“Rock ‘n’ Roll Soccer” Shows Feisty NASL is Nothing New

IMAGE, MACMILLIAN.COM

by JAKE NUTTING

The general consensus these days within the American Soccer bubble is that the ongoing tiff between the NASL and MLS/U.S. Soccer Federation is one that can shape the future of professional soccer in the United States.

There is good reason to assume so. It was recently revealed that the NASL enlisted noted sports attorney Jeffrey Kessler this summer to draft a letter accusing U.S. Soccer and MLS of violating antitrust laws through proposed changes to the first division standards. The second division league’s argument stems from the fact that the suggested changes manifested shortly after it filed an application for first division status at the beginning of the year.

This is undoubtedly an accusation not to be taken lightly, but it’s far from the first time that the NASL has butted heads with the federation.

Ian Plenderleith’s book, Rock ‘n’ Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League, showcases that the infighting these days cannot hold a candle to the squabbling that the original NASL and U.S. Soccer endured during that league’s seventeen year run as the top dog in American professional soccer.

Plenderleith presents an engaging tale about the original NASL that burned bright for a few years before crashing back down to Earth. Many accounts of the NASL boom in the 1970s can lean on the tedious side; they rehash stories about the same old stars and franchises. NASL heritage fanatics can enjoy the requisite Pele, Rodney Marsh and George Best stories. However, Plenderleith also delves deep into other, less worn subjects, including an opening chapter in the instrumental role that the Atlanta Chiefs played in the foundation of the NASL. This section should be of interest to modern NASL followers considering the uncertain future of the Atlanta Silverbacks.

Perhaps the most illuminating and valuable chapter in the book, however, is the detailing of tensions that existed between the NASL — and pretty much every other organization in soccer from its inception to its very last season.

In the chapter appropriately titled “The NASL vs. FIFA and the world,” Plenderleith lays out that the league was only founded through tense Christmas negotiations between the feuding National Professional Soccer League and U.S. Soccer, hosted by the President of FIFA himself, Stanley Rous. The thought of any league or federation knocking on FIFA’s door for help settling domestic disputes seems laughable given today’s scandalous climate.

The NPSL was merging with the United Soccer Association in a desperate attempt to survive. The only problem was that the NPSL had been at odds with the U.S. all throughout its debut year. The federation went as far as to blacklist every NPSL player — and the league responded by slapping them with an antitrust (there’s that word again) lawsuit.

Eventually, a flimsy peace was reached — but the relationship between the two sides never softened. One quote in particular on the NASL’s controversial attempts to eliminate the offside trap demonstrates the serious contempt on the part of then-U.S. Soccer President Gene Edwards.

“They will not suffer one iota from the abolition of the 35-yard rule. If they want brighter soccer, maybe they should buy better players.”

Try to imagine current USSF President Sunil Gulati spewing that kind of outright vitriol toward the modern NASL in this age of Twitter and Reddit.

One thing is abundantly clear from Plenderleith’s engaging staging of all the many grievances the NASL embroiled itself in – neither incarnation of the NASL has ever been about going with the flow. Owners were openly hostile toward what they deemed intrusive oversight from the overlords at FIFA. Ironically, the league’s focus in the modern era has shifted to aligning American soccer more with the rest of the world, but the bickering within our own shores has remained robust.

No matter the century, it seems as if the NASL and USSF are destined to be on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, like some twisted soccer version of the Hatfields and McCoys.

With the roots that MLS has established over two decades, the odds of the new NASL reaching its past zenith are far from favorable. What is undeniable, though, is that the league’s rebellious spirit is alive and well, and it will scrape and claw with every available resource to thrive — just like the old days.

Plenderleith’s book was released in the UK last year, but is now available for purchase stateside in both hardcover and digital format.

