From: David A. Litterer on
History of Soccer in New York City/Northern New Jersey (Part 2)

By Dave Litterer spectrum(a)

The Lean Years | The Era of Growth | The Cosmos Era

The Lean Years

The first ASL had collapsed during the spring of 1933, bringing an end to a
major era in the game's history. But this was far from the end of soccer in the
New York/Northern New Jersey region. Within a few months a new American Soccer
League had been formed. Unlike the previous incarnation, this one operated at
more of a semi-pro level, and initially was almost entirely based in the New
York region (although they would eventually expand down to Philadelphia and
Baltimore in the late 30's, New England in the 1960s, and ultimately the midwest
and finally nationally in the 1970s).

The initial season of the ASL II (1933-34) included several teams that would
become mainstays of the league for decades, including the re-fashioned Kearny
Scots, who won four consecutive league titles from 1936-37 through 1939-40 (and
the Lewis Cup in 1940 & 1948), Brooklyn Hispano, (league title in 1942-43; Lewis
Cup 1946) New York Brookhattan (Lewis Cup 1942, league title 1945-46), and New
York Americans (league title 1935-36, 1953-54; Lewis Cup champ 1950; runner-up
1952). They were soon joined, on a less successful basis by Brooklyn Wanderers,
a veteran of the first league (who frequently finished just short of the league
title), St. Mary's Celtics of Brooklyn and Paterson FC. Although league and cup
championships were dominated by Philadelphia-based teams, the New York
counterparts were always competitive, but frequently falling just short of
ultimate victory. This changed in the 1950s with the return of New York Hakoah,
who won three straight league titles from 1957-1959, and were Lewis Cup
runner-up in 1951 and 1959. The entrenched teams were challenged by newcomer
Colombo, who won the league title in their inaugural season in 1960 and boasted
three of the four top goalscorers, and undertook a successful tour of Italy, but
inexplicably withdrew after that first season!

ASL teams were regulars on the international circuit, and over the years many of
the more prominent teams made trips to Europe and Latin America, including
American League All-Stars to Israel (1951, 52, 53), New York Americans (Cuba
1934, 1949; Bermuda 1951), GASL All-Stars (Germany 1930, 1950, 1960), New York
Hota (Germany, 1959, 1960; Denmark 1963), New York Hungaria (Iran, Lebanon,
Cyprus & Jordan, 1962), New York Hakoah (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay; 1930, Costa
Rica, Cuba, 1931). The Scottish All-Stars beat the ASL Stars 4-2 in a memorable
1939 match at the Polo Grounds.

The ASL often sponsored visits by overseas teams who often made the New York
region the lynchpin of their national tours. The pace of touring teams picked up
substantially after World War II, with highlights including Liverpool (England,
1950, 1952, 1960), Manchester United (England, 1950, 1952, 1960), Tottenham
Hotspur (England, 1952, 1957), Hamburg (Germany, 1950), A. C. Milan (Italy,
1949), Naples (Italy, 1959), Real Madrid (Spain, 1959), Chelsea (England, 1954),
Celtic (Scotland, 1951, 1957), Benfica (Portugal, 1957), All-England Stars
(1950, 51, 53), Munich 1860 (Germany, 1960), and Rapid Vienna (Austria, 1958,
1959, 1961). Although the US opponents usually lost, this was the best chance
for their fans to see world-class soccer, and these friendlies were often
considered the highlight of the season, way more interesting than league
matches. Many of the more prominent visitors were matched against league-wide or
city-wide all-star sides, playing in major venues such as the Polo Grounds,
Yankee Stadium, Randalls Island and Ebbetts Field.

The amateur scene experienced a resurgence during the mid-20th century. The most
prominent of the amateur circuits was the German-American Soccer League (now
known as the Cosmopolitan league), founded in 1922, followed by the Eastern
District league (1928), the Metropolitan League (1929), the National Soccer
League of New York, the New Jersey State League and Long Island Junior League.
Perennial contenderers from the GASL included S. C. Eintract (league title in
1943,44, 45, 46, 50; New York State Cup 1934, 45, 46, 51, 53, New York
German-Hungarians (league title, 1930, 33, 34, 40, 41, 42, 51, 52, 54, 55, 56,
58; State Cup 1933, 36, 40, 41, 44, 52), and New York Hungaria (League titles
1956, 59, 60, 61, 62). The other leagues had their own mini-dynasties (New York
Gjoa, Paterson Dovers, Swedish-Americans of the National league; Brooklyn
Italians, Bronx Scots, Shamrock Rovers, Prague of the Metropolitan League;
Hakoah, Maccabi and New World of the Eastern District league), but the GASL
dominated competition for the State Manning Cup. The New Jersey State Cup had
few dynasties, the most prominent being the Scots-Americans (Kearny Scots) who
took the title in 1933, 1939 and 1940.

