“In My Opinion……….”

The New York Cosmos would like to tell you it had been 30 years since their last NASL Soccer Bowl championship. Don’t believe them.

They will say the 2013 title won in Atlanta was the continuation of the legacy of Pele, Franz Beckbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia, Johan Neeskens and company.

Hardly! It’s more branding than reality, but one can’t blame the club for trying.

Once upon a time the North American Soccer League was the best professional soccer league in America. It grew to 24 franchises and lived for 17 years (1968-85).

The Cosmos, as they were originally known, was the flagship. A collection of some of the top players in the world. So good, the gap between the Cosmos and most of the other teams resulted in overspending trying to remain, or in some cases to get, competitive.

Eventually, it all collapsed in an ocean of red ink and broken dreams. What was left were the players who stayed and helped build youth soccer in their cities. That was the real contribution of the original NASL.

In those glory days, the Cosmos averaged crowds over 30,000 in the Meadowlands. They

This article is Premium, please Log in or Subscribe to view full content![show_to accesslevel=’Subscriber’] played before crowds in excess of 40,000 66 times, and drew 77,691 for a playoff game against Ft. Lauderdale.

The league included the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, San Jose Earthquakes, Vancouver Whitecaps, all familiar names of teams in the current NASL or Major League Soccer.

And the ties to the original clubs by those teams. Loose. Sometimes it took purchasing the naming rights. Sometimes a handshake.

One should not take serious issue with the effort to rebrand the league or the teams. That’s just business. But don’t try to create a bridge to the past that does not go from here to there.

And the Cosmos are to be congratulated on their half-season of stellar play and winning the championship. They were the best team in the league once they took the field.

But they were allowed by the league to jump into the 2013 season at the start of the fall half of the year.

But some good advice to the league. Don’t ever do that again!

While everyone got a second chance to earn their way into the championship game in the second half of the season, the Atlanta Silverbacks really had little to play for after the break with a berth in the final in their back pocket.

The Carolina RailHawks had the best overall record for the entire year, but won neither half and did not make the title game.

The late ’70s and early ’80s were glory years for professional soccer in the days of the original NASL. But it all came together at a time when the passion for the sport had not yet been developed by those who came to the game and signed their kids up for recreation leagues and summer camps.

Soccer has grown in this country, and so has the culture of soccer within the greater soccer community.

When David Beckham signed with Major League Soccer to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy, that was a big deal. When Pele, albeit well past his prime as an international star, signed to play for the Cosmos, that was a major big deal.He, like a number of others on that team were icons of the game.

Most clubs had one or two of those. marquee players. Rodney Marsh in Tampa Bay, George Best in Los Angeles, Bobby Moore in San Antonio, Gordon Banks in Ft. Lauderdale, Gerd Muller in Ft. Lauderdale, Johann Cryuff in LA and Washington, DC. to name a few.

In those days there were no women’s collegiate dynasties, no U.S. Women’s National Team, and little or no interest in the trials and tribulations of the U.S. men’s team that had not qualified for a World Cup since 1950.

Thankfully, it has all changed. The original NASL lasted 17 seasons. Major League Soccer will begin it’s 19th season in 2014 with 19 franchises. Soon it will expand to 24 teams.

So does that mean that there will be longterm survival for MLS? It’s like the way a recovering alcoholic lives day by day, a slip and it could all go away.

But MLS of today is not like the NASL of yesterday.

Today the league owns the league, and the player contracts belong to the league. Designated Player status allows teams to compensate a limited number of players well above the collective salaries of the rest of the roster.

Teams do not chase one another, throwing money at aging foreign stars looking to close out their careers with a payday and a frolic in the summertime.

And most MLS teams play in their own soccer specific stadiums where they have access to parking and concession revenues that often are not available in leased facilities.

But it is a good thing that fans today are reminded that there was another era of bigtime soccer in America.

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Clause, but no the New York Cosmos of 2013 are really not an extension of the family tree of Pele, Beckenbauer, Chinaglia and the others.

But thanks for asking!

Author: ray@southernsoccerscene.com

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