The 16th edition of MLS Cup comes around in November with the league stronger than ever.
In 2012 the Montreal Impact will join the league and make for 19 teams. What a contrast to the 16th and penultimate championship for the North American Soccer League – one that would be its last ever Soccer Bowl, as the championship would be a best of three series in 1984!
In 1983 the Tulsa Roughnecks defeated Toronto Blizzard in the NASL’s Soccer Bowl played in Vancouver’s B.C. Place, where the MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps have recently taken up residence.
The match in some ways mirrored what a current wild card team must do as Tulsa was playing their 4th match in 10 days.
In front of 53,326 fans, the Roughnecks scored twice through Njego Pesa off a well-worked free kick and Ron Futcher to take home the NASL Trophy.
(Interestingly a new NASL trophy has been created for the current second-tier league that is said to use elements of the original. The unveiling of the new NASL trophy occurred on October 20th. Here’s an interview with designer Rich Levy on IMSoccer News. A trophy image is far down the web site’s home page.)
The 1983 season was the NASL’s swan song with its 3rd highest attendance figures ever. But by the following year only 9 clubs remained of what was once a 24 team league in 1980. Just 12 teams had contested the 1983 championship.
With the Major League Soccer season just completed, it is important to note that MLS has just set a new per game attendance record. Not since its first season’s 17,406 had the league exceeded that number.
The 2011 average attendance sets the new mark at 17,872. The NASL’s best season, was 1980 at 14,201.
It had been a long slow build for the NASL, which did not break the 10,000 barrier until the 1977 season. While it grew to the high mark in 1980, by the 1983 season attendance had fallen 13,258 per game and the following year was further reduced to 10, 759.
It seems unimaginable that MLS will suffer the NASL’s fate now or even in the future. At a time when the NASL was losing teams, MLS is growing.
When the NASL’s attendance was declining, the MLS has set a new record for attendance.
However, it is also wise to understand that MLS might not be in the position it is today without the NASL, whose legacy, I believe, is the millions of youngsters who play the game, the hundreds of thousands of parents who played as youth, and the many thousands of soccer matches at multiple levels that occur almost every day across the United States.
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