At the national level, New York based teams continued to have an impact. At the
U. S. Open Cup, the ASL peak performers were the New York Americans (winner in
1937 & 1954, finalist in 1933), Brooklyn St. Mary's Celtic (winner 1939,
runner-up 1938), Brooklyn Hispano (winner 1943, 1944), Brookhattan (winner 1945,
runner-up 1950) and New York Hakoah (runner-up 1957). The German-American
League's New York German-Hungarian won the Open Cup in 1951, and the GASL would
go on to greater success in the 1960s, almost always outlasting the ASL
competition (see below). The National Amateur Cup was won by teams all over the
country, but New York-based accomplishments included titles by Brooklyn DSC
Germans (1936), S. C. Eintracht (1944, 1945), NY German-Hungarians (1951),
Patchogue (1960), and New Brunswick American-Hungarians (runner-up, 1962).

The Era of Growth

As the 1960s commenced, big changes were taking place in the United States with
the growth of spectator sports as a pasttime, due to increased travel and
availability of television. These changes would soon affect soccer in the NY/NJ
region. The ASL of 1960 still consisted primarily of ethnic-based teams, but a
number of the long-standing clubs had folded or withdrawn (i.e. NY Americans,
Brooklyn Hispano, Brookhattan, etc.) replaced by Falcons, Galicia, Brooklyn
Italians, Colombo, and Newark Portuguese.

A major new initiative in American soccer was William Cox's International
League. Founded in 1960, the ISL was the first major attempt to establish Soccer
at a top-flight level in the US since the advent of the first ASL in 1961. Not a
regular league, the ISL imported foreign teams to play a brief 5-6 week schedule
during their offseason. Although these clubs (including such well known names as
Kilmarnock, Bayern Munich, Red Star Belgrade, Real Valladolid, Rapid Vienna,
Norrkoping, West Ham United, Halsinborg, Bangu and Sampdoria) considered this
more as an exhibition series best suited for training and conditioning purposes,
and only included part of their first-string roster, the ISL provided the
highest quality soccer available in the country, and the matches were
enthusiastically received by the local fans. In its first year (1960) the games
were played entirely in the New York/Jersey City region, drawing more than
150,000 fans (5,100 per game) with 25,000 watching the final at the Polo
Grounds. In 1963, they drew 288,743 fans, nearly 7,000 per game.

By 1964, ISL games were also bring played in Chicago, Cleveland and Los Angeles,
and later in Detroit and Boston. By this time, Cox was convinced that if an
American team could become competitive in the ISL, attendance would skyrocket.
After failing to entice basketball great Wilt Chamberlain to join his proposed
New York Americans, Cox shelved the Amnericans for the 1964 season, but scored a
coup with the CBS broadcast of part of the championship match. In late 1964,
things got testy as the ASL, tired of its second-fiddle status to the ISL
(despite having exclusive USSF sanctioning as the American professional league),
joined together with the GASL to form their long-planned "super-league" - the
12-team Eastern Professional Soccer Conference. The EPSC was a failure; ASL
teams didn't draw well in GASL stadiums and vice versa and everyone was losing
money; the league folded late in the season with teams returning to their
respective circuits, which had continued play with teams that hadn't joined the
EPSC. BW Gottschee of the German-American League was leading when the league

This didn't end problems with the ISL. That circuit was doing well; despite a
decline in attendance, the league had only lost $100,000 in its five years of
play, and had finally launched the NY Americans, who won their division. But the
USSF had long distrusted Bill Cox as an outsider, and he likewise distrusted a
national body that he was determined not to take orders from. The USSF, perhaps
finally responding to ASL complains about Cox importing teams, challenged the
ISL's right to do just that; the dispute eventually led to the collapse of the
ISL, ending the 2nd attempt to create a fully professional American league.

Meanwhile, the ASL soldiered on, although the New York-based teams were becoming
eclipsed as the league contracted somewhat and added teams outside of its
traditional regions, most notably in New England. Roma SC won the 1966 league
title, with Newark Ukrainian Sitch taking second place and Inter SC taking 4th.
The German-American league continued to do itself proud in the U. S. Open Cup,
with New York Ukrainian taking the 1965 edition, and New York Greek-American
winning 1967 and 1968. Greek-American also became the latest GASL dynasty,
winning league titles in 1964, 68, 69, and 1970.

