The Philadelphia Fury marked the second go round for the North American Soccer League in the City of Brotherly Love. The Fury followed on the heels of the Philadelphia Atoms (1973-1976), who won the league championship as an expansion team in 1973 and became the first NASL team featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The Fury brought back couple of popular players from the Atoms era, including goalkeeper Bob Rigby and defender Bobby Smith.
The Fury weren’t able to replicate the on-field success of the Atoms or anything close to it. In their debut season of 1978, the club was managed by player-coach Alan Ball. Thanks to the NASL’s forgiving playoff system, the Fury squeaked into the postseason despite a 12-18 last place record. They were quickly dispatched by fellow expansioneers the Detroit Express in the opening round.
In 1979 the Fury were worse, dropping to 10-20 in the regular season. Once again this was good enough for the playoffs though and, in the franchise’s finest hour, the Fury shocked the Houston Hurricane (22-8) in the first round. The Philadelphians were eliminated by eventual Soccer Bowl ’79 finalists Tampa Bay Rowdies in the quarterfinals. Scottish forward David Robb finished 5th in the NASL in scoring in 1979 with 16 goals and 20 assists, but he would not return to the club in 1980.
In 1980 the Fury hired Eddie Firmani to manage the club. Firmani was one of the NASL’s most successful coaches, having won three of the previous five Soccer Bowls as manager at Tampa Bay and New York Cosmos. But the club regressed again, finishing with a franchise worst 10-22 record and missing the playoffs for the first time. Worse yet, the Fury had the worst home attendance in the 24-team NASL for the second season in a row, pulling fewer than 5,000 per match at Veterans Stadium.
In October 1980 the club was sold off to Molson Breweries and moved to Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. The former Fury franchise played three more seasons as the Montreal Manic before going out of business in November 1983.
With their mediocre performance on-field, the Fury were best known for their sprawling 15-man ownership group. The syndicate was made up largely of rock music impresarios including Rolling Stones manager Peter Rudge, concert promoter Frank Barsalona and stars Paul Simon and Peter Frampton.
==Philadelphia Fury Matches on Fun While It Lasted==
This was a wild one at the Meadowlands in the summer of ’79. The 48,753 soccer fans witnessed one of the most violent, out of control matches in the history of the North American Soccer League. The occasion was a meeting between two of the league’s elite – the New York Cosmos (16-5) and the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps (13-8). The previous season the two clubs finished the regular season with identical 24-6 records, tying each other for the best record in the history of the league. The Cosmos won the Soccer Bowl championship in 1978, but it was the Whitecaps who had the best of the club’s head-to-head series, winning four of five contests dating back to Vancouver’s formation in 1974
The Cosmos seemed to come into the match in a nasty temperament. Just a week earlier, the club made headlines for fighting with their own custodial workers during a practice session at Giants Stadium. The match got physical from the get go, and the Whitecaps were willing adversaries. Referee Keith Styles blew 48 fouls in the match, including 29 on the Whitecaps. But at the first intermission, the only scoring action was an own goal by New York’s Carlos Alberto six minutes in, which gave the Whitecaps a 1-0 lead.
The scoring broke open early in the second half. Vancouver’s Kevin Hector beat Cosmos goalkeeper Erol Yasin in the 48th minute. New York halved the deficit in the 60th minute on a free kick that saw Franz Beckenbauer set up Dutch international Johan Neeskens. But the Whitecaps extended their lead to 3-1 less than three minutes later on a goal from English midfielder Ray Lewington. In the 70th minute Giorgio Chinaglia scored his 23rd goal of the season on a tap in from Dennis Tueart to make it 3-2.
The lid came off the match just over a minute later, when Vancouver’s Willie Johnston collided with New York’s Andranik Eskandarian in the Cosmos’ box. The two ended up trading punches on the artificial turf. Chinaglia rushed into fray and was clocked in the eye by the Whitecaps’ John Craven who had entered the match as a sub just a minute earlier. Both benches poured onto the field. The brawl appeared to catch Giants Stadium security off guard and continued for fourteen minutes, spilling from one end of the field to the other. Retired Cosmos legend Pele, of all people, charged the field looking to get a piece of Vancouver keeper Phil Parkes. A fan vaulted from the grandstand to go after referee Keith Styles. When order was finally restored, Vancouver’s Craven and Johnston were ejected, along with Chinaglia and Eskandarian for the Cosmos. The club’s finished the final 18 minutes of the match in a rare 9-on-9 format. The ‘Caps added an insurance goal for a final score of 4-2 – the Cosmos worst home defeat since moving to Giants Stadium in 1977.
Afterwards, Cosmos officials were apoplectic. Warner Communications exec Jay Emmett charged the official’s locker after the match. Executive Vice President Rafael de la Sierrapainted conspiraced theories. The bad feelings would continue two months later when the Cosmos and the ‘Caps met in the NASL’s semi-final playoff series to determine a berth in Soccer Bowl ’79. In the first game of the series, Eskandarian got a red card with eight seconds remaining in the match and Carlos Alberto was banned for the remained of the season by NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam for spitting at an official. The Cosmos threatened a lawsuit, while the ‘Caps focused on soccer and beat the Cosmos in a thrilling three-game set.
