American Soccer League (1969-1975)
Born: 1969 – Joined American Soccer League.
Died: Postseason 1975 – The Astros cease operations.
Owner: John Bertos
The Boston Astros were a classic mom & pop operations in the rough & tumble business of American pro soccer in the 1970’s. The “pop” in this instance was John Bertos, a Greek immigrant and former soccer player who more or less single-handedly organized, financed and coached the Astros for their seven seasons in the lower rungs of the professional game.
The Astros claimed to trace their origins back to the early 1950’s with the formation of an amateur team in Lowell, Massachusetts called the Lowell Pan-Hellenic Soccer Club. This was kind of a stretch – the main connection here was that Bertos started coaching Pan-Hellenic in 1064. The real history of the Astros as a pro club began in 1969 when they were invited to join the American Soccer League, the nation’s longest running soccer loop, dating back to the early 1930’s. Despite the ASL’s long history, it was comically disorganized and constantly on the brink of implosion.
Bertos ran the Astros with the proceeds from his Lowell-based janitorial service and helped to employ some of his immigrant players in the business. Bertos’ specialty was recruiting players from Brazil and his Astros’ squads of the 1970’s had a heavy Brazilian presence. Two of this top Brazilian finds were strikers Helio “Boom Boom” Barbosa and Jose Neto. Barbosa was ASL Most Valuable Player in 1973 and Neto captured the same honor after lighting up the league scoring tables as a 20-year old rookie in 1975.
The Astros initially played their home matches in the Northern Massachusetts industrial city of Lowell, but moved into Boston in 1972, splitting the next few years between Boston University’s Nickerson Field and aAlumni Stadium at Boston College in the nearby suburb of Chestnut Hill.
In 1974, Bertos got some outside investment help for the first time, in the person of Worcester fuel company executive David Adams (which perhaps explains the really nice media guide produced for 1974 at the top of this post). But competition also arrived in the form of the Boston Minutemen, a 1974 expansion club in the superior North American Soccer League. In 1975, the Minutemen moved in to Nickerson Field, meaning Boston now had two pro teams playing the in the same stadium.
Bertos couldn’t survive the competition and moved his club to Worcester late in the 1975 season, setting up shop at Foley Stadium to finish out the year. Occasionally, the 1975 team is referred to as the Worcester Astros. Thanks to Jose Neto’s scoring heroics, the team advanced the the ASL championship against New York Apollo in Mt. Vernon, New York. When the decisive game went into overtime and then remained knotted for nine more overtime periods until the local curfew was reached, ASL Commissioner Bob Cousy (yes, that Bob Cousy) stepped in and simply declared the Apollo and the Astros co-champions. Minor league soccer’s version of a hung jury.
This proved to be the last game the Astros ever played. The club folded after the 1975 season. In 1976, Bertos briefly assumed the General Manager and Head Coach position of his former rivals, the NASL’s Boston Minutemen. But his job was only to oversee the club’s dissolution, as the Minutemen were themselves out of money and in the midst of selling off all their players and going out of business. In 1977, he returned to the American Soccer League as Head Coach of the Providence-based New England Oceaneers for a single season.