Commentary

Forty years after Pele came, how Clive Toye sees U.S. soccer

By Mike Woitalla
(@MikeWoitalla)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Pele coming to the USA to play in the original NASL. The man responsible for bringing O Rei to the Cosmos and changing the course of American soccer history was Clive Toye.

Pele’s contract with Santos had finally run out in 1974 and he was being courted by Juventus and Real Madrid. Toye told him, “If you go there, all you can win is another championship. Come with us and you can win a country.”

Toye, a chief sportswriter for the Daily Express in his native England, had come to the USA in 1967 to help launch the NASL. During his 18 years in the league, he also lured Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia to the USA, and sent his players and coaches into grassroots America to spread the seeds for youth soccer.

“We were told very, very succinctly that soccer would never succeed,” says Toye, now 83 and residing in Florida. “That Americans would never like it, would never play it, and never watch it.

“You can’t go anywhere in the United States now without stumbling over a soccer ball or seeing a soccer field.”

The NASL folded after the 1984 season. MLS finally arrived in 1996 and is now in its 20th season -- a lifespan that exceeds NASL’s by three years.

“I think their business model right from the beginning was better than ours,” says Toye. “But it is inevitable that whatever league is in business these days would be successful because the game is successful.

“I don’t discredit MLS for being part of growth of soccer. I certainly do not credit them with being responsible. Soccer has grown at every possible level and in every possible corner of the country because of what happened in the good old days -- because of the people who were convinced and courted and affiliated back then.”

On the level of play in MLS compared to NASL, Clive says:

“Nowhere near as good as the NASL. Some of it is pretty good. Some of it is worth watching. There are good players. There’s obviously good fan support. But to compare it with the better teams in the NASL back in the days before the death -- you can’t compare it.

“There are people who think of the NASL as having foreign players past their prime. Yes, we did. But we also had foreign players who were in the middle of their prime. People forget that. Trevor Francis, Bruce Grobbelaar, Peter Beardsley, who went back and played 59 times for England. He was past his best? I don’t think so. Graeme Souness. …

“We were releasing players to play for their national teams all over the damn place. We were able to sell players back for more money than we paid for them, because they were in their prime.”

Beckenbauer, at age 31, was European Player of the Year when he joined the Cosmos in 1977. After three seasons in the NASL, he returned to Germany for two more seasons and won a Bundesliga title with Hamburg. Johan Cruyff played for Ajax and Feyernoord after three seasons in the NASL.

In the shadow of MLS, the Cosmos have been reincarnated and play in the new, second division NASL.

“The new [Cosmos] people have done some things right,” says Toye. “I’d like to see more done. They’re trying to establish a Cosmos name that means something, a team that means something, and a community that means something, but have been unsuccessful with their stadium plan.

“I think their hearts are in the right place, which is more than can be said for their neighbors -- across the river and up the road.”

Toye’s referring to the New York Red Bulls who play in New Jersey, and Yankee Stadium-based New York City FC, which is operated by the same ownership group as Manchester City and Melbourne City.

“Let’s face it. Harrison, New Jersey is not New York, will never be New York,” Toye says. “I think [Red Bull] is an appalling name. A product which is unacceptable, to me anyway.”

(When the Cosmos moved from New York City to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, they dropped “New York” from their name.)

As for NYCFC, Toye, who saw several failures of foreign ownership during the NASL days, says: “I don’t know what they’ll do. They’re busy enough in Manchester. They’re busy enough in Melbourne.”

On the field, he believes MLS should place a “serious restriction on the number of foreign players and a serious increase in the number of Americans.”

Indeed, the continued reliance of foreign products, including on the national team, which had seven on its 2014 World Cup roster, gets Toye riled up.

“We should be looking around here at what’s available and encourage that talent instead of going around the world looking for people who happen to have American fathers,” Toye says. “Look where American serviceman have served over the last century. Why not just set up DNA stations in all the other countries and see who else has an American gene in their blood. I mean, come on.”

As far the performance of Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s team at the 2014 World Cup – Toye was not impressed.

“Not happy with it at all,” he says. “I’m not involved enough to say he should have picked Charlie instead of Fred, or Bill instead of Joe, but when I look at the team that played in Japan/Korea [2002] and look at this team [2014 World Cup] -- and I can say there is no progress.

“And I cannot believe that American soccer has not at least maintained the same standard, if not has achieved improvement. I really believe more time should be spent on developing American talent.”

Following his children’s book, “Toby and The Greatest Game” and the colorful NASL history, “A Kick in the Grass,” Toye has just published his third book, “Anywhere in the World,” in eight years:

“Stories that I know, stories that I’ve encountered, people I’ve encountered -- good, bad, indifferent. And the strange and wonderful things that I remember from rather a lot of countries.”