This was a fantastic find on e-Bay last week … a rare and colorful program from the very first soccer match of the famed Seattle Sounders franchise, played on the road at East Los Angeles College Stadium back on May 5th, 1974. Of course, it was also the regular season debut for their opponents and fellow North American Soccer League expansionists the Los Angeles Aztecs. But the Aztecs are largely forgotten today (despite boasting George Best and Johan Cruyff on their roster during the 1970′s) whereas the Sounders brand name, revived by Major League Soccer in 2009, marks the gold standard of American club soccer today.
Aztecs owner Jack Gregory hoped to attract Mexican fans to his new club. He printed portions of the match program in Spanish and chose a stadium in East L.A. So he was none too pleased when the NASL scheduled him to open the Aztecs’ home schedule on Cinco De Mayo. Only 4,107 fans showed up. Gregory needn’t have taken it personally though. The Aztecs would plod along for eight seasons at various stadia in the region and under the direction of numerous owners (including Elton John!) but they never really drew anywhere.
It was a rough, chippy match, at least for the hosts. The Sounders, playing their first match under the direction of manager John Best, committed 16 fouls and knocked two Aztecs players out of the game. But Los Angeles got the best of it in the scoring column, with rookie Doug McMillan netting two goals off of assists from Uri Bonhoffer. (McMillan would later earn 1974 Rookie-of-the-Year honors in the NASL).
Let the record show that 24-year old English forward John Rowlands scored the first goal in Sounders history off a header late in the first half. But it wasn’t enough as the Aztecs won 2-1. Los Angeles would go on to win their first and only NASL title in August 1974.
The Oakland Stompers were a One-Year Wonder in the North American Soccer League during the a spring and summer of 1978. Club founder Milan Mandaric previously started up the NASL’s other Bay Area franchise, the popular San Jose Earthquakes, in 1974. In late 1977 he divested himself of the Earthquakes and bought the league’s struggling Connecticut Bicentennials club and moved it across the country to the Oakland Coliseum. It was bold move considering that many at the time wondered if the Bay Area could even support its two Major League Baseball franchises. But the NASL was riding at a peak of investor enthusiasm in 1978 amidst the belief that pro soccer would be the Sport of the 80′s.
The Stompers identity derived from Northern California’s burgeoning wine industry. The club’s cheerleading squad was called the “Corkpoppers”. And the team distributed a free match day supplement called Grapevine to supplement the NASL’s KICK Magazine game programs.
The Stompers, who were ultimately unsuccessful in competition, were best known for signing iconoclast goalkeeper Shep Messing to a $100,000 contract for the 1978 season, which was then the largest contract ever offered to an American-born soccer player.
Messing was the primary goalkeeper on the New York Cosmos’ Soccer Bowl championship team in 1977. The Harvard-educated goalkeeper was an aggressive self-promoter - he infamously posed nude for Viva magazine in 1974 - but in New York he was overshadowed by the Cosmos’ menagerie of international superstars. Messing was also a laggard in training and seemed to view leadership as synonymous with antagonizing his head coaches early in his career. By his own later admission, Messing struggled with technical aspects of the outdoor game, such as dealing with crosses into the box, despite his tremendous reflexes and athleticism. The Cosmos were willing to let him go (and indeed would repeat as league champions without him in 1978).
In Oakland, finally, Messing was the face of the franchise and the subject of most of the club’s national media attention, including a lengthy profile by J.D. Reed in the July 10th, 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated. But Stompers’ General Manager Dick Berg ripped Messing in the article, noting that his star’s reputed appetite for publicity rare extended to team functions.
“Shep is only interested in his own promotion,” Berg told Reed. “Every time we have a ticket-selling banquet or a shopping-center promotion set up for him, he threatens to put himself on the injured list. Chewing tobacco on network television doesn’t put fans in the seats.”
The Stompers made their debut at Oakland Coliseum on April 2, 1978 to an impressive crowd of 32,104. Messing reportedly rejected Berg’s request to enter the stadium riding atop an elephant. The big crowd was somewhat misleading as the Stompers were playing their Bay Area rivals, the San Jose Earthquakes. The Associated Press noted that half of the big crowd appeared to be rooting for San Jose. The club would never see a home crowd anywhere near that size again. Eight of the Stompers remaining fourteen home matches at the Coliseum drew fewer than 10,000 fans.
Messing was fantastic in the Stompers’ debut. Late in the match he stopped a penalty kick from the ‘Quakes Ilija Mitic, the NASL’s all-time leading scorer at the time, to preserve a 0-0 tie. The NASL didn’t have ties in 1978 though, so after an uneventful 15-minute overtime period, the game was decided by the “Shootout”, which featured five players from each club attempting to score during a timed, undefended breakaway. Messing turned away four of five shooters from the Quakes. Rookie Andy Atuegbu, a college standout from the University of San Francisco, and Polish import Franz Smuda found the net for the Stompers in the Shootout to give the hosts a 1-0 opening day triumph.
