Sucking in the ’70s or, Joga Bonito and Leisure Suits

Maybe soccer was doomed in the states from the start. Maybe renaming football (as it is known everywhere else in the world) was akin to renaming (props to Denis Leary) le croissant a Croissan’wich. This is America: we appropriate, therefore we are. Hear us roar. Count us out of World Cup contention. Et cetera.

Of course, Americans have never had much love for soccer, at least by comparison to the Big Three of Football, Baseball and Basketball. Some of the typical hating is on display in today’s WSJ. It’s tough to say with any certainty whether the sport is better off, or worse, than it was in its ostensible heyday, in the ’70s. Some would say the relative stability of the MLS bodes well for soccer in the states; others might ask, “What is the MLS?” Regardless, there is no chance whatsoever that soccer will break onto the stage and share space with the holy trinity (NFL, MLB, NBA). Indeed, it’s more than a little ironic, and appropriate, that at a time when soccer had half a chance to make inroads, it was at a time when The Bee Gees were the biggest band in the country. There has to be something more than coincidence at play there. Younger folks won’t remember, and probably won’t believe it, but soccer did have its day here, albeit a short and bittersweet one, and one that would crash and burn in the sybaritic ’80s. There has to be something more than coincidence at play there.

So let’s go to the video tape: how on earth did the North American Soccer League fail? It couldn’t have been the team names and uniforms, could it?


Okay, those are pretty funny. But we take bad ideas and execution to levels of retro genius, here:


On the other hand, and in fairness, there were some tasteful, even impressive logos:


And then there are the ones that defy any sort of rational explanation, aesthetically or in sports terms (and frankly, I mean that in a good way. A very good way. How much would this t-shirt go for today? I don’t know, but I’m buying if anyone’s selling):

But the alpha and omega, of sorts, was the loved and loathed New York Cosmos:

Naturally, for anyone who lived through the ’70s and still has gray matter, The Cosmos were famous because they had this guy:

And later, infamous for having this guy:

The Cosmos were kind of like a half-assed Shakespearean play: they had the hero (Pele) and the heel (Chinaglia). They had the dough, and they had, for a minute, the national eye. Some may recall the Cosmos (and by extension, the N.A.S.L.) being the focus of a documentary, entitled Once In A Lifetime. Highly recommended, even for non-fans, as the period piece that it is. Soccer games were actually played in front of (sold out) Meadowlands while Jimmy Hoffa rolled over in his grave beneath the end zone turf.

It’s hard to imagine something this good could fail (speaking of N.A.S.L. and the ’70s), but then, when you take a closer look at the uniforms (speaking of the N.A.S.L. and the ’70s), it starts to come into clearer focus:

 + =

It was good while it lasted (N.A.S.L. and the ’70s) but all good things must come to an end. For those of us with one fond eye always on the past, we can always look forward to the next World Cup.



  1. Yeah, the NASL is most definitely one of the most forgotten recent chapters of sports lore. I’m hoping the MLS’s future holds a different fate. So far so good, but we’ll have to see.

    Soccer is such an organic part of the zeitgeist (god, I hate using that word) of other counties. Eduardo Galeano’s “Soccer in Sun and Shadow” recounts how the sport has played a role in Latin America’s turbulent political and social past. Recreating that deep of a social connection is hard to do.

    The way in which soccer has become globablized over the past decade (Liverpool FC is owned by Texans now!) might actually, ironically, be part of soccer’s survival here. The MLS is actually starting to get some legs–though the effect of their lack of retro 70s logos has yet to be seen!

  2. Just a correction: Americans didn’t create the word soccer, I don’t know how many times people have said to me “of course, you don’t say ‘soccer’, you say ‘football’.

    Both the names ‘soccer’ and ‘football’ were created in and are still used in the UK. The two most popular forms of ‘football’ there have been for a long time:

    Rugby Football (also known as Rugby)
    AsSOCiation Football (usually called SOCcer or just football)

    So the US created their own form of football, and simply failed to change the name; which meant that they prefer to use only the ‘other’ name for Association Football: soccer.

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