North American Soccer League I (NASL) 1967-1984

Maintained by David Litterer spectrum@sover.net


The first North American Soccer League was by far the most successful professional soccer league in United States History, also expanding into Canada. The information for this page was compiled from several sources. The player registers are derived largely from Colin Jose's "NASL: A Complete Record of the North American Soccer League".

Two rival leagues started in 1967, the FIFA-Sponsored United Soccer Association and the renegade National Professional Soccer League. In 1968, they merged to form the North American Soccer League. The league florished for many years attracting many top stars and posting impressive performances and attendance figures, but overspending eventually forced the league into oblivion. Despite its unfortunate demise, the NASL briefly enjoyed the greatest success of any league in US history, albeit without the stability and long-term foundation established by Major League Soccer.

A complete NASL Player Register has been published as "The North American Soccer League Encyclopedia", by Colin Jose. It may be bought through Amazon.com or directly from St. Johann's Press, 315 Schraalenburg Rd., PO Box 241, Haworth, NJ 07641. $29.95.


Final League Standings and Playoff results

Overview


The Story Of The NASL

1960 - The International Soccer League plays its first season. The ISL
       invites top clubs from around the world (Everton, West Ham, AS
       Monaco...) to participate in it. After a while, regular crowds of
       up to 15000 turn up to attend the games.
1966 - The World Cup final is beamed live by NBC all over North America
and
       receives a favorable reaction. American sports promoters decide
       to start a pro league.
1967 - Two new leagues begin play. The United Soccer Association (backed
       by FIFA, USSFA and CSFA) extends the principle on which the ISL
       had been based and imports entire teams to represent cities:
       Shamrock Rovers(Boston), Cagliari(Chicago), Stoke City(Cleveland)
       Dundee Utd.(Dallas), Glentoran Belfast (Detroit), Bangu (Houston)
       Wolverhampton Wanderers (Los Angeles), Cerro (New York), ADO Den
       Haag (San Francisco), Hibernian (Toronto), Sunderland (Vancouver)
       and Aberdeen (WAshington) all become "American" for two months...
           Meanwhile, a rival group - the National Professional Soccer
       League - receives a TV contract from CBS and begins recruiting
       players. This in spite of the fact that it is outlawed from
       FIFA and its players therefore subject to suspension. Neither
       league is a success in its first season.
1968 - The USA and NPSL merge, and the North American Soccer League
       (NASL) is born. 17 teams play the first season.
1969 - After a disastrous season, all but five NASL teams fold.
       The league is being run on a semi-professional basis after this
       while the NASL owners and officials instead concentrate on
       creating a base of participation. Slowly, the game becomes more
       and more popular as a participant sport among kids.
1975 - The NASL slowly claws itself back to respectability in the 1970s.
       Then, in 1975, Pele signs a $4.5 million, three year contract
with
       the New York Cosmos. The NASL is suddenly front-page news all
over
       the world.
Late - In just two years, the NASL is transformed from being a minor
league
1970s  into the world's most exciting soccer league. A galaxy of foreign
       star players and coaches move to the States and Canada
(Beckenbauer,
       Cruyff, Eusebio, Weissweiler, Michels, Moore, Best, Francis,
       Chinaglia, Krol, Muller, Alberto...) and attendances double in
       just two years as a result of this. The NY Cosmos regularly
       attract crowds of up to 70000 people to their games.
1978 - The league decides to expand to 24 teams. Unfortunately, the
       spiralling costs begin to take their toll. Although attendances
       continue to rise, most teams admit to financial problems.
1981 - The NASL collapses, losing 17 of its franchises in just four
years.
       The league is eventually closed down in March 1985.

NASL International Stars

How "flashy" were the NASL clubs? The "Greatest Ever" team below was select by the famous WORLD SOCCER veteran columnist, Brian Glanville.

P NAME               NATIONALITY     NASL TEAM
G-Gordon BANKS       England         Ft.Lauderdale (1977-78)
D-Rodrigues ANDRADE  Uruguay         - (retired in 1954)
D-Obdulio VALERA     Uruguay         - (retired in 1954)
D-Bobby MOORE        England         San Antonio ('76), Seattle ('78)
D-Nilton SANTOS      Brazil          -
M-Franz BECKENBAUER  Germany         NY Cosmos (1977-80, 1983)
M-Giuseppe MEAZZA    Italy           - (retired before WW II)
M-Diego MARADONA     Argentina       -
F-GARRINCHA          Brazil          - (retired after 1962 World Cup)
F-Johan CRUYFF       Holland         Los Angeles ('79), Washington
('80-81)
F-PELE               Brazil          NY Cosmos (1975-77)
The NASL teams were able to sign half of the players on Glanville's list, only Santos and Maradona (who received an invitation to the Cosmos' training camp in 1978) never played pro soccer in North America among those finishing their careers after 1966. The impact on the US soccer scene was enormous, current American-born stars such as Bundesliga scoring sensation Eric Wynalda (who went to see the Aztecs in the Cruyff/George Best days) and Sheffield's John Harkes (a former NY Cosmos ballboy together with national team goalie Tony Meola) are former NASL fans who picked up soccer in the 1970s.

