From: David A. Litterer on
History of Soccer in New York City/Northern New Jersey (Part 3 of 3)

By Dave Litterer spectrum(a)

The Lean Years - Again | Revival and World Cup | The Era of the MLS and Women's

The Lean Years - Again

With the demise of the professional leagues and the Cosmos, there was nothing
left in the New York region but the amateur leagues, led by the Cosmopolitan
League (formerly the GASL), and the Eastern District league. The situation
looked little better across the country, and the region has to this day (2010)
not regained the dominance it held during the NASL glory years. But almost
immediately the outdoor game began to rise, slowly and phoenix-like from rock
bottom. Youth and college soccer were both beginning to take off and would grow
by leaps and bounds over the next two decades, particularly on the womens' side.
Soon major colleges became the powerhouses, and the NY/NJ region was well
represented by many institutions such as St. John's, Seton Hall, Stony Brook and
Rutgers. Things took longer at the pro levels however. The New York Express
joined the MISL in 1986, flaming out after a disastrous 3-23 season, but on a
brighter note, Yonkers Polish Americans won the 1987 National Amateur Cup, and
the CSL's Greek-Americans made it to the US Open Cup final in 1989. The NESSL's
Brooklyn Italians followed suit in 1989, and won it in 1990.

Lower-level soccer leagues began sprouting up in the US in the late 1980s, and a
bonafide 2nd division circuit was launched in 1988 - the third American Soccer
League. But the glory days in the NY/NJ region were over. Functional teams, let
along successful ones were rare during this time. The New Jersey Eagles were
represented in the ASL, winning the North Division title in 1988, but fell to
last in 1989. That year, Rugters made it to the NCAA Division 1 semi-finals, and
the championship was held at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, a 1-1 battle
that was called after four overtimes. The National Team returned to New York
with a 3-0 win over Peru in a friendly. Although it had little impact in the
region, a seminal event in 1989 was the US qualifying for the World Cup for the
first time since 1950. This would lead to momentus changes in the game, as the
USSF, which had previously been awarded the 1994 World Cup (based in part on the
impressive attendance at the '84 Olympics) began to lay the groundwork to
develop the national team and for the launch of a new Division 1 professional

As part of their effort to be designated the new Div. 1 professional league, the
ASL and Western Soccer League merged as the American Professional Soccer League,
an unwieldly 20-team circuit with each league forming a conference. New Jersey
again finished last in this edition, and a new club, Penn-Jersey did somewhat
better, finishing third. The USA hosted Malta at Piscataway, beating them 1-0,
and Rutgers returned to the NCAA Div. 1 championship, again going into FOUR
overtime periods. This time however, they fell to UCLA 1-0. New York continued
its ineptitude in the indoor game when the National professional Soccer league
added the New York Kick for 1990-91; they went 3-37 and folded. Most of the APSL
teams folded after their first season in 1990; but Penn-Jersey continued,
finishing a middling 3rd in 1991 before folding. By 1993, the only soccer left
was once again the amateur circuits and college teams (St. John's came in 3rd
place in the 1993 Coaches' poll). Kearny, NJ, that early hotbed of US soccer,
achieved a measure of distinction as three Kearny natives earned spots in the
National Team in the buildup to the '94 World Cup - John Harkes, Tab Ramos and
Tony Meola.

Revival and World Cup

Although things looked bleak in 1992, soccer would enter a new era with the
buildup to the 1994 World Cup, the rapid expansion of the Division 2/Division 3
leagues, the popularity of Giants Stadium as a national team venue, and the
advent of Major League Soccer. Although New York/New Jersey did not often see
great triumphs during this era, never again would the region be bereft of pro

The first major event was the launching in 1993 of Major League Soccer which
would start play in 1996, and would include a team in New York. The soccer scene
really came back to life during the World Cup, which was a seminal event
bringing the US into worldwide prominence, as the event shattered attendance
records averaging 67,000 fans per game. The US even did well, beating favored
Colombia and advancing to the Round of 16 where they held #1 Brazil to a single
goal as they exited with their heads held high. Several prominent matches
(including a semi-final) were held at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, drawing
nearly 80,000 fans per match. The Women's National Team had their first area
matches, beating New Zealand, Trinidad & Tobago and Canada at the C.W.C.'93
before modest crowds. They returned to the area in 1994 and 95 when they beat
China and Australia respectively, at Rutgers Stadium.