Touring teams from overseas continued to mnake stops in the New York region,
with visitors of note including Recife (Brazil, 1963), FC Schalke (Germany,
1963), Tottenham Hotspurs (England, 1966), Blackburn Rovers (England, 1964),
All-England stars (1961, 1964), Liverpool (England, 1964), Bayern Munich
(Germany, 1966), Glasgow Celtic (Scotland, 1966), Sheffield (1962),
Valcenciennes (France, 1963), Hannover '96 (Germany, 1965), Werder Bremen
(Germany, 1964), AEK Athens (Greece, 1964), Palermo (Italy, 1962), Hearts of
Scotland (1964), West Ham United (England, 1965), Munich 1860 (Germany, 1965),
Santos (Brazil, 1965), Red Star Belgrade (Yugoslavia, 1964), Hapoel Petah-Tirva
(Israel, 1961, 1965).

There were also numerous US-based teams making tours overseas (primarily to
Germany) during this period including Elizabeth, Hoboken, Hota, Minerva, Newark,
NY Hungaria and several league all-star sides. A memorable 1966 friendly packed
Downing Stadium on August 21, matching Santos of Brazil against Benfica of
Portugal, marking a matchup between Pele and Eusebio, two superstars of the day.
Santos won 4-0 in a well played game marred by fan violence caused by
overcrowding. A few days later, Santos was matched up against Inter Milan before
41,598 at Yankee Stadium, only the fourth crowd grerater than 40,000 to see a
soccer game in the US, and the first in ten years. Santos pulled away from a 1-1
tie in the 2nd half to win 4-1.

The Cosmos Era

In 1966, major ehanges in the local soccer scene occurred. First, the ISL had
collapsed due to their dispute with the USSF. The respite for the ASL was short
lived however, as the USSF stripped the league of its sanctioning as the
professional league. The USSF, impressed by the large television audience for
the 1966 World Cup final, decided the time had come for a full-fledged
professional league, and put out the call for proposals, with the ASL not in
their plans. Nothing ever happens easy, and soon three high-powered investor
groups had submitted their proposals. The issue was very contentious and the
1967 season began with two rival leagues, one FIFA sanctioned, one operating as
outlaws. The leagues merged the followng season, and the North American Soccer
Legaue was born. In 1967, New York suddenly had two fully professional teams
competing with the ASL squads and the amateur leagues; the New York Skyliners of
the United Soccer Association and the New York Generals of the National
Professional Soccer League. The Generals played much better, with a halfway
decent 11-8-23 record, but were far outdrawn attendance-wise by the struggling
Skyliners (8,700 fans per game vs. 4,200). The Skyliners folded during the 1968
merger, and the Generals were gone a year later, along with most of the league.

The demise of the Generals and Skyliners coincided with a major decline in NY/NJ
soccer at all levels. All of the traditional powerhouses of the ASL were gone;
newer teams such as Newark Ukrainian Sitch, Inter SC, New Brunswick Hungarian
Americans did not have the history or fan support. The league shed many of its
New York-based teams in 1968, as it endeavored to shed its ethnic image and
expand beyond the region. Even the amateur leagues were in retreat, with the
recent demise of the National and Metropolitan amateur circuits. This decline
also affected the traditional international tours which were just a shadow of
their former selves by 1968 (and disappeared entirely by 1971). By 1970, the
NASL was down to 6 teams (none in New York), and the ASL down to five (with only
Newark Ukrainian Sitch representing the region), and for a time it looked as if
soccer in the region would return entirely to the amateur level for the first
time in fifty years.

The big turnaround began in 1971 when the NASL launched the New York Cosmos and
the ASL promoted the successful New York Greeks from the GASL, and added several
midwestern teams. The Cosmos had a modest start; they drew less than 5,000 fans
their first season and their performance paled in comparison to the Greeks who
won the 1971 ASL title. But things improved in 1972; the Cosmos won the NASL
Northern Division and the league championship, and the Greeks won their
conference and came up just short in the league title match against Cincinnati.
They went on to win the ASL title in 1973 and nearly repeated in 1974, while
their new competition the New Jersey Brewers had middling success.

