Assuming the unthinkable doesn’t darken our world, or somehow trouble our soccer world, Major League Soccer will return for its 18th season next year.
And that will be something of a milestone to celebrate.
I had not thought of this before, and recently needed Marc Stein, the co-host of our Soccer Today weekly radio show and podcast, to point out that reaching season No. 18 represented a fairly significant if slightly obscure milepost. Why?
Because the previous incarnation of top tier American soccer, the ill-fated and probably “before its time” North American Soccer League reached only 17 seasons.
I suppose you could quibble that top-tier professional soccer lasted 18 seasons here previously, before the NASL shuttered for good in 1984. That’s because two competing organizations operated in 1967; they merged in 1968 to form the North American Soccer League. The NASL’s rise and fall – it dwindled to a paltry nine teams for that final, bleak campaign – was told over 17 seasons.
That league was clearly, fatally flawed. Sometimes it got pretty ridiculous. But it was glorious in some ways, and it beat the trail for so much that would follow. At some point, all those fantastic crowds in Portland, Seattle, Philadelphia and elsewhere, every splendid free kick off David Beckham’s right boot, every single MLS memory ever made for any living soul, all of it, owes the debt to NASL and its architects.
That’s why when so many people of a certain age think back on the old NASL, they remember the romance of it all rather than the chalk marks, pockmarks and the outright disaster zones it sometimes left behind.
There’s plenty of information available on the old NASL and everyone’s favorite bellwether, the Cosmos. It’s all out there on the answer webs; go ye and discover.
But as the 17th MLS playoff season reaches full speed, with MLS franchise No. 20 inching nearer every day, know this:
Major League Soccer has already accomplished so very much – and now it’s got an extra link of solid history on an increasingly durable chain.