Pro soccer made its comeback to the region when the Division 3 US Interregional
Soccer League (Now the USL) expanded to the northeast, adding the New York
Fever, New Jersey Imperials and North Jersey Dragons., and Sam's Army made their
New York debut at the final match of the USA Cup at Rutgers Stadium in New
Brunswick as 35,126 saw the Americans battle Colombia to a 0-0 draw. Later that
year, the Nats made their debut at Giants Stadium in the Parmalat Cup where they
lost to Parma and Benfica. Although the Dragons and Fever did not last long,
(nor did the NY/NJ Stallions added in 1996) the Imperials had a long, if rarely
successful tenure. More successful was the 1995 entry, the Long Island Rough
Riders, who went on to a long championship filled tenure in the 3rd division
league before dropping to the amateur division. Division 2 soccer returned with
the New York Centaurs of the APSL in 1995 (They flamed out), followed by the New
York Fever in 1996 (They were little better.) Finally division 1 returned with
the MLS and the New York/New Jersey Metrostars in 1996.

The Era of the MLS and Women's Soccer

The New York/New Jersey MetroStars were a charter franchise of Major League
Soccer. The league considered adding a second team in Long Island, and although
that did not happen, the league has kept an option for a Long Island franchise
ever since. The region was caught up in soccer fever as teams continued to
sprout up at all divisional levels, as seen by the chart below:

New York Centaurs (A-League) 1994
Jersey Dragons (USL) 1994-1996
Long Island Rough Riders (USL) 1994-present
North Jersey Imperials (USL) 1994-1999
New York Fever (USL, A-League) 1995-1996
Long Island Lady Riders (W-League) 1995-present
New Jersey Wildcats (W-league) 1996-present
New York/New Jersey MetroStars (MLS) 1996-present*
New York Magic (W-league) 1997-present
New Jersey Stallions (USL) 1997-2004
New York Freedom (USL) 1998-2004
New Jersey lady Stallions (W-League) 1998-2004
Westchester Flames (USL) 1999-present
Staten Island Vipers (USL) 1999
Brooklyn Knights (USL) 1999-present
New Brunswick Power (W-League) 2000
New York Power (WUSA) 2001-2003
New York Vendoval (WPSL) 2003
Long Island Fury (WPSL) 2006
Long Ialand Academy (NPSL) 2007
New Jersey Ironmen (MISL/XSL) 2007-2008
Jersey Sky Blue (W-League) 2007-2008
New York Athletic Club (NPSL) 2008-present
Newark Ironbound Express (USL) 2008-present
New Jersey Rangers (USL) 2008-present
Sky Blue F. C. (WPS) 2009-present
New York Red Bull (NPSL) 2009-present
Jersey Select (WPSL) 2010-present
New Jersey Rangers (WPSL) 2010-present
Brooklyn Italians (NPSL) 2010-present
F. C. New York (NASL II) 2011-present

Note: Some USL teams were in Divion 2 or 3 leagues; most
play(ed) in the amateur-level USL-PDL league.
*-MetroStars known as New York Red Bull since 2006.

With the exception of the MetroStars, area teams made an immediate impact in
their respective leagues, with the Long Island Rough Riders winning their USL
division in 1994 and the USL title in 1995. The Lady Riders took the W-League
title in 1995 and 1997, and the Magic followed with a title in 1998, and earned
runner-up honors the following year. The North Jersey Imperials were strong in
these years, and the New York Freedom won the USL amateur title in 1999. At the
amateur level, Clifton Soccer Academy United won the National Amateur Cup for
three straight seasons, 1996 through 1998.

Meanwhile, success was not coming at the top level, as the MetroStars struggled
through several seasons (and many players and coaches), never able to break far
above .500 and often landing in the cellar. Their first decent showing was not
until 2000 when they made the semi-finals; but (yet again) collapsed the
following year, leading to concerns at league headquarters about the failure of
success in the nation's largest TV market; success in New York was crucial to
the league's overall success. A major highlight of the 1996 MLS season was a
doubleheader which set an all-time attendance record of 78,416 at Giants
Stadium, which pitted the East All-Stars against the West followed by a charity
match between Brazil and the FIFA All-stars, which Brazil won 2-1.

The 1999 Women's World Cup was a seminal event in the history of women's soccer
and some of the biggest crowds were at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford. The
opening match set a new attendance record at Giants Stadium as 78,972 came out
to see the US shut out Denmark 3-0 followed by Brazil trouncing Mexico 7-1. A
later doubleheader did not feature the US but still drew almost 30,000 fans.

