By many accounts, the North American Soccer League was a one-of-a-kind phenomenon in the history of the world game – and, during its 1970s heyday (although it began shakily in 1968 and ended in shambles after the 1984 season) – a league years ahead of its time. More than just Pelé and the star-studded, bigger-than-life New York Cosmos, the NASL lured international soccer’s biggest names like Johan Cruyff, Eusebio, George Best, and Franz Beckenbauer to play the “beautiful game” the way it was meant to be played—uninhibited, and with fan-pleasing innovations like sudden-death overtime, a 35-yard-line offsides demarcation, tie-breaking shootouts, and a points system that incentivized scoring regardless of result.
For international players, the NASL provided a bright and shiny alternative (or at least, summertime off-season respite) to the drearily conservative and cynically defensive state of the European game of the day. Plush modern stadiums, professional cheerleaders, pre-game tailgating, clever promotional marketing – and increasingly attractive, though eventually unsustainable salaries – made US pro soccer an irresistible proposition. Until, of course, it inevitably crashed back down to Earth like a once high-flying rock star’s private jet – bankrupting not only the league’s investors, but also the sport’s future in America in the process.
Author Ian Plenderleith (Rock 'n' Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss all the color and chaos of the world's first truly international league.