The Cosmos continued to sink (both on the field and in the stands) in 1973 and
1974, but everything was to change in 1975 with one of the most momentus events
in the history of US soccer - the signing of the world's best known player,
Pele, to play for the New York Cosmos. The signing of Pele by the New York
Cosmos was a news event unprecedented in US soccer history - mainstream media
gave extensive coverage of the event both domestically and abroad, shining a
bright light on the rapidly expanding NASL which was finally achieving its dream
of being a widespread truly national league, which now had 20 teams spread from
coast to coast. The reality was more modest than the news headlines would
suggest. Despite the hiring of Pele, and the presence of semi-major stars such
as Gordon Bradley and Werner Roth, the Cosmos were still not a very good team,
finishing just below .500.

Interest in Pele did lead to a notable increase in attendance, up to 10,500 per
game to Randall's Island, and the team did respectably on its world tour
following the season, where they finished 4-1-5 against some fairly good teams.
But the major success story was the ASL's newly renamed New York Apollo
(formerly Greeks), who followed their 1974 Open Cup victory with a 1975 South
division title, and played Boston Astros to a 1-1 draw in the league
championship. The Apollo again won their division in 1976, and advanced to the
Championship match where they lost to the L. A. Skyhawks 2-1. The Cosmos began
to spend in earnest to assemble a powerhouse squad to back up Pele including
people such as Dave Clemens from Northern Ireland and Ramon Mifflin of Peru.
Their biggest deal was landing Italian scoring ace Giorgio Chinaglia, who would
go on to set the all-time record for NASL goals.

Fans really began to notice at this point, and the Cosmos drew over 18,000 per
game in 1976, playing at the newly renovated yankee Stadium, coming in a strong
second behind the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who beat them in the divisional
championship. After another international tour, the Cosmos again went all-out to
sign major international stars. Pele had been a great boon to the league and a
star attraction wherever he played, but was past his prime, unhappy with the
lack of a strong team to back him up, and in the last year of his contract. To
rectify the situation, a number of stars were signed including Steve Hunt from
England, Carlos Alberto from Brazil, and most notably Franz Beckenbauer from
Germany. Unlike many of the stars, Beckenbauer was still in the prime of his
career and immediately made his presence felt. The Cosmos really hit their
stride in 1977.

Now calling the new Giants Stadium their home, the star-laden Cosmos really
began to take off. Attendance soared and soon records were being broken. The
1926 Polo Grounds record fell in a June match against divional rival Tampa Bay
which drew 62,394 fans who were delighted with Pele's hat trick in the 3-0
shutout. The Cosmos eventually finished a strong second place behind Ft.
Lauderdale in the Eastern Division. Cosmos fever raged as the Cosmos eliminated
Tampa Bay in the first round of playoffs, and reached its zenith as an all-time
NASL record crowd of 77,391 saw them beat Ft. Lauderdale in the first leg of
their next round. They again drew over 70,000 in their semi-final match against
Rochester, and an overfilled Portland audience saw them defeat the Seattle
Sounders to win Soccer Bowl '77. The Cosmos averaged over 34,000 fans per game
in a league that now boasted several teams drawing large crowds. Big-time soccer
had finally arrived in the USA!

As expected, Pele retired after the 1977 season, after a special exhibition
between the Cosmos and Santos, with Pele playing one half for each team. As the
NASL expanded to 24 teams, the Cosmos continued their player signings, landing
Vladislav Bogiecevic and American Ricky Davis. They hit the big time this
season, drawing over 48,000 fans and winning both their division and the league
championship. They added Andranik Eskandarian of Iran, Francisco Juninho of
Brazil, and Johan Neeskins of Holland in 1979, giving their roster a true United
Nations appearance. They finished 24-6 that year, winning their division and
advancing to the conference final where they fell to Vancouver.

The Division 2 ASL by this time functioned to some extent as a feeder league for
the NASL, and the NY/NJ team,s continued to do well. The New York Apollo fell to
2nd place in 1977, while the upstart New Jersey Americans won the east title and
the championship, but the Apollo returned to the top in 1979, going 18-1-5, and
winning the league championship. The New Jersey Americans finished 2nd, and the
expansion New York Eagles struggled to finish 6-5-13. Things flip-flopped in
1979 as the Apollo fell apart, and the Eagles scrambled to finish 2nd in the
east (They lost in the first round of playoffs), while the Americans remained
about .500. A third soccer league established a New York presence in 1978, and
this one was indoor. The New York Arrows were a charter franchise in the Major
Indoor Soccer League, and were the MISL's first dynasty, winning the first four
league titles (1978-79 through 1981-82), and boasting the first true indoor
superstars, Steve Zungul and Julie Veee.

