The other side of the coin

Posted on January 14, 2013 12:07 am


A third batch of odd facts in American soccer history:

–The NASL wasn’t always glitz and glamor and Pele and Beckenbauer in front of sell-out crowds. Here’s an example: The largest, and probably most famous, NASL crowd was the 77,691 who saw the New York Cosmos beat the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in a playoff game on Aug. 14, 1977 in East Rutherford, N.J. That very same night at the Los Angeles Coliseum (above), a playoff game between the Los Angeles Aztecs and the Dallas Tornado was watched by a crowd of only 5,295. There were more empty seats at the cavernous Coliseum than there had been filled ones a few hours earlier in East Rutherford.

–Only one team from outside the United States has ever played in the U.S. Open Cup that I am aware of. That was Walkerville FC, from Walkerville, Ontario, on the Canadian side of the Detroit River. Walkerville, which was a member of the Detroit league, played in the U.S. Open Cup several times in its early years, reaching the round of 16 in both 1922 and 1923.

–The only player-manager in the history of the U.S. national team is Gordon Bradley. Bradley was coach of the team for five games in 1973, the year after he coached the New York Cosmos to the NASL title. In one of those games, against Israel in Beersheba on Nov. 15, 1973, the 35-year-old Bradley, who had played 85 games in the NASL, put himself on the field as a defender. Seeing the coach among the players in front of him can’t have been a thrill to the American goalkeeper that day, a 22-year-old named Bruce Arena.

–The identity of the first game ever played in the U.S. Open Cup is not 100 percent certain. The first edition of that tournament (originally called the National Challenge Cup) was 1913-14, and the eight first-round games (there were a lot of byes) were played on the weekend of Nov. 1 and 2, 1913. Three of those eight were on the Saturday, Nov. 1, because they were in Pennsylvania or Massachusetts, where blue laws prevented them from being played on Sunday. A game in Philadelphia produced a forfeit, so the first has to have been either Bethlehem FC’s 7-1 win over Disston AA of Philadelphia in Bethlehem, Pa., or New Bedford FC’s 3-1 win over Farr Alpaca of Holyoke, Mass., in New Bedford, Mass. Bethlehem and New Bedford are in the same time zone, so perhaps the two games started at the same time.

–Before a World Cup qualifier between the United States and Canada in Baltimore in August 1972, FIFA ruled that the field at Memorial Stadium was not sufficiently large and the possibility was raised that the game might have to be postponed. The game was played anyway, after both the U.S. Soccer Football Association and the Canadian Soccer Association agreed to the use of the undersized field.

–When the New York Cosmos were pursuing Pele in 1974 and ’75, their main competition for his signature on a contract were European powers Juventus and Real Madrid. Was Juventus competing against itself? The Turin club was owned by Italian auto magnate Gianni Agnelli, who also happened to be a significant shareholder in the company that owned the Cosmos, Warner Communications.

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