Portland Timbers: Newest MLS Sapling & A Few Words With an NASL Fanatic

Today’s rubber-stamping of the widely leaked announcement that the Portland Timbers would become the latest USL team to jump to MLS renewed memories of the NASL’s legacy in Portland that bears more than a few similarities to that seen earlier in the week in Seattle and Portland and recounted here.

A well-supported team, the Timbers were NASL Soccer Bowl finalists way back in 1975 and gave us such soccer icons as the late Clive Charles and and Glenn “Mooch” Myernick.

The team enjoyed a spirited rivalry with the Seattle Sounders and lived on after the NASL’s demise in one form or another before finally being reborn today.

To many the NASL is a fading memory (and a grainy reality if you check out the clip below), but one fan keeping its heritage alive is Austin, Texas resident Dave Brett Wasser on his Web site that celebrates the sights and sounds of the league via historic soccer videotapes.

Wasser, 42, who by day is the executive director of The Space Settlement Institute, claims the largest collection of NASL videotapes in the country (he provided ESPN with the ’70s-era Sounders clips for last night’s broadcast).

As someone who has a disparate collection of of sports video tapes (the 1985 Milk Cup final between Norwich and Sunderland, the final game of the 1989 Stanley Cup final with Lanny McDonald scoring the winner for the Calgary Flames and, yes, a collection of the NY Cosmos’ greatest goals among them) I was interested to learn more about Wasser and his interest.

We conducted this Q&A via Facebook earlier today:

Question: You noted that with today’s announcement naming the Portland franchise, about 20 percent of MLS teams have adopted NASL names. You approve of the trend?

Answer: I think it is terrific. Nostalgia is great. Fans want to feel they are contributing to the legacy of a team, and the best way to do that is to use the historic name associated with soccer in each city.

The MLS team in New York (MetroStars/Red Bulls) would have been far more successful if MLS had just bought the rights to the name “Cosmos.” Yes, I am well aware that MLS has a strict salary cap. So a team in NY named Cosmos now would not be loaded with stars like the old Cosmos. But fans would still identify with the historic name and logo.

The current situation is just stupid. It’s like if Major League Baseball put a team in the Bronx, and called it something other than “Yankees.”

I am glad that the Red Bull corporation is building a great new stadium for their team in Harrison, NJ. But it is going to be 27,000 seats. If they want to fill the place, they are going to have to stop naming the team after themselves, and instead buy the rights to the name and logo of the Cosmos.

Q: Why did you start collecting NASL tapes in 1993, nine years after the league folded? A strange obsession even given that you said you supported the Cosmos as a kid.
A: You’ve got to remember where soccer was in this country in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Soccer was pretty much dead at the time. There was no American soccer on TV where I lived. (I am talking about outdoor soccer, not the indoor variety.) So for me, finding these old Cosmos tapes was just a way to keep in touch with the sport that I grew up with and loved as a kid.

Growing up in New York, I watched Cosmos games on WOR-TV, channel 9. Jim Karvallas and Seamus Malin were the announcers. I still say that Seamus Malin is the best soccer broadcaster this country has ever had.

In the early ’90s I was just curious to see if anyone taped these old games. As you know, VCRs were very expensive in the late ’70s. The price for the machines didn’t really come down until around 1984 – the same year the NASL collapsed. So few people in those days had VCRs, and even fewer people recorded sporting events. But I have managed to find an amazing number of old tapes of my three favorite teams — the Cosmos, the Mets, and the Jets.

Q: How difficult was it to accumulate these tapes? How did you do it (wish I’d kept some of my old Calgary Boomers games for you)?
A: It was very difficult at first. I tracked down everyone associated with the NASL – players, managers, athletic trainers, team executives, broadcasters. For every 15 people I called, one would have a stash of old tapes in a closet. Some of those games were recorded by a friend or a relative, but some were from the NASL office itself.

When the NASL office was about to close, someone in the office called a few players and coaches, and said “I’ve got some tapes of games you were in. Do you want them?” The problem is that the games were in a bulky, one-inch video format called “Umatic.” Few people have equipment to play these tapes. So years later, when I found these people, I offered to convert their tapes to VHS. That’s how I started my collection.

Q: What’s No. 1 on your NASL tape want list?
A: August 10, 1976: Miami Toros at Cosmos at Yankee Stadium. Pele scored perhaps his greatest bicycle kick goal.

In the spirit of this back to the future-like NASL/MLS week here’s a blast from the past and the shape of things to come – Sounders verses Timbers in 1979:

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About Nick Green

South Bay-based Los Angeles News Group soccer columnist and blogger Nick Green writes at the 100 Percent Soccer blog at www.insidesocal.com/soccer and craft beer at the Beer Goggles blog at www.insidesocal.com/beer. Cheers!
  • Old school

    Great news…all we need to do now is move Chivas down to the Big A and call them SURF and bring back the San Diego Sockers and the old western division of the NASL will be back

  • Studs Up

    Thanks Nick (I think). Nostalgia is kicking in big time for me. All I need now is a replica Aztecs jersey from toffs.com (a few size bigger I might add) so I can head to the Pacific Northwest with a stop-over at the Quakes for some serious re-living of the past.

    I have mixed feelings re keeping of the old NASL team names since failure is the first thing that comes to mind from that league. Seattle/Vancouver/Portland definitely should retain the names because they kept going in some fashion, but I am not sure about others. But I think current MLS teams in old NASL markets should make an attempt to re-connect. I think Chicago wore throw-back jerseys once which was great. Others like LA/Dallas/NY should do that as well and maybe seek out old players and interview them at least or should that remain the task of some REAL soccer journalists (hint, hint). They were pioneers of sorts and many of the foreign players stayed here after the league folded. Seattle has a very nice piece with Alan Hinton and some of the other old timers on it’s web site.

    PS – I have a bunch of NASL programs if you or anyone else wants them……free for those you care. I threw a bunch out but kept a select few. Also bunch of LA area pro/semi pro/UCLA/college soccer programs incl one from a tournament with Arena/Schmid/Bradley amongst the opposing coaches.

    Nick replies: As a proud pack rat I’d gladly take those off your hands. I love that stuff. Don’t dump anymore!