That’s 32-year old Italian striker Roberto Bettega on the cover of this August 1983 Toronto Blizzard match program. Bettega was perhaps the last legitimate European star to sign with the league, joining Toronto in May 1983. By that time, the North American Soccer League was on its last legs, halved from 24 members clubs in 1980 to only 12 survivors by the start of the 1983 campaign.
Bettega played fifteen seasons for Juventus (1969-1983), helping his hometown club to seven Serie A titles and the 1977 UEFA Cup. He also played for Italy in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Just six nights before this match, Bettega’s former teammates traveled to Toronto for a friendly against the Blizzard at Exhibition Stadium. Juventus brought seven veterans of Italy’s 1982 World Cup championship team to Toronto, including superstar Paolo Rossi. (Bettega himself missed the 1982 World Cup due to injury). The match drew 41,035 to Exhibition Stadium – the largest crowd ever to watch a soccer game in Toronto. The Blizzard held the powerful Italian squad to a surprising 0-0 draw.
By contrast, the Blizzard’s return to NASL regular season action six nights later against the New York Cosmos was kind of a buzz kill. The Cosmos were known for signing the biggest superstars in the world in the late 1970’s and they were accustomed to drawing large crowds wherever they traveled. But by 1983, the Cosmos were deep into cost-cutting mode and it had been years since they imported a major international superstar.
A modest crowd of 11,428 showed up for a match that New York’s long-time beat writer Ike Kuhns described as “one of the dullest” of the 1983 season. Toronto had trouble scoring all season and were playing without leading goal scorer David Byrne due to yellow card accumulation. New York fared little better and the match went into overtime knotted at 0-0, before New York’s Steve Moyers put an apparently merciful end to the proceedings with a sudden death goal.
The notorious artificial turf surface at Exhibition Stadium was as poorly reviewed as the match itself.
“The field is just awful,” Cosmos midfielder Rick Davis told Ike Kuhns afterwards. “I still say the best thing they can do here is put up walls and play squash on it.”*
“Moyers’ OT Goal Boots Cosmos By Blizzard, 1-0″, Ike Kuhns, The Newark Star-Ledger, August 17, 1983.