Congratulations to the Los Angeles Galaxy on becoming the second Major League Soccer team to win three MLS Cup Championships.
It certainly is an honor worth celebrating. Only D.C. United has scaled to that height with their four championships.
For me this accomplishment creates a chance to remember the great champions of the past who also won multiple league titles in the American Soccer League (ASL) and the North American Soccer League (NASL) when they were the pre-eminent leagues in American soccer.
The first great league championship side was the Fall River Marksmen, champions five times between the 1923-1924 season and the 1929-1930 season. The squad won consecutive league titles in 1924, ‘25, and ’26 before the fabulous Bethlehem Steel side of Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup fame broke the string.
The Marksmen were back on top of the trophy hunt in 1929 and 1930, winning their final two championships in those years.
Hall of Famers Archie Stark and Werner Nilsen were among the leading scorers for the Marksmen of this era. The team, backed by mill owner Sam Mark, hence the team name, would fold following their last league winning season and many of the players would go on to additional league triumphs with the New York Giants and the New Bedford Whalers in the closing years of the first American Soccer League.
Following the “Soccer War” of the early 30s, the American Soccer League was reorganized and what is generally regarded as the ASL II was formed. In the first iteration of the league, teams were sponsored by commercial interests, like the Marksmen and Bethlehem Steel, but the new ASL was formed primarily of ethnic-based clubs stretching along the East Coast from Boston to Washington, D.C.
The ASL II’s first great champion was the Kearny Scots, winning five consecutive league titles between 1937 and 1941.
Among the top scorers for the Scots in that era were Fabri Salcedo and 1930 U.S. World Cup hero Bert Patenaude.
Their championship streak was stopped in 1942 by the Philadelphia Americans, the next great titleholder of the ASL II.
Following their first championship in 1935, the Americans, with such luminaries as Millard Lang, John Nanoski, Joe Gaetjens and Nick Kropfelder leading the way, would record six titles by 1952.
In the early 60s a new championship team arose from Philadelphia, the Ukrainian Nationals who numbered brothers and future U.S. national team coaches Walter and Gene Chyzowych amongst their squad. The Nationals won four consecutive titles from the 1960-1961 season through the 1963-1964 one and won two more championships in the 1968 and the 1970 seasons for a total of six.
Following the formation of the NASL in 1968, the ASL lost its billing as the top league in the United States. The new league was national in coverage rather than limited to the Northeast and found some deep pockets that created teams of international stature, none more so that the fabled New York Cosmos.
The Cosmos were five-time Soccer Bowl champions, winning their first in 1972 behind the scoring of Bermudian Randy Horton.
In 1977, Pele’s final year in the NASL, the Cosmos started a run of four championships in six seasons.
With Italian Giorgio Chinaglia filling the nets, prompted by midfield maestro Vladislav ‘Bogie’ Bogicevic, and with a defense marshaled by German international hero Franz Beckenbauer, the Cosmos dominated the league in those years.
So, thank you Galaxy for encouraging my mind to wander back and recall yesterday’s champions as we celebrate today’s!
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