North American Soccer League

North American Soccer League
North American Soccer League
Sport Soccer
Founded 1968
No. of teams Maximum of 24

 United States

Ceased 1985
Last champion(s) Chicago Sting, 1984

North American Soccer League (NASL) was a professional soccer league with teams in the United States and Canada that operated from 1968 to 1984.



In 1967 two professional soccer leagues started in the United States: the FIFA-sanctioned United Soccer Association, which consisted of entire European and South American teams brought to the US and given local names, and the unsanctioned National Professional Soccer League. The National Professional Soccer League had a national television contract in the U.S. with the CBS television network, but the ratings for matches were unacceptable even by weekend daytime standards and the arrangement was terminated. The leagues merged in 1968 to form the North American Soccer League (NASL). It has been suggested that the timing of the merge was related to the huge amount of attention given throughout the English-speaking world to the victory by England in the 1966 FIFA World Cup and the resulting documentary film, Goal. The league lasted until the 1984 NASL season. On March 28, 1985, the NASL suspended operations for the 1985 season, when only the Minnesota Strikers and Toronto Blizzard were interested in playing. At the time, the league planned to relaunch in 1986.[1]

However, four NASL teams (Chicago Sting, Minnesota Strikers, New York Cosmos, and San Diego Sockers) joined the Major Indoor Soccer League for its 1984–85 season. The NASL itself operated an indoor soccer league from 1979–80 to 1981–82 and in 1983–84.[citation needed]

The biggest club in the league and the organization's bellwether was the New York Cosmos, who drew upwards of 40,000 fans per game at their height while aging superstars Pelé (Brazil) and Franz Beckenbauer (Germany) played for them. Although both well past their prime by the time they joined the NASL the two were considered to have previously been the best attacking (offensive) (Pelé) and defensive (Beckenbauer) players in the world. Giants Stadium sold out (73,000+) their 1978 championship win. However, the overall average attendance of the entire league never reached 15,000, with some clubs averaging less than 5,000.[citation needed]

The NASL faced obstacles in regard to selling the sport of soccer to North Americans, which was then completely foreign to the majority of them. The league modified the rules in the attempt to make the game more exciting, and comprehensible, to the average sports fan. These changes included a clock that counted time down to zero as was typical of other timed American sports, rather than upwards to 90 minutes as was traditional, a 35 yard line for offsides (a rule designed to stop offside traps, prevalent at the time, and based on an FA experiment in 1925 between what became the offside rule at the time, or a 40-yard offside mark) [2] rather than the usual half way line, and a shootout to decide matches that ended in a draw. The league began a college draft in 1972 in an attempt to increase the number of US- and Canadian-born players in the league. The foreign image of soccer was not helped, however, by a league that brought in many older, high profile foreign players, and frequently left Americans on the bench. This effort was often doubly futile, as while many of the foreign players were perhaps "big names" in their home countries, almost none of them qualified as such in North America, and they quickly absorbed most of the available payroll, such as it was, which could have otherwise been used to pay North American players better.

Over-expansion was a huge factor in the death of the league. Once the league started growing, new franchises were awarded quickly, and it doubled in size in a few years, peaking at 24 teams. Many have suggested that cash-starved existing owners longed for their share of the expansion fee charged of new owners, even though Forbes Magazine reported this amount as being only $100,000. This resulted in the available personnel being spread too thinly, among other problems. Additionally, many of these new owners were not "soccer people", and once the perceived popularity started to decline, they got out as quickly as they got in. They also spent millions on aging stars to try to match the success of the Cosmos, and lost significant amounts of money in doing so.

Also, FIFA's decision to award the hosting of the 1986 FIFA World Cup to Mexico after Colombia withdrew, rather than the U.S., is considered a factor in the NASL's demise.

While the NASL ultimately failed, it introduced soccer to the North American sports scene on a large scale for the first time and was a major contributing factor in soccer becoming one of the most popular sports among American youth. On July 4, 1988, FIFA did award the World Cup to the U.S., which would be staged in 1994. It has also provided lessons for its successor Major League Soccer, which has taken precautions against such problems, particularly a philosophy of financial restraint (mainstream US sport, by the time of MLS' startup in 1996, had adopted financial restraint rules, which MLS adopted). American college and high school soccer still use some NASL-style rules (with shortened halves, although the time does stop for stoppage sessions), and the shootout is now used in international soccer for knockout rounds, instead of replays, as was common at the time.

