December 6, 2012
By Charles Cuttone
Greatest American team ever? Not the Galaxy.
Following the Los Angeles Galaxy’s 3-1 win over the Houston Dynamo to capture their second straight MLS Cup on Saturday, former Galaxy player and current team executive Chris Klein proclaimed the team the greatest in American soccer history.
While winning back-to-back MLS Cups is impressive, the Galaxy are not even close to the best ever, by a number of measures.
Any astute soccer fan with a memory that predates Justin Bieber would give that nod to the New York Cosmos. Hands down. I think most soccer historians would agree the Galaxy are not even in the top five, and that there is no disputing which team is at the top of the list.
Let’s take a look at the Cosmos’ accomplishments from 1977 to 1982. They won the Soccer Bowl in 1977 and again in 1978, the only back-to-back winners in the 17-year history of the North American Soccer League. They missed getting to the championship a third straight year, falling via shootout in the conference finals to eventual champions the Vancouver Whitecaps. In 1980 they were back in the final, decimating the Fort Lauderdale Strikers 3-0 in front of a truly sold-out R.F.K. Stadium---not some half-scale downsized version.
The following year, they again made it to the Soccer Bowl, only to lose to the Chicago Sting in a shootout in front of 36,971 at Exhibition Stadium. A year later, 1982, they again captured the crown, defeating the Seattle Sounders.
Four Soccer Bowl wins, five appearances in the title game, and one near-miss in six years. Oh, and in that span, before there was any such thing as a Supporters’ Shield, they had the best record in the league five straight times, from 1978 to 1982. They also won the Trans Atlantic Cup in five straight years against fields that included Roma, Manchester City, Glasgow Celtic, Napoli and Fiorentina, and they defeated reigning European Champions Hamburg 7-2 and regularly toured the world, playing some of the top teams around the globe.
Then there were the players. As one fan on Facebook observed, the Galaxy had three DPs, the Cosmos had 11. Maybe not quite, but there was an array of talent wearing that shirt, the likes of which has only been seen in World football on rare occasions, such as at Real Madrid or Manchester United in recent memory.
Some might make the argument that many of those players were on the downside of their careers. That argument has been made about David Beckham as well.
Pele was at the end of his three-year stay in the NASL when the Cosmos won the title in 1977. Yet Brazil’s National Team wanted him back for the 1978 World Cup. Franz Beckenbauer was named European Footballer of the Year in 1977, hopped a plane to New York and helped the Cosmos win the title. Former Brazil captain Carlos Alberto steadied the defense, marking the only time in history two World Cup winning Captains played for the same team. The colorful Giorgio Chinaglia was a scoring machine the likes of which these shores had never seen – and have not seen since.
As the team rolled from title to title, some of the stellar moving parts changed. Dennis Tueart arrived from England, Marinho from Brazil, Francois van der Elst from Belgium and the Dutch duo of Wim Rijsbergen and Johan Neeskens, both fresh off the 1978 World Cup final with Holland.
Greatest American team ever? There’s not even an argument here.