Then and now: USMNT support (from federation and fans) has changed since first World Cup qualifiers in Florida

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, Mark Liveric 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 in Florida:
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.”

Zusi 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.”

10 comments about "Then and now: USMNT support (from federation and fans) has changed since first World Cup qualifiers in Florida".
  1. :: SilverRey ::, October 4, 2017 at 9:44 a.m.

    Orlando should have gone up to 35k for their stadium. They have the fan support, and it would have been a bigger draw for future USNT games.

  2. Kent James, October 4, 2017 at 9:55 a.m.

    It is good to have some historical perspective.  While my hope has always been that we'll win the WC in my lifetime (since I'm in my mid-50s,  we should have about 20 years to get there).  I didn't know what soccer was until Jr HS (and as soon as I discovered it, I started playing it).  I didn't know what the WC was until I was a freshman in college, and a member of the soccer team had an absolutely gorgeous book about the 1978 WC in Argentina (I remember the colors were spectacular; pristine green fields, immacualae white ball, colorful team uniforms).  The only soccer on TV was "Soccer Made in Germany"  where they condensed one game into an hour, and the immortal Toby Charles "Oh, he could have done more with that one!" was the commentator.  So yes, we can carp about the lack of progress of the USMNT, but we should remember where we came from, and be thankful for where we are. Full, soccer specific stadiums, a relatively large, national professional league, soccer on TV whenever you want it..."we've come a long way baby!"  And I haven't given upon my dream...

  3. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, October 4, 2017 at 11:03 a.m.

    Well said Kent!

  4. frank schoon, October 4, 2017 at 11:12 a.m.

    Yeah, those are sweet memories. I remember during the WC'78 I had to drive to DC to watch the games on Close Circuit TV paying $10 a game. And finally in WC '82 they were shown on Spanish television  if you had cable. Watching German soccer with Toby Charles and Alan ?? (forgot his last name who followed Toby Charle). I still have many of the German games on tape. The fans were very lucky to have so many of the greats all came to play in the US. Wow, people would actually come to the stadium to watch a great star play not so much the team as compared today where you come out to watch team. We need a blend of both. I remembered as I entered  Kennedy stadium to watch the Diplomats with Johan Cruyff play the Cosmos, I looked up with disbelieve to find not an empty seat in the whole stadium. The growth of soccer in many of its facets has taken hold but the growth developing great stars here, unfortunately has not taken hold (as yet). After 50 years one would think just by the law of average we should have produced a natural talent. One of the problems is improper development which ,apparently, is one of the reasons there is such a dearth of real of stars. We have grown horizontally more so  byhaving a larger player pool to pick from but  a real talent pool , the vertical growth, is missing which has to do with better development techniques.

  5. Zabivaka Sobaka replied, October 4, 2017 at 8:32 p.m.

    Retirement Home

  6. David Mont, October 4, 2017 at 8:38 p.m.

    1980 was the year I came to the United States.  It was stunning to find out how little, NASL notwithstanding, Americans cared and knew about soccer.  It was truly a shocking and extremely disappointing experience for a fan like me.  Living in Columbus, Ohio most of the 80s, sometimes I would go a year without seeing a single game anywhere on TV or in person.  I even had a very hard time finding out the results of Euro '80 and '84, let alone being able to see any games.  

  7. Zabivaka Sobaka replied, October 4, 2017 at 10:50 p.m.

    I can relate to this....In 2002 World Cup final was not shown on TV...only replay. I know it was in Japan....early morning...still....don't get me started!

  8. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, October 5, 2017 at 9:40 a.m.

    I clearly remember getting up in the middle of the night to watch the 2002 WC final.  I'm pretty sure ESPN televised all of the games that year.  The final may have been on ABC.

  9. mike renshaw, October 4, 2017 at 9:49 p.m.

    The Dallas Tornado were the best team in the NASL in 1980.....The Tornado lost 3-2 to the Cosmos at Texas Stadium (a game The Tornado totally dominated) in the first leg of the 1/4 finals....then went to Giant's Stadium and smashed The Cosmos, 3-0 in the second leg.

    Anywhere else in the world (then and now) The Tornado would have advanced on a 5-3 aggregate.....back in the day they had to play a 30 minute 'mini game' (as each side had won once, the series was considered tied 1 game each)....and were eliminated when Carlos Alberto's very late (unpunished) challenge on Omar Gomez knee (tore his ACL) took him out of the contest. Alberto admitted as much in a book by Paul Gardner....when he was quoted as saying something to the effect of...." Well you saw who was killing us"...(Gomez had scored twice)...The Cosmos advanced....

  10. Zabivaka Sobaka replied, October 4, 2017 at 10:55 p.m.

    30 min mini game?????wtf is this?????  

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