North American Soccer League Progression
Year Teams Games Played
1968 17 teams 32 games
1969 5 teams 16 games
1970 6 teams 24 games
1971 8 teams
1972 14 games
1973 9 teams 19 games
1974 15 teams 20 games
1975 20 teams 22 games
1977 18 teams 26 games
1978 24 teams 30 games
1980 32 games
1981 21 teams
1982 14 teams
1983 12 teams 30 games
1984 9 teams 24 games

NASL indoor

The NASL began playing indoor soccer as well as "outdoor" soccer in the mid-70s with a series of tournaments. The NASL started a full league schedule a 12-game season with 10 teams in 1979–80. For the 1980–81 season, the number of teams playing indoor soccer increased to 19 and the schedule went to 18 games. The schedule remained at 18 games, but the teams participating decreased to 13 for the 1981–82 season. The league canceled the 1982–83 indoor season, but three teams (Chicago, Golden Bay, and San Diego) played in the MISL for that season. The NASL indoor season returned for 1983–84 with only seven teams but a 32-game schedule.

NASL champions

By year

Year Winner (number of titles) Runners-up Top Scorer Winning Coach
1968 Atlanta Chiefs (1) San Diego Toros Poland John Kowalik Wales Phil Woosnam
1969 Kansas City Spurs (1) Atlanta Chiefs South Africa Kaizer Motaung Hungary Janos Bedl
1970 Rochester Lancers (1) Washington Darts Greece Kirk Apostolidis United States Alex Perolli
1971 Dallas Tornado (1) Atlanta Chiefs United States Carlos Metidieri England Ron Newman
1972 New York Cosmos (1) St. Louis Stars Bermuda Randy Horton United States Gordon Bradley
1973 Philadelphia Atoms (1) Dallas Tornado United States Kyle Rote, Jr. United States Al Miller
1974 Los Angeles Aztecs (1) Miami Toros United States Paul Child United States Doug McMillan
1975 Tampa Bay Rowdies (1) Portland Timbers Trinidad and Tobago Steve David Italy Eddie Firmani
1976 Toronto Metros-Croatia (1) Minnesota Kicks Italy Giorgio Chinaglia Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Domagoj Kapetanović
1977 New York Cosmos (2) Seattle Sounders Trinidad and Tobago Steve David
1978 New York Cosmos (3) Tampa Bay Rowdies Italy Giorgio Chinaglia Italy Eddie Firmani
1979 Vancouver Whitecaps (1) Tampa Bay Rowdies Chile Oscar Fabbiani England Tony Waiters[3]
1980 New York Cosmos (4) Fort Lauderdale Strikers Italy Giorgio Chinaglia
1981 Chicago Sting (1) New York Cosmos Italy Giorgio Chinaglia United States Willy Roy
1982 New York Cosmos (5) Seattle Sounders Italy Giorgio Chinaglia
West Germany Karl-Heinz Granitza
Brazil Julio Mazzei
1983 Tulsa Roughnecks (1) Toronto Blizzard Paraguay Roberto Cabañas Wales Terry Hennessey
1984 Chicago Sting (2) Toronto Blizzard Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Steve Zungul United States Willy Roy

By club

Club Winner Runner-Up Seasons Won Seasons Runner-Up
New York Cosmos 5 1 1972, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1982 1981
Chicago Sting 2 0 1981, 1984
Atlanta Chiefs 1 2 1968 1969, 1971
Tampa Bay Rowdies 1 2 1975 1978, 1979
Toronto Metros/Blizzard 1 2 1976 1983, 1984
Dallas Tornado 1 1 1971 1973
Kansas City Spurs 1 0 1969
Rochester Lancers 1 0 1970
Philadelphia Atoms 1 0 1973
Los Angeles Aztecs 1 0 1974
Vancouver Whitecaps 1 0 1979
Tulsa Roughnecks 1 0 1983
Seattle Sounders 0 2 1977, 1982
San Diego Toros 0 1 1968
Washington Darts 0 1 1970
St. Louis Stars 0 1 1972
Miami Toros 0 1 1974
Portland Timbers 0 1 1975
Minnesota Kicks 0 1 1976
Fort Lauderdale Strikers 0 1 1980

NASL indoor champions

By year

Year Winner (number of titles) Runners-up Top Scorer
1975 San Jose Earthquakes (1) Tampa Bay Rowdies United States Paul Child
1976 Tampa Bay Rowdies (1) Rochester Lancers
1979–80 Tampa Bay Rowdies (2) Memphis Rogues South Africa David Byrne
1980–81 Edmonton Drillers (1) Chicago Sting West Germany Karl-Heinz Granitza
1981–82 San Diego Sockers (1) Tampa Bay Rowdies United States Juli Veee
1983–84 San Diego Sockers (2) New York Cosmos Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Steve Zungul

