DaveBrett

NASL Soccer Video Archeology

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I am the guest on the "Good Seats Available" podcast...

http://goodseatsstillavailable.com/listen/2018/12/9/episode-91-nasl-soccer-video-archeology-with-dave-brett-wasser

 

   The images are grainy, the commentary earnestly naïve, and the theme music disco-infused, but the bigger picture is clear – it’s American soccer history, in all its VHS videotape glory.

 

   Gleaned from a simpler, pre-HD media landscape of the 1970s and early 1980s – much of it before even the mass consumer adoption of the VCR – the roughly 900 hours of TV broadcast match coverage that still survives from the pioneering North American Soccer League is a veritable time machine of pro soccer’s coming-of-age. And one man has been chiefly responsible for compiling and preserving it.

 

   De facto soccer video anthropologist Dave Brett Wasser has spent over two decades tracking down virtually every known snippet of NASL game footage – more than 450 league and exhibition matches in all – for what is arguably the most comprehensive collection of vintage soccer Americana anywhere.

 

   Meticulously (and sometimes just plain luckily) sourced from a myriad of former players, coaches, TV network vaults, and even garage sales – Wasser’s now-digitized trove has become the go-to source for some of the NASL’s most memorable competitive moments for today’s generation of soccer broadcast producers and documentarians. Including even the newly-rechristened National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, TX.

 

   In this revealing conversation with host Tim Hanlon, Wasser talks about: his childhood memories of local WOR-TV/New York broadcasts of Cosmos games; the impetus to rediscover them as an adult in the early 1990s lead-up to World Cup USA 1994; the people he’s met along the way of amassing his collection; and the tenuous relationship with the Hall of Fame in his quest to comprehensively digitize and permanently house the entire set of videos for current and future generations of American fans of the “beautiful game” to enjoy and learn from.

 

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It seems that your link got a little chopped up.  The corrected link is here.

 

Dang, I have now had to add that podcast to the ones to which I subscribe on Stitcher; and I have added 17 of its episodes to my current playlist.  And this comes just after I discovered the Baseball By the Book podcast, and added 13 of its episodes to that list.  What are these people trying to do to me?!

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16 hours ago, Ferdinand Cesarano said:

It seems that your link got a little chopped up.  The corrected link is here.

 

Dang, I have now had to add that podcast to the ones to which I subscribe on Stitcher; and I have added 17 of its episodes to my current playlist.  And this comes just after I discovered the Baseball By the Book podcast, and added 13 of its episodes to that list.  What are these people trying to do to me?!

 

It's a good one. @Mac the Knife turned me on to it via the Podcast thread and I've gone back and gone through the archives.  

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Guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the Cosmos destroyed their video archive by sending it to a digitization service by plane.  Because we don’t have any world-class shops who could have done it here in New York.  They were probably trying to save a couple bucks by having it done in Reno or Wichita.

 

Is there any other team, in any sport, currently suffering from a worse series of owners?  Nothing but grifters, incompetents, and agenda-driven megalomaniacs. Sacrificing not only their team’s present, but now also another club’s past. 

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I would strongly dispute your assertion that the Cosmos were bad for American soccer. 

The Cosmos were doing things the right way, namely, by being willing to lose money in the short term while they put a high-quality product on the field.  If the other teams in the league did not have owners that were as good as the Cosmos' Steve Ross, this is not the Cosmos' fault.  It's up to the league to require this level of wealth and this level of committment as a condition of team ownership, as opposed to awarding teams to every under-capitalised lemonade-stand operator who applied for one.

More important, the Cosmos inspired passion. They awakened millions of Americans to the idea of soccer, and demonstrated that the professional game could draw a mainstream crowd — provided that the ownership was competent and committed.

I think that history shows that the Cosmos were an unalloyed good.  It was the other NASL teams that were bad for soccer.

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Who said anything about the original Cosmos?  I'm talking about the modern ones, who have as much relation to the original as Robert Mitchum's ludicrous 1978 film The Big Sleep has to Bogart and Bacall's classic.  From Kemsley to Seamus O'Brien to Rocco Commisso, every single one of their three principal owners has been a cancer on the sport. 

 

But, since we're talking about the originals:

 

8 hours ago, Ferdinand Cesarano said:

The Cosmos were doing things the right way, namely, by being willing to lose money in the short term while they put a high-quality product on the field.  If the other teams in the league did not have owners that were as good as the Cosmos' Steve Ross, this is not the Cosmos' fault.  It's up to the league to require this level of wealth and this level of committment as a condition of team ownership

 

That is utter volapukaĵo.  😛 

 

The Cosmos were not "willing to lose money in the short term".  They were willing to lose money indefinitely, without the prospect of ever not losing money, which isn't at all the same thing.  Today's MLS clubs are willing to lose money in the short term because they're putting all their available money into building infrastructure.  Facilities, stadiums, academies, they're building their futures.  And that means while MLS clubs lose money in the short term, they are setting the table to make money in the long term.  That's investing in their future, and it is decidedly not what Steve Ross did.  He didn't have to build anything, and he didn't demonstrate much competence.  It wasn't his money, it was the shareholders' money, and he didn't care how much he lost.  Until, of course, his business empire took a downturn and he was suddenly forced to care.  And then the commitment vanished.  Which shows the fatal flaw in his business model; because nobody even bothered to pretend it was sustainable, it lasted only as long as the dilettante's attention.

