North American Soccer League (NASL) – Reviving the Past Glory of Pelé (Review)

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The North American Soccer League is a successor of a namesake league that represented the golden years of soccer in the USA with players like Johan Cruyff and Pelé roaming the greens.

¸North American Soccer League (NASL)

The North American Soccer League (NASL) is a professional men’s soccer league with ten teams from the United States and Canada competing for the Soccer Bowl. It is a 2nd division league, under Major League Soccer (MLS) and above USL Professional Division (USL Pro).

League with a famous history that actually started in 2011

The original NASL that operated from 1968 to 1984 and the current day league bear the same name although the latter was only founded in 2009. Several of the present-day NASL teams, however, play their games in cities where the former NASL had teams. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Tampa Bay Rowdies, and the most famous New York Cosmos clubs share the same names and similar jersey designs as their predecessors.



Country: the United States and Canada
Confederation: CONCACAF
Founded: November 10, 2009
Number of teams: 10
Level on the pyramid: 2nd division
Domestic cup: U.S. Open Cup & Canadian Championship
International cup: CONCACAF Champions League
Champions: Minnesota United FC (2011), Tampa Bay Rowdies (2012), and New York Cosmos (2013)
Average range of annual salaries: 15,000 to 30,000 $ / no salary cap
Transfer window: 12 February – 6 May and 9 July – 8 August
Number of allowed foreign players (per team): 7
Number of foreign players in NASL: 77
Average stadium attendances: 4,670


The modern NASL actually began playing in 2011 following a 2010 season that saw NASL and USL teams play in a combined temporary 2nd division league. The number of teams has increased from eight, with some teams coming and going, to 10 in 2014 and will continue to expand.


Instead of a Super Bowl there is a Soccer Bowl

Similar to other Central American leagues, the schedule consists of two competitions, Spring and Fall, with the winner of the Spring season earning the right to host the Fall champion in a one-game playoff, the Soccer Bowl. The Spring season runs from early April until July 4, and following a one-month break, the Fall season runs from early August until early November. During the 2013 season, clubs played a 12-match Spring and 14-match Fall season. Due to the 2014 World Cup, however, NASL reportedly intends to play the vast majority of its schedule during the Fall.



Atlanta Silverbacks
Carolina RailHawks
FC Edmonton
Fort Lauderdale Strikers
Indy Eleven
Minnesota United
New York Cosmos
Ottawa Fury FC
San Antonio Scorpions
Tampa Bay Rowdies


There is no promotion and relegation with other leagues, which is a characteristic of most sports competitions in the USA. The champion of NASL is not automatically promoted to MLS, and the team finishing last is not automatically relegated to USL Pro. There are occasional opportunities, however, for teams that meet specific – mostly financial – criteria to join the MLS as an expansion team, as the Montreal Impact did following the 2011 season. So if you become a NASL champion in the next season you will still play in the 2nd division.


In America not everything is paved with gold

NASL pays players less than MLS teams and top European and national teams. In MLS for example Dempsey will make over $4.9 million base salary, Keane is just behind him at exactly $4 million, after him there is Thierry Henry ($3.75 million). The average salary this year in the MLS is $148,693.26. In the NASL players earn a lot less, “only” between $15,000 and $100,000 with most salaries below $40,000. For some players, the six-month season actually serves as only a part-time job. During the off-season, they work elsewhere. But if you are a star than we have some good news for you – the NASL does not have a salary cap.


Midfielders sold for free lodging and transportation on away games

The NASL limits active rosters (number of team players) to 30 players and limits teams to 7 foreign players. Most foreign footballers come from Brazil, Jamaica, Colombia, Honduras and England, but with other exotic countries like Liberia, Guyana, Cuba, Palestine, Gambia, Malta etc. Definitely a colourful selection of players although the USA and Canadian players still prevail. The best striker for example is Pablo Campos, a Brazilian footballer who currently plays for Minnesota United in the North American Soccer League. With 1.91 m he scored 45 goals in the NASL in his career, in the 2012 season when he played for San Antonio Scorpions he scored 28 times. The third best scorer in history comes from Malta, Etienne Barbara scored 23 times.



Between NASL teams or other US teams with NASL teams: 58%
From abroad to NASL: 30%
From NASL to abroad: 12%

International transfers
(from countries):
Puerto Rico: 10%
Scotland: 7%
Honduras, Norway, Spain, Canada, Northern Ireland and Bosnia and Herzegovina: 5%

From NASL (to countries):
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia: 13%

Transfers in the NASL can be quite special. The NASL obviously can’t compete at a financial level with the world’s top leagues, but this January they proved they can be very creative. Ft. Lauderdale Strikers sold 25-year-old midfielder Walter Restrepo to the San Antonio Scorpions for “free lodging and transportation during Fort Lauderdale’s two road trips to San Antonio in 2014”.

Pelé and other cosmic stars …

The original New York Cosmos were the most visible team in the original NASL, and played their games in four stadiums, most prominently the Giants Stadium. pele_10In 1975 Cosmos signed Pele to a three-year, $4.7 million deal and still failed to make the playoffs. In 1976, Chinaglia left Lazio to sign with the Cosmos and in 1977; Beckenbauer accepted a contract to play in the NASL. He played with the Cosmos for four seasons up to 1980, and the team won the Soccer Bowl on three occasions. The Los Angeles Aztecs signed Manchester United star George Best in 1976 and in 1979 another legend signed for them. A Dutch star Johan Cruyff joined the team for a $700,000 a year deal for two seasons and won the league MVP award. In the revived league New York Cosmos had Eric Cantona working as a director of soccer from January of 2011 until November of 2012. The glory days for the NASL may never return, however it still remains a promising league for all football players willing to prove themselves in a big US market where football, or soccer as the Americans are calling it, is about to bloom once again.



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