Los Angeles Aztecs vs Seattle Sounders, NASL 1979

The king is dead, long live the king. After a retirement lasting merely a few months Johan Cruyff was lacing up his boots again. Only now, in 1979, he did not step out onto the hallowed pitch of Nou Camp. Death threats and constant police protection had marred his time in Barcelona leading up to the World Cup 1978. Trying to get away as far as possible Cruyff took his family to the United States.

His first destination was New York. As early as 1977 Cruyff had joined the fabled Cosmos of Pele, Carlos Alberto and Franz Beckenbauer for a number of test matches. A long-term deal never came to fruition, so Cruyff set out to conquer the West Coast instead. Arriving in Los Angeles he wanted to “try to build up soccer where it wasn’t popular”. Money likely played its part as well. Cruyff’s recent investments had not been as successful as his footballing exploits. The Aztecs were only too happy to oblige. Cruyff stood to earn a cool $1.4 million over the course of two seasons.

In LA he was reunited with Rinus Michels. Together the congenial player/manager duo had reigned supreme in Holland and Spain with Ajax and Barcelona respectively. On the world stage they had come agonizingly close, losing the World Cup final 1974 to West Germany 1:2.

Aztecs already playoff bound, Sounders reaching

As they line up for their penultimate match of the season their new empire looks paltry in comparison. The Rose Bowl would be jam packed with more than 90,000 spectators when football of the American variety is on display. For the Aztecs in 1979 on average only 14,334 fans show up. While that is a 65% increase on the year before, those in attendance on the day look forlorn in the expanse of the giant stadium.

The LA Aztecs, though, are one of the premier sides in the league. Sat in second place of the Western Division, they are already assured a spot in the playoffs. Visitors Seattle are in with a shout but need to win their two remaining matches to prolong their campaign. Struggling to survive the cut from 24 to 16 teams hardly suggests a team of championship pedigree. However, the Sounders do come into this having just put nine past the Edmonton Drillers in a shutout victory. Whether that says more about Seattle or Edmonton the following ninety minutes would tell. Continue reading