 

8 hours ago, Ferdinand Cesarano said:

I think that history shows that the Cosmos were an unalloyed good.  It was the other NASL teams that were bad for soccer.

 

No, they were all bad to one degree or another.  The only difference is that the other NASL teams didn't have the (temporarily) bottomless pockets.  At some point, they had to start making money.  But nobody in that NASL was terribly interested in long-term planning or building something that could last.  And, surprise of surprises, it didn't.  They salted the earth and set the sport back by decades.  Led by the Cosmos, who are rightfully viewed as driving that particular bus off the cliff.

 

Which is why, as much as I am sometimes frustrated by MLS, I have to give it to them.  They built the first sustainable soccer league our country has ever seen.  And they did so in no small part by learning from and avoiding the mistakes of the Cosmos and the NASL.  While most of their teams are losing money, it's not because they're wildly spending beyond any possible means but because they're actually building something.  Something that will last.

 

Still, I loved that team as a kid.  Breaks my heart that the second team has thrown away the history of the first one by being careless with the archival tapes.

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8 hours ago, Gothamite said:

Who said anything about the original Cosmos?  I'm talking about the modern ones

 

My post is addressed to Dave, not to you.  You'll note that I did not quote you, and also that I refer to assertions that Dave made during the show.

 

As for the thrust of your comments, I'm afraid that you couldn't be more wrong. A big company with a capacity to withstand losses is the model owner.  This is what the Cosmos had; and so for this reason we can say that the Cosmos did things the right way.

 

Of course even Ross eventually hit the limits of his indulgence when Time-Warner's value plummetted. But a reasonable observer cannot blame the Cosmos for the fact that the league's dirtbag teams failed to follow the Cosmos' good example.

 

If the other NASL teams had had ownership as serious and as vigorous as the Cosmos' ownership was, then Time-Warner would have found a buyer easily when it could no longer afford the team. Maybe that buyer would have been another giant media company; maybe it would have been a sports mogul such as Steinbrenner. But if the L.A. and Chicago and Washington teams had been owned by reputable people, and if the big company that owned the Boston team hadn't moved it to Jacksonville (!), then the NASL would have been seen by potential team owners as legit and big-time, and there would have been a queue a mile long of rich guys wanting to buy in.

 

The Cosmos more than did their part in making the NASL look legit. But the other teams ... I don't want to use the gridiron metaphor "dropped the ball", so I will say that they "kicked it into touch".

 

Or, to reframe your metaphor of the Cosmos driving the bus off the cliff, we can say that the only reason that the bus went off the cliff is that the other teams neglected their job of building a bridge connecting the cliff to the other side of the river.

 

An NASL consisting of 8 or 10 teams run like the Cosmos, rather than 24 teams run like Sunday beer-league outfits, would never have folded, would have had the wherewithal to withstand hardships, and would still be around today. The fault for why this didn't happen lies with league officials and the other teams — literally everyone but the Cosmos. To try to blame the Cosmos for others' incompetence is simply not reasonable.

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1 hour ago, Ferdinand Cesarano said:

An NASL consisting of 8 or 10 teams run like the Cosmos, rather than 24 teams run like Sunday beer-league outfits, would never have folded, would have had the wherewithal to withstand hardships, and would still be around today. 

 

As I said, volapukaĵo.

 

”Lose millions each year forever at the whim of a dilettante” is not a sustainable model. Eventually the dilettante will get bored, or run out of money.   As we saw with Ross.  When the mighty Time Warner can’t absorb the constant losses, you see why the original NASL couldn’t ever have survived.

 

I would so much rather have sustainable clubs that can outlast us all.  Which we’re seeing grow all around us.  I would rather the second Cosmos join with the rest and build something good together, but they’re still living in the Cult of the Billionaire, so good riddance to them.

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58 minutes ago, Gothamite said:

As I said, volapukaĵo.

 

I would be remiss if I failed to thank you for using this Esperanto insult in your comments!

 

For our readers I will mention that the term "volapukaĵo" invokes the name of the language Volapük, a constructed language that predates Esperanto. While Esperanto's creator Zamenhof respected the effort involved in that earlier project's creation, he found the language unusable. Zamenhof (and just about everyone else) considered Volapük terribly ugly, on account of the extreme distortions of its roots.  Indeed, the very name "Volapük" consists of roots that are meant to represent the English words "world" and "speech" adapted to Volapük's twisted orthography. Kind of a mess. So this is why the Esperanto term "volapukaĵo" (which includes the Esperanto suffix -aĵo that means "thing", and in which the letter Ĵ is pronounced like the French J), came to mean "nonsense". Zamenhof definitely had a sense of humour.

 

I don't know whether you are aware that today is Zamenhof's birthday. It is celebrated as Esperanto Day or Zamenhof Day, our feast day.

 

So your comment works out to be a great Esperanto Day present. If I am going to be told that I am spouting nonsense, I prefer to be told this in Esperanto. 

 

For this reason I say to you "dankegon", which is Esperanto for "thank you very much".

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