U.S. national team players Dax McCarty
and Graham Zusi
marvel at how far soccer has come in Florida in recent years. The Orlando area products should have seen what
it was like for the USA's first World Cup qualifiers in the Sunshine State.
The year was 1980, the height of the NASL. The star-studded Cosmos won Soccer Bowl 1980 with the best team they
ever had, so good that Coach Hennes Weisweiler
could not find room for the great Carlos Alberto
and benched the Brazilian star.
There was room in the starting lineup,
however, for 19-year-old Jeff Durgan
and Angelo DiBernardo
, two Americans. Ricky Davis
came off the bench. Reserves Boris Bandov
and Larry Hulcer
were also U.S. national team players.
But few other Americans started in the NASL, and the U.S. Soccer Federation had little money to
pay them. While on tour in Europe that fall, the players almost struck. They asked for $400 per week in per diems and the federation countered with $385 a week.
The USA had tied Portugal,
1-1, on the European tour, so there was a lot of optimism about the USA's young team as it opened the World Cup 1982 qualifying campaign in Fort Lauderdale. That quickly evaporated as it could only
manage a 0-0 tie against Canada, then the superior program.
After the game, Krikor Yepremian
, the Cosmos general manager, entered the U.S. locker room at Lockhart Stadium and
handed plane tickets to three of the Cosmos' players. He wanted them to leave the national team and join the Cosmos on their offseason tour.
The players refused, going on with the
national team to Vancouver, where the USA lost, 2-1. By the time USA returned to Fort Lauderdale a month after its first game for its last group match against Mexico, it was already eliminated from
the World Cup. It took all of three games.
The two games in Fort Lauderdale drew crowds of 7,684 and 2,126.
U.S. World Cup Qualifying
1980 (Ft. Lauderdale): USA-Canada 0-0
1980 (Ft. Lauderdale): USA-Mexico 2-1
2012 (Tampa): USA-Antigua & Barbuda 3-1
By contrast, the USA-Panama game at Orlando City Stadium on Friday night is expected to draw a sellout
crowd of 25,500.
Two Orlando area products should suit up for the USA: Dax McCarty and Graham Zusi.
McCarty, who grew up in Winter Park, has not played in
Orlando City’s stadium it opened in 2017. He is looking forward to playing in front of all his friends and family in the new stadium.
“I grew up 10 minutes from where the
Orlando City Stadium is," says McCarty, "so that’s great to see. It’s great to see how far soccer has come in this community and obviously with the success that Orlando City has had with
their fans, it’s been amazing. For me, it’s going to be an honor to be able to put on the crest in the place I grew up. I think there’s no greater honor.”
grew up in Longwood, about 20 minutes farther out of town from Orlando than Winter Park. He's played at Orlando City Stadium once this season with Sporting Kansas City.
“I was blown
away by the fan support and atmosphere they created," he said. "I'm looking forward to a lot of the same on Friday.”