Wednesday, January 26, 2011

But Pele came and everything was getting much better! Right? Major soccer… or major pain in the ass: to establish who was who in NASL is statistician’s nightmare. NASL preferred to list most players as imports, hoping to sell football to ignorant American public as a concoction of international stars. International the league was, judging by birthplaces – from Great Britain to Thailand, the whole world was represented. Even few Americans and Canadians… Perhaps the most unusual were the representatives of China – Mike Ivanow and Archie Roboostoff (both playing for San Jose Earthquakes in 1975). Sound like Chinese names? Well, they were born in China alright, but they would be more interesting for a historian investigating the Russian colony in Shanghai. Anyway, the bulk of ‘foreign stars’ were really naturalized US and Canadian citizens, who never played top level football in their former countries. Some were entirely US products: Werner Roth and Mirko ‘Mark’ Liveric, for example, were both born in Yugoslavia, but never played there. Liveric was included in US national team in 1973. Roth arrived in USA 8 years old – perhaps he never played even street football in his ‘homeland’. Yet, they were advertised as imports. Which makes very difficult to establish who were real imports – of which there were plenty of names well before the transfer of Pele and not only British either. Megastars like Ladislao Cubala played their twilight seasons in USA. Regular players too – Cesar Luis Menotti was one of those (after playing for New York Generals in 1967-68, he became Pele’s teammate at Santos). The same was true in 1975 as well: Argentines, Uruguayans, Chileans, Mexicans, Brazilians, Yugoslavians, etc, etc, etc. The Israelis Mordechai Spiegler and David Primo (both Cosmos) played at the 1970 World Cup. Guy St. Vil (Baltimore Comets) played for Haiti at 1974 World Cup. Up the scale were decent professionals like the Brazilian Nelsi Morais (Cosmos) and the English former Chelsea player Tommy Baldwin (Seattle Sounders). There were European failures – Ian Storey-Moore, who Manchester United thought the next George Best just the year before, now graced Chicago Sting. There were unknown yet players, who became quite famous in Europe later: Gordon Hill of Chicago Sting later was part of the Manchester United’s successful squads, reaching Cup finals in 1976 and 1977. Peter Withe , now in Portland Timbers, won the European Champions Cup with Aston Villa in 1982. Higher still were aging European stars of various times – the Yugoslav great Ilija Mitic and the Scot who is still considered Celtic’s greatest ever player Jimmy Johnstone played for San Jose Earthquakes. Peter Bonetti (England) for St. Louis Stars. Mike England (Wales) – for Seattle Sounders. The long time Italian national team defenseman Giacomo Bulgarelli joined Hartford Bicentennials. The Portuguese superstars Antonio Simoes and Eusebio now represented Boston Minutemen. And Cosmos? The Uruguayan former national player Juan Masnik came, fresh from 1974 World Cup fiasco. The Peruvian star, remembered from World Cup 1970, Ramon Mifflin arrived as well. Pele, of course, was expected to change everything in North America – but unlike Beckham, it was not only Pele in the mid-1970s. Unfortunately, Pele’s transfer dwarfed everybody else and most people even in 1975 hardly knew who else was kicking the ball in North American clubs, but one thing was already clear: NASL was getting major appetite. And New York Cosmos was leading the pack, seemingly becoming really big club.
Here they are: Brazilians, Uruguayans, local boys, and naturalized Americans, aiming to transform the exotic ‘soccer’ into familiar ‘all-American’ sport.