Cumulative Records

The next table shows the cumulative records of all NASL franchises that lasted at least five seasons before folding. However, this table is of little value since most NASL teams were turned upside down at the end of every season and sometimes began the new season with a completely different lineup (e.g. the USA teams that joined the NASL in 1968).

Point system: two points for a win, one for a draw.

                          G   W    T  L   GF   GA  Points  %
New York Cosmos           359 221  18 120 844  569 460 0.640
Washington Darts/ Miami/  383 196  29 158 698  663 421 0.549
Ft.Lauderdale/ Minnesota S
Vancouver Whitecaps       302 182   4 116 568  407 368 0.609
Toronto Metros/Blizzard   359 163  23 173 590  601 349 0.486
Dallas                    357 151  31 175 562  643 333 0.466
St.Louis/California       377 142  31 204 578  739 315 0.417
Baltimore C/Las Vegas/    302 153   2 147 560  561 308 0.509
San Diego Jaws/Sockers
Seattle                   278 151   3 124 538  409 305 0.548
Chicago Sting             282 150   0 132 585  523 300 0.531
Tampa Bay                 282 147   0 135 551  535 294 0.521
San Antonio/Team Hawaii/  282 133   0 149 500  502 266 0.471
Tulsa
Rochester                 265 111  23 131 380  453 245 0.462
Los Angeles Aztecs        216 115   2  99 375  380 232 0.537
Portland                  228 111   0 117 356  367 222 0.486
Washington Diplomats      216 110   1 105 403  386 221 0.511
Minnesota Kicks           174 104   0  70 352  273 208 0.597
San Jose (/Golden Bay)    248  94   8 146 377  523 196 0.395
Atlanta (1967-73)         159  70  38  51 277  218 178 0.559
Philadelphia F/Montreal M 186  78   0 108 318  357 156 0.419
New England/Jacksonville  156  78   0  78 249  268 156 0.500
Oakland S/Edmonton        156  60   0  96 233  332 120 0.384

Average Attendance

Finally, we have the average attendances of all seasons: (regular season only, no playoff games included)
SEASON  No.of games     No. of teams    Attendance(avg.)
1967    12              12              7781 (USA)
1967    32              10              4799 (NPSL)
1968    32              17              4699
1969    16              5               2888
1970    24              6               3128
1971    24              8               4157
1972    14              8               4785
1973    19              9               5974
1974    20              15              7841
1975    22              20              7597
1976    24              20              10361
1977    26              18              13584
1978    30              24              13006
1979    30              24              14163
1980    32              24              14440
1981    32              21              14060
1982    32              14              13156
1983    30              12              13387
1984    24              9               10659
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NASL Indoor:

1979-80  12            10                4869
1980-81  18            19                4993
1981-82  18            13                6202
1983-84  32             7               
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In comparison, the average English Football League draws about 29000 spectators per game, while the German Bundesliga, Italian Serie "A" and Spanish 1st division draw about 38000, and the French first diviusion about 22,000. Belgian and Dutch first divisions usually attract about as many people (10000-15000) to their matches as the NASL did in its last ten years of operation. This seems to confirm the wiew that the US and Canada CAN support big-league, professional soccer. Unfortunately, 10000-14000 spectators per game is not enough if you buy star players as expensive as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff were. The figures above are also a bit misleading since they are "inflated" by the most popular clubs (led by the Cosmos) that almost always attracted crowds in excess of 30000-40000 to their home games. The median ("middle") value is usually lower than the avg.attendance by a margin of about 2000 spectators. I'd say the break-even mark for most teams after 1978 was about 15000- 20000 spectators per game. Only a third of the teams enjoyed that kind of support from their fans.

Clive Toye, the former Chicago & Toronto general manager, claimed the rapid expansion in 1978 (when seven expansion franchises were admitted to the league) was the main reason for the NASL's demise. The statistics here suggest he is right. Of the new teams that tried their luck after 1977, only Tulsa and Montreal were truly successful at the gate. It is of course debatable whether cancelling the expansion could have saved the NASL or not. Some of the "established" teams (Minnesota, Portland) were losing fans even before the 1978 expansion and it seems like North America just didn't have the fan base to make the league work at the time. Today, when 10 million kids play soccer and a generation of adults that grew up in the "Pele years" make up a significant part of the sports-buying public, things should be different!


Last update: March 8, 2008

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