When the Women's United Soccer Association launched in 2001, the New York Power
were a charter franchise, playing all three seaons of the WUSA's brief life, but
with middling success, only making the playoffs in their final year where they
were defeated in the first round. W-League area teams were perennial success
stories during the regular season with several divisional titles to their
credit, but always collapsed in the playoffs. On the men's side, the region saw
great success at the start of the millenium, with the NJ Stallions winning the
USL Div. 3 title in 2000, Westchester taking their division in 2000, followed by
the league title in 2001, and the Long Island Rough Riders following suit in
2002. But then the region entered a fallow period with several teams having
folded and little success on the field, particularly from the MetroStars.

The only bright spot during this time was the revival of the old tradition of
tours by major foreign teams, initially organized by Championsworld. The
highlight of the first edition was Manchester United's 3-1 victory over Juventus
in July 2003 which set a new Giants Stadium record of 79,005 fans, followed by
the Italian Super Cup matchup between A. C. Milan (5) and Juventus (2) which
drew 54,000. This was so successful that Championsworld scheduled three matches
at Giants stadium in 2004. The first match saw 74,511 witnessed A. C. Milan draw
1-1 with Manchester United. Early August saw more modest crowds at the
Galatasray/Porto and Liverpool/A. S. Roma matches.

Things started to turn around in 2005. The Men's National Team won two well
attended Gold Cup matches defeating Honduras and Panama to win the tournament.
New teams began popping up in the USL, W-League, WPSL and NPSL, with some having
immediate success on the field and collecting much silver. The New Jersey
Wildcats won the W-League title in 2005 (and their division from 2005 through
2007). Meanwhile, the WPSL expanded to the Northeast in 2006 (followed by the
NPSL in 2007), and the expansion Long Island Fury lived up to their name, taking
the title in 2006 and 2009, while the NPSL's Long Island Academy made it to the
semis in '07. In another first, New York Athletic Club captured the first
Women's National Amateur Cup title for an area team. The veteran USL Brooklyn
Knights finally saw success, winning their division in 2008, and at the local
amateur level, the New York Pancyprian Freedoms won the National Amateur Cup.
That was the year Red Bull New York surprised everyone by squeaking into the
playoffs despite a 10-11-9 record, and battling all the way to MLS Cup '08 where
they fell to Columbus 3-1. This qualified them for the preliminary round of the
2009-2010 CONCACAF Champions League where they fell to W. Connection (Trinidad &
Tobago) 2-2 and 2-1. Unfortunately, they collapsed in the 2009 MLS campaign,
falling to last place. That year saw the launch of Womens Professional Soccer,
which included the region's Sky Blue F. C. as a charter team. The team had
middling success their inaugural year, but looked promising for 2010.

On the exhibition front, Championsworld folded after the 2004 series, and for
2005 MLS arranged the "World Series of Football" which mostly pitted MLS squads
against visiting foreign teams. The match at Giants Stadium was an exception;
35,000 saw A. C. Milan draw 1-1 with Chelsea. But later that year, Ecuador held
two friendlies, and England drew 50,000 to their 3-2 win over Colombia. In 2006,
both international friendlies and the World Series of Soccer were seasonal
highlights; 79,002 came to watch F. C. Barcelona defeat Red Bull New York 4-1,
and the 1-1 draw between Colombia and Ecuador was also well attended. In 2007,
the only international action in the region was a lightly attended 1-1 draw
between Ecuador and Ireland. Barcelona returned in 2008 and whomped Red Bull New
York 6-2 before 38,000+. But the big event that year came in August as the US
drew 1-1 with Argentina in a friendly attended by over 78,000. The World
Football challenge was launched in 2009 but bypassed the NY/NJ region. Fans were
not bereft however, as the US was pitted against Mexico in the final match of
the Gold Cup before (yet another) Giants Stadium record crowd of 79,156. Primed
to make amends for their heartbreaking loss to Brazil in the Confederations Cup
final, the US fell apart, losing to the ticos 5-0.

As the decade concluded, things looked fairly good for soccer in New york and
northern New Jersey. Red Bull New York opened their new 25,000 seat
soccer-specific stadium, which was a big hit with the fans, and quickly took a
commanding lead of their division, playing their best ball in years. Many teams
had been launched in the lower divisions in recent years, with some W-League
teams proving to be perennial contenders. The newly-launched Division 2 North
American League awarded a new franchise, New York F. C., to launch in 2011. The
new Meadowlands Stadium promised to be an attractive venue for International
matches, and was on the short list for the US World Cup 2018/2022 bid, and their
was some talk of MLS exercising its option to put a new franchise in Long Island
(read Queens) with many fans hoping they may purchase the rights to the Cosmos
name. Overall, the future for New York soccer looked bright.