Among the accounts is how Toye bought the U.S. TV rights for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico for $15,000 -- but couldn’t find a station to show the games when he offered them for free.

Fox and Telemundo combined paid more than $1 billion for rights for packages, including the next two World Cups and the Women’s World Cup.

17 comments about "Forty years after Pele came, how Clive Toye sees U.S. soccer".
  1. j bapper, March 13, 2015 at 6:30 p.m.

    I couldn't agree more about his comments on Klinsmann and the 2014 WC performance. The 2002 team played way more attractive soccer and got better results. This current WC squad and US National team is far worse technically than our team from 13 years ago... how is this acceptable?

  2. Raymond Weigand, March 13, 2015 at 7:26 p.m.

    I like this story, however, I don't agree with the soccer league idea that excludes players based on Country of Origin. If every country participated in such a scheme - then the fans become the biggest losers.

    Each league should field the best teams and then the fans will be treated to something competitive and exciting.

    I get the sense that the MLS is going down the same road as the NASL ... spending millions on a few offensive minded superstars and then back filling the defense with $60K a year part time athletes. Somehow the owners think that more goals is better? However, the fans will not find this exciting to watch - even with all the goal scoring. It is about as exciting as a group of U12 kids dribbling and passing circles around a bunch of U8 kids.

    It's not the salaries that killed the NASL ... it was the lack of interest in non-competitive games. The MLS is heading down the same road. $6mm for a couple of superstars cutting a $60K defense into shreds ... yawn.

  3. beautiful game, March 13, 2015 at 8:02 p.m.

    I'm not so sure about Mr. Weiganhd's opinion. The $6M players can't do it by themselves, no matter where they play. As for Mr. Toye, he tells it the way it is. The NASL had some wonderful players and teams; there is too much mediocrity in MLS squads.

  4. Woody Woodpecker, March 13, 2015 at 10:20 p.m.

    Clive has some valid points, and the NASL in it's prime was amazing. And when you do your research, you will be shocked at the players who were here during that time frame. HOWEVER, we had tons of guys who were way, way past it. We also didn't have enough quality American players, we had some but not enough. Soccer in this country from 1984 to 1996 are the dark years, nothing and I mean nothing was happening. The reason soccer *football is where it is today in this country is for many, many reasons and factors. One of the primary variables is because of the MLS; their leadership and vision. What we have achieved in 20 years is staggering, and at the growth rate were going, MLS will be one of, not the best, but one of the best leagues in the world. Bet the farm on it, and I'm just tickled that we now have higher attendances per match than an NBA, or NHL game. Long may it continue

  5. Golden Toe, March 13, 2015 at 10:43 p.m.

    Soccer has been a bona fide sport in America for over 100 years yet we still suck on the worlds stage (and with American citizens on our USMNT), and all our pro teams from day one being viewed as 3rd class, gotta be all Klinnsman's fault. Definitely should be using all American MLS, NASL, USLPRO and PDL players. What is he thinking?

  6. Adam Tondowsky, March 14, 2015 at 8:58 a.m.

    Woody Woodpecker wrote:

    " We also didn't have enough quality American players, we had some but not enough. Soccer in this country from 1984 to 1996 are the dark years, nothing and I mean nothing was happening. The reason soccer *football is where it is today in this country is for many, many reasons and factors. One of the primary variables is because of the MLS; their leadership and vision. What we have achieved in 20 years is staggering, and at the growth rate were going, MLS will be one of, not the best, but one of the best leagues in the world. "

    1.There weren't many American soccer players in NASL, but there were a fair number of Canadian players. Canada was actually superior to the United States during the NASL days.

    2."1984 to 1996 nothing was happening"
    To be sure for a few years after the NASL folded it looked like indoor soccer would become the primary soccer played in the United States, but, first the more minor point, 1989-1996 saw the dramatic rise of the USL.

    On the more major point: 1994 World Cup played in the United States?

    3.It's virtually certain that MLS can't continue to grow at the pace that it has for the last few yeas.

  7. Gus Keri, March 14, 2015 at 10:53 a.m.

    I disagree with Woody and agree with Adam. There were a lot of things happening between 1984 and 1996. The game was spreading across America. As a matter of fact, I credit NASL for spreading the game horizontally (youth, amateur and semi-professional soccer) and credit MLS for spreading it vertically (professional soccer). MLS is the flowering tree that has its roots in what NASL did.

  8. Rick Estupinan, March 14, 2015 at 4:02 p.m.

    There is no question about it.The 2002 USMNT was the beast ever.Players like Brian McBride,(the best header of the ball in US history),Reina,Donovan,the guy with the tomahowk hair(I don't remember his name at the moment),the goalie Brad Friedel,and all the others.They certainly were a pleasure to watch.It all stop with the firing of B.Arena and B.Bradly.Since jKlinnsman arrived here our Football went down gradually,and I don't see any hope for the next 5 or 10 yrs.

