American Century: The 1970s

New York ruled during the NASL boom years

As the 1970s dawned, New York City ruled the worlds of fashion, business and entertainment. In sports, too, the Big Apple swaggered. The decade began with the Mets as the reigning champions of baseball, and in late spring of 1970, the Knicks took the NBA title.

All of the city fell before the feet of quarterback Joe Namath, who had slain the NFL goliath in 1969 by leading his Jets to a Super Bowl victory over Baltimore.

New York would soon seize dominance of the NASL, too, and would swoon at the sight of another sports icon. Yet in 1970, the only New York prescence was that of Rochester.

The Upstate Lancers won the 1970 NASL title and also led the six-team league with a reported average attendance of 4,503.

Two teams, including the New York Cosmos, were added for 1971. League bastion Lamar Hunt finally took the title when his Dallas Tornado beat Atlanta in the championship series, two games to one.

The Cosmos won their first title in 1972. Playing at the University of Hofstra stadium on Long Island, they hosted the final and drew 6,102, their third-largest crowd of the season.

Then came a three-year reign of expansion teams. One was added for 1973, and the Philadelphia Atoms toppled the Tornado, 2-0, in the final. A crowd of 18,824 for the final in Dallas, the Atoms average attendance of 11,503, and the presence of several American starters in St. Louis and Philadelphia bode well for the future.

The Los Angeles Aztecs, one of six 1974 expansion teams, also won a final on the road. Miami drew 15,507 to the Orange Bowl, but L.A. won on a penalty kicks after a 3-3 tie.

Cosmos vice president Clive Toye's years of pursuit bore fruit in 1975. Pele arrived - in a deal valued at $4.7 million - and catapulted the league into the limelight.

The expansion Tampa Bay Rowdies - which averaged more than 10,000 - beat Portland, 2-0, in the first Soccer Bowl, which drew a sellout crowd of 17,009 in San Jose.

Attendances soared in 1976. Minnesota, Seattle and Portland averaged more than 20,000 fans per game, San Jose was just under that figure, and the Cosmos and Tampa Bay both averaged in the high teens.

Big names flocked to America: George Best, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Rodney Marsh, Giorgio Chinaglia.

Toronto Metros-Croatia took the title over the border by defeating Minnesota, 3-0, in the 1976 Soccer Bowl.

The Cosmos lured Franz Beckenbauer in 1977 and averaged 34,142 fans. They drew a record 77,691 for a playoff with Fort Lauderdale, and beat Seattle, 2-1, in the final.

Success in several cities masked serious problems in others. Still, the NASL added six more teams for the 1978 season. The Cosmos repeated as champions.

Vancouver pulled a surprise by knocking off the Cosmos on its way to the 1979 title.

The arrival of more stars, such as Johan Cruyff and Gerd Mueller, was counterbalanced by a brief players' strike and a rival indoor league, the Major Indoor Soccer League. Ten NASL teams played an indoor mini-season during the winter of 1979-80

Staggering losses, small attendances in several cities and a deep schism between indoor and outdoor factions meant that severe problems lay ahead.

by Soccer America senior editor Ridge Mahoney

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