After a 9-9 start the Stompers wilted through the back end of the 1978 campaign, finishing 12-18 and out of playoff contention. In late March 1979, on the eve of what would have been the Stompers’ sophomore season, owner Milan Mandaric sold the team to Peter Pocklington, the owner of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team. Pocklington moved the club to Edmonton and renamed it the Edmonton Drillers. The Drillers played four seasons before folding in 1982. The NASL went out of business after the 1984 season.
Mandaric owned several other unsuccessful American soccer clubs in the 1980s’ and 1990′s, mostly in the indoor leagues. In the 2000′s, he turned his attention to Europe, where he enjoyed much greater success in ownership stints with Portsmouth, Leicester City and Sheffield Wednesday in England.
Former Stompers defender Franz Smuda later became manager of the Polish National Team from 2009 to 2012.
The Portland Timbers were an iconic soccer franchise that helped earn Portland the nickname “Soccer City U.S.A.”. The original Timbers (1975-1982) sparked a youth soccer boom in the Rose City and inspired numerous reunions, revivals and re-births over the years, culminating in the acceptance of a new Portland Timbers club into Major League Soccer in 2011.
The Timbers were formed in January 1975 as an expansion franchise in the North American Soccer League. The NASL had fumbled around in obscurity since 1968, but in 1975 the league sprang into new prominence when the New York Cosmos franchise signed the world’s most famous player, the Brazilian legend Pele.
The Timbers got a late start with barely three months to put a squad together before the season began in May. Most of coach Vic Crowe’s roster were British players on offseason loan from their English clubs. A modest crowd of 6,913 showed up for the Timbers’ first match against the Seattle Sounders at Civic Stadium on May 2, 1975. But Crowe’s team started winning and with each victory came more fans. By June, the Timbers were consistently drawing 15,000 for their home matches. By the end of July, 25,000. The Timbers won the NASL’s Western Division with a 16-6 record.
The Timbers opened the 1975 playoffs with a 2-1 overtime victory over the Sounders at Civic Stadium. The crowd of 31,523 was a new team record, but it stood for only five days. On August 17th, the Timbers shutout the St. Louis Stars 1-0 before a sell-out crowd of 33,503 and earned a trip to San Jose’s Spartan Stadium to play another expansion team, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, in Soccer Bowl ’75.
In past NASL seasons, Portland would have earned the right to host the championship game. But the NASL introduced the “Soccer Bowl” concept in 1975 in deliberate imitation of the NFL’s neutral site Super Bowl format. The previous season, the NASL’s weakly supported Miami Toros club earned home field advantage for the final, but with only two weeks to promote the match, the Toros embarrassed the league with only 15,000 fans on hand for the title game, which was broadcast on national television.
At Soccer Bowl ’75 in San Jose, the Timbers charmed season came to an end. Portland lost to the Rowdies 2-0.
In 1976 the Timbers regressed to 8-16. Despite the NASL’s generous postseason qualification format, the Timbers would miss the playoffs for three of the next four seasons. The large crowds stayed for another season or two, but the Timbers formally ceded Hottest Ticket in Town status to theBill Walton-led Portland Trailblazers, who won the NBA title in 1977 and launched an 18-year (814-game) sellout streak in April of 1977, just as the Timbers third season got underway.
The Timbers had one more great season left. In 1978 the Timbers interrupted their stretch of late 1970′s futility and won a club record 20 games. In the playoffs they advanced to the semi-final, losing a two-game series to the eventual champion New York Cosmos. The decisive match – a 4-0 blowout for the New Yorkers – was played at Giants Stadium in front of 65,287 fans. Despite the terrific season, Bermudian forward and leading scorer Clyde Best (12 goals, 9 assists) was the only Timber selected for All-NASL honors, hooking an honorable mention citation.
By the end of the 1979 season, the original investor group that formed the Portland Timbers four years earlier was financially exhausted. The Timbers, like virtually all NASL clubs, ran seven figure deficits annually. The team was in danger of bankruptcy until the Louisiana-Pacific Corp., a Portland-based lumber and building products giant, purchased and re-capitalized the team late in 1979.
LP’s intervention kept the Timbers going but failed to turn around the club’s fortunes on the field or at the box office. The rest of the NASL was falling apart as well, contracting from a record 24 clubs in 1980 to just 14 entering the 1982 season, Portland’s eighth year in the league. Timbers attendance fell to an all-time low of 8,786 fans per match. In August 1982, Louisiana-Pacific announced the club would fold in September unless a buyer could be found. A possible sale and relocation to New Orleans came to nothing. Then a local businessman named James Horne stepped forward to save the Timbers for Portland. Horne reached a tentative agreement to buy the club for LP in September 1982 but backed out a month later. The Portland Timbers officially folded on October 21, 1982.
In addition to the outdoor games that the Timbers are best remembered for, the club also played two seasons of NASL indoor soccer at Memorial Coliseum in the winters of 1980-81 and 1981-82.