Saw my first professional soccer game in three decades or so the other night — New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution at the new Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ, outside of Newark.
The Red Bulls won soccer’s version of the New York-Boston rivalry, 2-1, on a goal by Thierry Henry. An offside call nullified a New England goal in the waning moments of the match.
That was the MLS — Major League Soccer. Before that, my last pro soccer match was in the early 80s — the Fort Lauderdale Strikers vs. the Tampa Bay Rowdies in a NASL (North American Soccer League) match at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.
In those days of the Reagan regime, the Strikers were the only pro show in South Florida outside of the Miami Dolphins. No Marlins, No Panthers, No Heat.
The Strikers played in NASL back then. And they still play in the NASL today.
But it’s a different NASL, no longer the premier soccer league in America. NASL was big time in 1980, when the Strikers advanced all the way to the finals before losing to the great Pele and his New York Cosmos.
Between 1977 and 1983, before moving to Minnesota, the Strikers had some world-class players. The legendary party boy Georgie Best played for those Strikers. So did midfielder Ray Hudson, Peruvian legend Teofilo Cubillas, and German center Gerd Muller, also known for his tennis exploits in Plantation.
The goalkeepers included Gordon Banks, the top keeper in the league his first year despite being blind in one eye, and the poetically named Jan van Beveren, the Van Lingle Mungo of soccer.
Three other versions of Strikers have called Fort Lauderdale home — representing the ASL, USISL and currently the NASL again.