Gourlay, Sangha and Dixon in action on a soccer field in Lower East Side Manhatten

With Sassco from Sunderland and proud supporters of Sunderland AFC recently completing a very successful USA soccer tour in New York, it’s interesting to sketch over a brief history of soccer in New York.

NYC is a hotbed of soccer (football) in the United States. Traditionally, immigrants brought in their own traditions including soccer, but ironically, most trying to be “American” drifted away to more Americanised sports such as gridiron and baseball, which meant it was never hugely popular in rival to the traditional sports. We in the UK and Europe are comfortable with it being our national pastime, but in the USA, it is one in a busy field of indoor and outdoor sporting entertainment.

However, back in the 60’s New York was host to several regular tournaments, which slowly ended, but soccer in the United States got a boost once England (the first English speaking nation) won the world cup in 1966. Investors planned a coast to coast competition, with the almost unique American way of franchising cities. However, two rival leagues sprang up, which were eventually merged into the famous NASL (North American Soccer League) which kicked off in the late 60’s.

The league was semi pro for the majority of the early 70’s, but a strong New York franchise was always needed. The Cosmos sprung into life and eventually, once they pulled off the coup of signing Pele, soccer was truly born in the USA. Eventually the NASL over expanded and with competition from other sports and no real TV contract, the league died in the mid 80’s

Now, flash forward and you have a thriving MLS (which was founded in 1995), which has learned from the past mistakes. The league had its fair share of problems, as it was due to commence before the 1994 World Cup (in the USA). Using the franchise system, the MLS organisation soon realised that the way forward was “soccer specific stadiums” instead of using baseball grounds, and gridiron football grounds. Also, they originally tried to make a clean break from the NASL, but soon realised that, like in Europe and the rest of the world, its tradition which keeps fans tied to their teams for generations. For this reason, the teams of the 70’s such as Portland Timbers, Vancouver White Caps and Seattle Sounders are all back in. However, for New York, the Cosmos are not in the league, but in a second tier league (called NASL). The two in the MLS are Red Bulls New York and New York City FC, who play in the iconic Yankee Stadium.

It would be interested to see the betting odds on which NYC team would come out on top. New York Red Bulls had Thierry Henry as their main star for the last few years, but now New York City with Spanish supremo David Villa and Frank Lampard, the lines are blurred. Also, for the Cosmos, the more veteran Raul and Senna, would be a match, as New York Cosmos beat both MLS New York teams in the US Open Cup competition in the last few years.

Interesting times ahead for a once again thriving New York Soccer scene.