In 1980, the NASL reached its zenith - the league had no franchise shifts from
the previous year, and began dispensing with aging foreign stars in favor of
younger talent, including the Cosmos's Julio Cesar Romero of Paragray and
Mexican striker Hugo Sanchez (Who would close out his long career with Major
league Soccer in 1996). The Cosmos were in fine form again, winning their
division with a 24-8 record and thrilling a (neutral site) Washington crowd with
their Soccer Bowl 1980 victory over Ft. Lauderdale. The Cosmos again undertook
multiple overseas tours in the offseason to serve as ambassadors for American
soccer, dominating the competition which includes a number of major clubs.
Significant victories were a 2-0 shutout of Santos, a 3-2 win over FC Cologne
and a 3-2 win over Manchester City. By this time, the Cosmos had a 132-16-17
record in international exhibitions, and were a major catalyst in encouraging
foreign teams to come and tour the US. The ASL's New Jersey Americans moved to
Miami and the Apollo were now known as New York United, and finished 2nd at
17-11, but the Arrows continued their successful championship ways. New York was
included as a prospective franchise in a proposed 4th soccer league, the USSL,
but that never launched. The year 1980 was capped by the New York Pancyprian
Freedoms winning the U. S. Open Cup, and the Brooklyn Dodgers amateur club
qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions Cup (They did not advance). The Freedoms
would go on to win the US Open Cup in 1980, 82, 83 and 1984, becoming the most
recent (to date) New York-based dynasty.

Unfortunately, 1980 was the height of the second Golden Era, and everything was
downhill from there on. The powerhouse NASL teams had vastly overspent which
forced the weaker teams to do likewise. Soon the league was awash in red ink,
and began shedding major players, and as a result, losing fans. The league
instituted limits to require a greater reliance of American players (to give
them experience, albeit at a price of overall quality of play), and teams began
to fold, but the financial losses continued. These woes did not immediately
affect New York soccer. The Cosmos went 23-9 in 1981, and lost a shootout to
Chicago in the Soccer Bowl, while NY United won their division in the ASL (and
advanced to the semifinals), the Eagles finished third in the ASL East, the MISL
Arrows won their third consecutive title, and the amateur Brooklyn Dodgers
(a.k.a. Italians) fell in the U. S. Open Cup final.

Things got worse both for New York and the NASL in 1982. Attendance for the
Cosmos fell to 28,000, although they won the league title and Soccer Bowl '82,
and Chinaglia was again scoring champ. But the Cosmos did poorly in their
inaugural NASL Indoor season, and both ASL teams had folded prior to the season.
The Cosmos repeated as division champs in 1983, led by league scoring champ
Robert Cabanas, but they were eliminated in the first round of playoffs. The
MISL Arrows fell back to earth, just breaking even at .500, losing Steve Zungul,
the league's top scorer midseason, and exiting the first round of playoffs.

By the start of 1984, the NASL was literally falling apart; only 11 teams were
left to start the season. the Cosmos had lost most of their major stars and were
just an also-ran this season, finishing at 13-11 and drawing 12,800 fans per
game. They didn't even make the playoffs, but had done better in the 1983-84
indoor season, making it to the championship. In 1984, the short-lived United
Soccer League was launched from the remnants of the ASL which had folded the
previous season. The New York Nationals represented the region, going 10-14 in
their one and only season. The Arrows suffered their first losing season, and
went bankrupt at season's end.

Things certainly were looking bad for the New York teams and the pro leagues in
general, but a brief respite came at the hands of the soccer competition in the
1984 Olympics which drew record crowds (The most attended sport by far in the
Olympiad), capped by a record crowd of 101,799 that attended the gold medal
match. Several pool-play matches were played just up the river at the U.S.
Military Academy stadium. Unfortunately, this accomplishment, although it showed
for the first time that Americans would turn out en masse for a major event, did
little to help the sport on the professional front. The Cosmos bolted the
collapsing NASL in the fall to join the Major Indoor Soccer League, but were a
shell of their former selves. After the NASL officially disbanded in February
1985, the Cosmos left the MISL and started a series of outdoor exhibition games,
but after their first few matches, they finally folded for good. Soccer in New
York region had again hit rock bottom with no options for the local fan outside
of the local amateur leagues.