  9. cisco martinez, March 14, 2015 at 5:17 p.m.

    Klinsmann has not improved US soccer, he has only improved more foreign Americans in the national team. It sounds like a European version of what Steve Sampson tried and failed miserably. Bruce Arena's tenure from 2002 and 2006, produced some of American best homegrown talent, Beasley, Donovan, obrien, reyna, Lewis, cherundolo, oneywu, etc.

  10. Gus Keri, March 14, 2015 at 7:40 p.m.

    Rick, the player with the tomahawk was Clint Mathis.

  11. Adam Tondowsky, March 14, 2015 at 8 p.m.

    " There were a lot of things happening between 1984 and 1996. The game was spreading across America. As a matter of fact, I credit NASL for spreading the game horizontally (youth, amateur and semi-professional soccer) and credit MLS for spreading it vertically (professional soccer). MLS is the flowering tree that has its roots in what NASL did."

    1.Yes, this is absolutely correct. Youth outdoor soccer participation continued to increase and the NASL was responsible for it.

    2.When I said that it appeared that Indoor Soccer was looking like it would become the major soccer played in America, I of course meant to say, "professional soccer." I regret my sloppy use of language.

    3.The United States also made the World Cup in 1990,for the first time I believe in 40 years.

  12. Scott Johnson, March 15, 2015 at 3:38 p.m.

    Nothing happened between 1984 and 1996? I seem to recall the US qualifying for the World Cup in 1990, and HOSTING it in 1994--and managing to make the second round, and throwing a good scare into eventual champions Brazil. Some nothing.

  13. Scott Johnson, March 15, 2015 at 3:42 p.m.

    And it was 1998 where the US had perhaps their worst showing ever in the WC, going 0-3 in France. If they awarded a booby prize in the World Cup, the US would have won it that year.

  14. Andrew Kear, March 16, 2015 at 12:06 a.m.

    Klinsmann it seems is determined to send American soccer back to the dark days. We were all warned he would be a bad national team coach. Will it take a FIFA ranking of 40 for the USMNT to realize how destructive he is. The Germans got rid of him before he could do any real damage. A true soccer power nation would never put up with klinsmann's antics. If history is any indication it won't end well for Klinsmann. He has done a really bad job.

  15. Tim Brown, March 16, 2015 at 11:28 a.m.

    Glory to the old NASL. I lived in Dallas and watched my Dallas Tornado play great games with one game in early 70's vs. Russia National Team in Texas Stadium. 24,000 for that game. Big Crowd for that time. Kyle Rote Jr. first big name USA player who grew up in Dallas. 80,000 a game to see the Cosmos. Outdrew Giants and Yankees and Mets one year. How about that my football friends. NASL is alive and doing well. San Antonio Scorpions 2014 Champions.

  16. Woody Woodpecker, March 16, 2015 at 6:37 p.m.

    Adam, wrote the following 1.There weren't many American soccer players in NASL, but there were a fair number of Canadian players. Canada was actually superior to the United States during the NASL days. I know that, I'm a Canadian, and in 1986 it was our only WC appearance 2."1984 to 1996 nothing was happening" To be sure for a few years after the NASL folded it looked like indoor soccer would become the primary soccer played in the United States, Yes, I know I was a part of it for 3 years... but, first the more minor point, 1989-1996 saw the dramatic rise of the USL. ok, how many people even knew of the league AND was their a match on tv every week, i don't remember a high demand for USL matches?, how does that cause and effect to building a brand like the MLS? On the more major point: 1994 World Cup played in the United States? 100% it was the lighting rod that got us going, 3.It's virtually certain that MLS can't continue to grow at the pace that it has for the last few yeas. Again, I don't agree, a franchise which was going for 5 $million,increased to $10 million, now costs $100 million and you have to have a soccer specific stadium and other qualifying criteria? if you dig deeper you'll find some Asst. coaches, scouts, and administrators who emanated from the old NASL who are now working in the MLS and some are on the PRO referee board... the old NASL has had a positive effect in some ways on our great sport.

    Scott your right in 1998 we were dead last in the race, I was at all three of the matches, it was very disappointing.

  17. John DiFiore, March 17, 2015 at 11:45 p.m.

    Good article, great comments! But we need to be looking forward and not backward for success. Yes, NASL laid a very big foundation, but same goes for Clive, as he states for MLS - there was an audience/demand even back then. And no one was as big as Pele. That's what got everyones attention, as did Beckham. RE: USMNT - there can be NO DENYING, real Americans have a spirit unlike any other nation. Klinsi needs to find players with genuine American spirit - it's what differentiates us from other countries. That's why we did so well back in the 2002 WC. But we need to look forward, not backward for success. So I am looking forward to Bruce coming back in 2019 (fingers crossed)

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