Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


PHIL WOOSNAM’S NASL LIVES ON … ON DVD

Phil Woosnam, commissioner of the North American Soccer League during most of its 18-year run, died at age 80 in Dunwoody, Ga., of complications related to prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, on July 19.  The death was made public two days later.

Woosnam represented Wales on the schoolboy, youth and amateur levels before making 17 appearances for the full Welsh National Team from 1958 to 1963.  A forward, he began his professional career with Leyton Orient–while doubling as a physics and mathematics teacher in London–and later played in the English First Division with West Ham United and Aston Villa.

Woosnam moved to America in 1966 and played in the pirate National Professional Soccer League before becoming player/coach/general manager of the Atlanta Chiefs of the new 17-team NASL in 1968.  The league withered to five clubs in ’69, but under Woosnam, who was appointed commissioner two years later, the NASL mushroomed to 24 clubs in the U.S. and Canada, thanks in part to the acquisition of such international stars as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff and George Best.  The hard-charging Woosnam, perhaps best known here for his proclamation, “Soccer is the sport of the ’80s,” was dismissed as league boss in 1983, a year before the NASL’s final season.  [July 21]

Comment:  There can be no doubt that without Phil Woosnam, the evolution of soccer in this country would have been stalled for years.  At one point, the NASL’s very survival came down to Woosnam and the man who later signed Pele, Clive Toye, hunkered down in the basement of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, trying to figure out their next move.  Without the crowds of 60,000 and 70,000 the league occasionally drew, without the generation of promising young American players the league inspired, WorldCupUSA 94 might have become WorldCupUSA 06 and Major League Soccer’s debut might have been delayed  to, well, a handful of years ago.

Mistakes were made, of course–mistakes MLS, to its credit, certainly learned from.  But what raised the hackles of Woosnam and continues to get a rise out of the NASL’s former players and coaches is the suggestion that the league’s level of play was poor, that the NASL was a comfortable landing spot for aging superstars, a second chance for anonymous English Third Division players, a version of the sport degraded by transcontinental travel, summertime heat and humidity and artificial turf unfamiliar to its many imported players.

Though the NASL is long gone, you can judge for yourself.  Go to http://www.DaveBrett.com Historic Soccer Videos and DVDs, which offers a treasure trove of soccer telecasts, including more than 300 NASL matches dating back to 1969.  The recordings are for sale or trade, and trades are preferred.  Contact Dave at DaveBrett@austin.rr.com

The long list of offerings includes the marathon 1974 championship game between the Los Angeles Aztecs and Miami Toros, the Minnesota Kicks’ crowd of 50,000 to see Pele and the Cosmos in 1976, the classic 1979 playoff semifinal between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Cosmos, the grand experiment that was Team America, and a game between the Chicago Sting and the team with the most wonderfully awful uniforms in the history of sports, the Caribous of Colorado.   Of course, there’s plenty of Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Best, Teofilo Cubillas, Giorgio Chinaglia, Trevor Francis, and even a young  Julio Cesar Romero and Peter Beardsley.  There’s also Soccer Bowls, Trans-Atlantic Challenge Cup games and various friendlies against other clubs from abroad, and NASL highlight shows, plus matches with Spanish and French commentary.  (For those so inclined, there are indoor, college and MLS games as well.)

The sport, as presented by Phil Woosnam, was indeed a different game, one that was adjusting to the advent of  Total Soccer and other changes.  But have a look.  Those who experienced the NASL in person will get a pleasant reminder of how good and entertaining the league could be.  And as for the MLS generation, it should be an eye opener.

Comment 2:  Phil Woosnam was a cousin of golfer Ian Woosnam.  Phil Woosnam was 4-4-1 as U.S. National Team coach in 1968.  And in Phil Woosnam, has any other U.S. sports league had a commissioner who had more first-hand knowledge of his sport?

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NAMING RIGHTS, AND NAMING WRONGS

FC New York of USL Pro has forged an affiliation with the Springfield, MO, Demize of the fourth-division Premier Development League, Tampa-based United Soccer Leagues has announced.  The Demize will serve as a feeder club for the third-division FC New York.  [November 24]

Comment:  American soccer has a long history of dreadful official team nicknames, conjured up by fan votes, focus groups, wrongheaded marketing types, headstrong club owners who aren’t as creative as they think they are, and other guilty parties.

The list begins with, in no particular order, the Ohio Xoggz, Minnesota Kicks, New York Kick, Indiana Kick, Tampa Bay Mutiny, San Francisco Fog, Central Florida Kraze, San Diego Jaws, San Diego Sockers, Chicago Shoccers, Los Angeles Salsa, Mobile Revelers, Miami Fusion, Pennsylvania Stoners, West Virginia Chaos, Washington Diplomats (a.k.a. Dips), Colorado Springs Ascent, Dallas Burn, Cleveland Crunch, Arizona Cotton, Connecticut Bicentennials (who played their only season a year after the U.S. bicentennial), Kalamazoo Outrage, Dallas Sidekicks, Oklahoma City Slickers, Cincinnati Kids, Phoenix Pride, Toledo Pride, Myrtle Beach Boyz, Myrtle Beach SeaDawgs, Pittsburgh Riverhounds,  New York Capital District Alleycats, San Jose Clash, Des Moines Menace, Albuquerque Geckos, New Orleans Jesters, Everett BigFoot . . . and extends far over the horizon.

The champion for a time, of course, was MLS’s Kansas City Wiz, which mercifullychanged its name to Wizards after a couple of seasons.  Earlier this month, it drew jeers for changing its name yet again, this time to a masterstroke of incongruity:  Sporting Kansas City (or, according to other accounts, Sporting Club Kansas City).  Never mind that, unlike Sporting Lisbon (Sporting Clube de Portugal) or Hamburg SV (Hamburger Sport-Verein), the Kansas City Wizards under any name is not a major traditional European sports club with thousands of dues-paying members who cheer on the big-time soccer team and also engage in club activities like volleyball, basketball, athletics, weightlifting, gymnastics, rugby, aquatics, etc.   Sporting Kansas City just sounds . . . European-ish, soccer-ish.  What’s the sense in making sense?

But back to New York and Springfield.  Until a pro soccer team comes along with something like “suicide” or “felony” in its nickname, nothing can top “Demize.”  After all, with the exception of the more durable Sporting Lisbon and Hamburger SV, plus the Wiz/Wizards/Sporting KC, Kraze, Chaos, Outrage, Riverhounds, Menace and Jesters, the clubs mentioned above, are no longer with us.  They’ve met their . . . y’know.