The American soccer counter-culture lives on in the NASL

There needs to be more giant octopuses in football.

On Saturday night the North American Soccer League began their fifth season of existence (well, actually their fortieth. But let’s not get into the crazy history of American soccer) with every single match being shown live on ESPN3.

For a soccer journalist/nerd this is kind of like the grocery store of football because one can surf between games like one goes between aisles.

 

While some aisles are more attractive than others (Raul and the New York Cosmos versus slightly paunchy Ronaldo and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers) there is always that one surprise match/aisle where you uncover a hidden gem.

That match on Saturday featured the fastest goal in NASL history and a giant octopus named the Kraken. That match was the Jacksonville Armada versus FC Edmonton.

Although there was an MLS match going on (a snooze-fest between the New England Revolution and the Colorado Rapids,) there was no way that I was not going to watch the NASL.

There is a certain coolness factor that the NASL carries here in North America. It is seen as the counter-culture league, the league where “traditional football” is played.

For as much as the MLS is seen by the hardcore soccer supporters in Canada and USA as a corporate sellout, the NASL is the hip, cool league that tries crazy things like a two season schedule and respecting U.S. soccer history.

Perhaps what was most astonishing about the game itself was the level of play. Although I have watched many NASL matches over the past two to three years, I had my reservations about the quality of both teams.

For the Armada, this would be their first-ever regular season match. Although they did feature the likes of Keita (who has played for Mallorca and FC Zurich) and Jemal Johnson (Manchester United Youth Academy Product, former MK Dons striker) this is an expansion team.

Meanwhile, FC Edmonton had an uneven 2014 campaign (ninth in the spring season and third in the fall season) and had rebuilt their roster in the off-season.

It is amazing what a goal can do to change one’s perception. Even before I could crack open the first beer of the night (Yuengling Black and Tan, for those who want to know) Johnson had split the defenders to score the first goal. The crowd went completely bonkers. The cannons went off at Community First Park and the Flagship Fleet, the Armada’s supporters group, went bananas.

There is a certain level of  relief that an expansion team has when they score their first goal ever in team history. It is almost a relief that the team belongs, that this thing that had been talked about months and years finally is real and its happening.

While sometimes that relief can make teams slip up, other times it can embolden them. The Armada used that energy to score twice more before the half, first on a goal by Keita then another by former Adelaide United midfielder Marcos Flores.

 

The level of fun was not just limited to Jacksonville, Florida. While Raul did not score in his first match for the Cosmos, Leo Fernandes did off of a corner kick taken by Walter Restrepo. Looking on was Haji Wright, the United States under-17 prodigy who shirked MLS to come to the Cosmos.

Meanwhile. in San Antonio, the Tampa Bay Rowdies spoiled the championship party for the Scorpions only after both teams accrued nine yellow cards and a red card in the 90th minute.

A weekend of fun was certainly something that the NASL needed. While the league’s major television agreement with ESPN certainly provided a shot in the arm losing one of their top clubs, Minnesota United FC, to MLS hurts.

Since the NASL do not consider themselves a second division league they put themselves in direct competition with not just MLS, but the United Soccer League (who are informally the third division of USA/Canada club soccer) as well.

In March, the USL announced that they will be seeking second division sanctioning from US Soccer, putting them in direct competition with the NASL.

While the politics are certainly interesting, the quality of play that was shown on Saturday night was the far more captivating story. For years, American soccer supporters have wondered when the quality of play will improve and when interest in the game will permeate through the other divisions.

At least on one night the NASL and the Kraken proved that they could do it.

(Author’s Update: It should be noted that it was the Section 909 supporters group in the stands celebrating after the goal, not the Flagship Fleet. The author regrets the error.)

The Author

Sean Maslin

BPF Columnist, Washington Spirit/D.C. United beat writer and general editor-Prost Amerika, Columnist-Playing for 90. Radio MLS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/radio-mls/id979377624?mt=2

7 thoughts on “The American soccer counter-culture lives on in the NASL

  1. It’s good to see the NASL growing, both in quality and fan base. As a native Atlantan I’m curious how the Silverbacks will fair when the new MLS team starts…I hope they fold or move away.

    The Silverbacks future is hard to assess because of the NASL’s view of their league. As you said, the “NASL do not consider themselves a second division league” and put themselves on equal ground with MLS. While I wish it was an AFL, NFL type setup, its not and they will lose with this mindset. The USL has achieved far better success recently, and I think its a result of their relationship with MLS.

    The NASL needs to be honest with themselves. They are a second division league and their is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Embrass it!

  2. I love that we have three leagues. MLS is awesome with Iconic US players. NASL is great as it has the counter soccer culuture like the giant octopus and USL is searching for their identity.

  3. Stay a second division? How? Divisions have no real meaning, but first division. In order for divisions to be real divisions is if there is promotion and relegation to properly rank them. Team’s don’t get promoted into MLS because how good they are, but how much attention and money they have. What is the NASL supposed to do for survival if they don’t fight for a meaning?

    a) Suck up to the MLS like the USL, allow MLS reserve teams into their league and Just be a league without the competitions.

    b) Be a farm league for the MLS’s gain.

    We need the NASL to challenge MLS because we need a traditional league to be first division. That first division must build itself so the lower divisions can model itself for promotion and relegation with the first division. That is the NASL’s plan. MLS is only out for MLS. The NASL know they have a mountain to climb, but it’s still something the league is will to fight for. That how successful leagues become successful. They take risks.

  4. I’m proud of the NASL. What they are doing won’t be easy, but hopefully it will pay off in time. It’s nice to see a league fighting to bring meaning to not only themselves, but the whole divisions. It’s nice to read about the relationship the NASL and NPSL have and hopefully it will turn into something better than what MLS’s partnership is doing to the USL. While the NASL is fighting for a spot for the CONACAF Championship League, they should consider playing in the Copa Libertadores to get their point out. The travel would be painful, but the their schedule is right for it and it will strengthen them up better than the CCL.

  5. I would like to see the old NASL rules, 35 yard offside line, shootouts……….not like MLS…0-0 tie

  6. I believe most European and South American nations have first and second division leagues. It’s all in America that the narrative by the media is that MLS & NASL are in a soccer league war. This is a false soccer narrative. In a nation as big as the U.S.A. we can too can have first and second division leagues. Besides, MLS would much rather see NASL go away all together. Soccer fans al over the work follow their club not a league. If Manchester United would for some reason be relegated to the A league (second division) do you think their fans would stop routing for them because there in a lower league?

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