  • soccerfan

    It’s great , to see soccer in this great country grow , Alex Ferguson said it back in 2012, that the US , is big enough to hold 4 competitive leagues and its true . mls , NASL , usl ,NPSL ….4 great leagues . back in 2007 , when I begin to watch usl games , it was great , to see teams that play well and do not belong in mls , something different. Even college soccer , sometimes I watch these games , and are more entertaining than an mls game . in my opinion , I think the NASL , will become a great league in about 5 years from now, it is a league that is growing , teams, players, fans, and better owners who know about the sport. I like mls , but its just seems that they worry more about the money than what’s on the field..

    • slowleftarm

      What other country has a bunch of random leagues all over the place all claiming to be first division?

  • REAL OpenCupFans know nasl teams are bad

    this version of the nasl is only going down the tubes (I guess similarly to the end result of the old nasl) – they can’t even beat USL teams on the field, they are run by criminally indicted traffic sports (who still owns 1 of the franchises), and any of their decent clubs will be headed to MLS in the near future. The cosmos will fold soon since they can only draw 3000 to a turf lacrosse field in long island and only have MLS retirees/rejects playing for them (no Pele or Becks), the remaining teams will join the USL which is getting to up to 30 teams strong and growing.

    • the Realist

      Don’t you ever get tired of posting the same comments, Mr. Garber?

      • William

        actually it doesn’t its like a broken record over and over and over

        3 brain cells 1 thought in its existence leads to its comments

      • smurf040

        Dude, I just said the same thing! lol!

  • Hi Jake, thank you for the kind review. I just wanted to point out, though, that my surname is spelt with an extra L – PLENDERLEITH. Regards, Ian

    • Well then! My apologies sir. Editor takes that responsibility!

  • REAL OpenCupFans know nasl teams are bad

    I’m not mr garber, but please tell me factually which one of these points can be disproven:

    “this version of the nasl is only going down the tubes (I guess similarly to the end result of the old nasl) – they can’t even beat USL teams on the field, they are run by criminally indicted traffic sports (who still owns 1 of the franchises), and any of their decent clubs will be headed to MLS in the near future. The cosmos will fold soon since they can only draw 3000 to a turf lacrosse field in long island and only have MLS retirees/rejects playing for them (no Pele or Becks), the remaining teams will join the USL which is getting to up to 30 teams strong and growing.”

    • I have an idea REAL, rather than a cut and paste troll, why don’t you respect the fact that Jake Nutting is writing about someone’s published book here and talk about that. Or maybe buy the book and then give some thoughtful comments on it, if you know how to read.

      And ps, your “facts” are not, erm, facts.

  • the Realist

    You may be right on all counts. I just can’t believe how often you repeat yourself.

  • slowleftarm

    I don’t get why people are talking about the current NASL – this book is about the old NASL. Other than a name those leagues have nothing in common.

  • Kevin

    Has anyone read the book yet? Or seen it in bookstores. I’d love to read it but some of these books about the history of US Soccer can be real snooze fests.

  • OpenCupFan

    NASL 2.0 needs to come out for pro/rel or it will just be repeating the mistakes of the past.
    .
    #bushleaguemls

  • alex gago

    So many uneducated MLS trolls … MLS. USSF will learn a lesson as it stands loosing this case ..
    .

    • MTF

      I don’t know what’s worse, losing the case or loosing the case.

  • REAL OpenCupFans know nasl teams are bad

    I have an idea Leo, if those points are not facts, why don’t you disprove them?

  • Tom

    Sounds like a good read and love reading any books on the NASL – will keep an eye out for it and pick one up.

  • REAL OpenCupFans know nasl teams are bad

    Does anyone else here feel a need to hold a shirtless Don Garber close to them and nibble on his ear after an MLS team wins the Open Cup?

  • REAL OpenCupFans know nasl teams are bad

    stop being an imposter.

    How many Open Cups have nasl teams even been close to winning – 0

    The USL has 1 win on the books, again they seem better on the field than the lower minor league nasl.

    Again, if you have facts to dispute please offer them, have not heard any yet, still waiting…

    • REAL OpenCupFans know nasl teams are bad

      I have often wondered if Don has a hairy chest or if she manscapes it. I know my desire is forbidden yet I must know.

      I long to wash my Lord’s feet with water from a full open cip and long to dry his feet with my hair,