By club

Club Winner Runner-Up Seasons Won Seasons Runner-Up
Tampa Bay Rowdies 2 2 1976, 1980 1975, 1982
San Diego Sockers 2 0 1982, 1984
San Jose Earthquakes 1 0 1975
Edmonton Drillers 1 0 1981
Rochester Lancers 0 1 1976
Memphis Rogues 0 1 1980
Chicago Sting 0 1 1981
New York Cosmos 0 1 1984

Teams of NASL 1968–84


Teams in NASL indoor 1979–84

  • Atlanta Chiefs (1979–81)
  • Calgary Boomers (1979–81 as Memphis Rogues in 1979–80)
  • California Surf (1979–81)
  • Chicago Sting (1980–82, 1983–84)
  • Dallas Tornado (1980–81)
  • Detroit Express (1979–81)
  • Edmonton Drillers (1980–82)
  • Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (1979–81)
  • Golden Bay Earthquakes (1980–84 as San Jose Earthquakes in 1980–82)
  • Jacksonville Tea Men (1979–82 as New England Tea Men 1979–80)
  • Los Angeles Aztecs (1979–81)
  • Minnesota Kicks (1979–81)
  • Montreal Manic (1981–82)
  • New York Cosmos (1981–82, 1983–84)
  • Portland Timbers (1980–82)
  • San Diego Sockers (1980–82, 1983–84)
  • Seattle Sounders (1980–82)
  • Tampa Bay Rowdies (1979–82, 1983–84)
  • Tulsa Roughnecks (1979–82, 1983–84)
  • Toronto Blizzard (1980–82)
  • Vancouver Whitecaps (1980–82, 1983–84)


Annual honors

MVP, Rookie and Coach of the Year

Year MVP Rookie Coach
1968 Poland John Kowalik South Africa Kaizer Motaung Wales Phil Woosnam
1969 Uruguay Cirilio Fernandez Uruguay Cirilio Fernandez Hungary Janos Bedl
1970 United States Carlos Metidieri United States Jim Leeker Italy Sal de Rosa
1971 United States Carlos Metidieri Bermuda Randy Horton England Ron Newman
1972 Bermuda Randy Horton United States Mike Winter Poland Casey Frankiewicz
1973 Trinidad and Tobago Warren Archibald United States Kyle Rote, Jr. United States Al Miller
1974 England Peter Silvester United States Doug McMillan Scotland John Young
1975 Trinidad and Tobago Steve David United States Chris Bahr England John Sewell
1976 Brazil Pelé United States Steve Pecher Italy Eddie Firmani
1977 West Germany Franz Beckenbauer United States Jim McAlister England Ron Newman
1978 England Mike Flanagan United States Gary Etherington England Tony Waiters
1979 Netherlands Johan Cruyff United States Larry Hulcer Finland Timo Liekoski
1980 England Roger Davies United States Jeff Durgan England Alan Hinton
1981 Italy Giorgio Chinaglia United States Joe Morrone, Jr. United States Willy Roy
1982 England Peter Ward United States Pedro DeBrito Republic of Ireland Johnny Giles
1983 Paraguay Roberto Cabanas United States Gregg Thompson Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Don Popovic
1984 Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Steve Zungul United States Roy Wegerle England Ron Newman

Average attendance

  • 1968: 4,747
  • 1969: 4,699
  • 1970: 2,930
  • 1971: 3,163
  • 1972: 4,159
  • 1973: 4,780
  • 1974: 5,954
  • 1975: 7,770
  • 1976: 7,642
  • 1977: 10,295
  • 1978: 13,558
  • 1979: 13,084
  • 1980: 14,201
  • 1981: 14,084
  • 1982: 13,155
  • 1983: 13,258
  • 1984: 10,759

Teams named after NASL teams

The current Heritage Cup in MLS was developed as a way to remember the NASL's heritage by having teams named after NASL teams to participate in a special trophy. Today, two MLS teams, San Jose and Seattle, play for this trophy, although Portland and Vancouver are both eligible for the trophy if they decide to participate in this derby.

See also


  1. ^ "NASL suspends operations for 1985" page 1D Minneapolis Star and Tribune March 29, 1985
  2. ^ The Question: Why is the modern offside law a stroke of genius?, The Guardian
  3. ^

External links

Preceded by
Division 1 Soccer League in the United States
Succeeded by
Major League Soccer

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