wish… there was obvious difference in class. Cosmos was if not he most professional team in the league, at least the richest and having the most famous squad as a result. Which made possible to field a decent team – there were enough players for that. Strikers mainly depended on old stars and enthusiasm. Not exactly a contest… Cosmos scored 3 in the second half of the final, Strikers – nil. To a point, it was World Cup 1974 showcase: Beckenbauer, Rijsbergen, Bogicevic, Chinaglia (Cosmos) and Muller and Auguste (Strikers). Eskandarian played at the 1978 World Cup. Cubillas – 1970 and 1978 World Cup. Two more former Dutch national team players for Strikers – Jan van Beveren and Lex Schoenmaker. Cosmos had much more to offer: the Paraguayan star Julio Cesar Romero, who was considered more talented than Maradona just a year ago, the Belgian star Francois van der Elst, who was instrumental for Anderlecht’s European conquests, and Roberto Cabanas, South American champion with Paraguay. Even the rule requiring 3 North Americans on the pitch did not bother Weisweiler – his were better than those playing for Fort Lauderdale. There were some people sitting on the bench – the 1970 World champion Carlos Alberto, Johan Neeskens… Cosmos won easily.
Fort Lauderdale Strikers – technically, 2nd in the 1980 NASL championship. May be disappointed, but considering the squad – a good season. May be not for some of the players, used to success, but what the hell. May be not so great for Gerd Muller – it was not exactly losing the championship to his buddy Franz Beckenbauer, but the boredom of easy American life in the South: Gerd Muller turned to drinking. Following George Best… but not Johan Neeskens, who turned to drugs.
Cosmos – 4th title for them. The most successful NASL team and rightly so. Standing from left: David Brcic, Carlos Alberto, Jeff Durgan, Hubert Bierkenmeier, Wim Rijsbergen, Franz Beckenbauer, Vladislav Bogicevic, Andranik Eskandarian, Hennes Weisweiler – coach.
Crouching: Seninho, Rick Davies, François Van der Elst, Julio Cesar Romero, Giorgio Chinaglia, Roberto Cabanas, Angelo Di Bernardo, Bruce Wilson.
This is not even half the squad here – Cosmos clearly had the best players year in and year out. Actually, every next year the roster was getting more famous. New York Cosmos easily became famous outside North America, they toured a lot, and they built stable fan-base. But it was not enough… the club was losing money, like the rest of NASL clubs. Outside New York there was no much paying audience. The roster was very expensive. But it was perhaps the only NASL club managing to stay consistently strong. Franz Beckenbauer played his last North American season and Carlos Alberto decided to move to California, but new players were signed quickly to keep Cosmos at the top. However, this squad was perhaps the most famous team Cosmos had.