BY STEPHEN BRANDT
It’s pretty funny to think about the old North American Soccer League and what it influenced in the world. There’s a theory out there that the old New York Cosmos influenced the mega spending in the sport from 1985 onwards. While that would be a good topic for another time, another hot topic over in the States is about expansion in Major League Soccer (MLS) and whether to put a team in Atlanta. They’ve had minor league teams for a while (Silverbacks) yet the record of top flight teams in Atlanta isn’t stellar.
The old NASL had a paucity of success in the Atlanta area. They had two teams, (1967-1972, 1979-1981) both named the Chiefs, and both folded or left the area. The last team in Atlanta was the old Colorado Caribous, who had the worst jerseys in any sport, at anytime. But the only good thing that’s ever come out of the Atlanta soccer experience is the connection to the South African team, the Kaizer Chiefs.
The club is named after former Atlanta Chiefs striker, Kaizer Motaung, when he came back from the States, on January 7, 1970. There were several other people who helped Motaung in the formation and growth of the club, including Gilbert Sekgabi, Clarence Mlokoti, China Ngema, Ewert Nene and Rabelani Jan Mofokeng. The Chiefs are also famous for being the inspiration for the UK band of the same name. The band got the name from former Leeds defender Lucas Radebe, who also played for the Chiefs before moving to West Yorkshire.
The Kaizer Chiefs have won 12 titles in various forms or names of the top division in South Africa. They’ve also won the African Cup Winners Cup once – in 2001. Obviously, their name is well-known throughout the world for the band. But they have an impressive fanbase of their own; it’s estimated that they have 16 million fans worldwide.
At the opposite end of the scale, the Atlanta Chiefs are something of an underwhelming story. They won the NASL in 1968, and were runners up twice more in 1969 and 1971. They were possibly most remembered for giving Phil Woosnam his chance in North America.
Woosnam was a pioneer of the sport in the US during the seventies and eighties. He played, and coached with Atlanta before moving up the ranks, eventually becoming Commissioner of the NASL.
They also launched the NASL career of Vic Crowe, who, after his playing days, took over Portland Timbers and took them to a Soccer Bowl (lost to Tampa in 1975). Another Atlanta alumni is Brian Kidd, former many time assistant and head coach in England.
While the Atlanta version of the Chiefs weren’t all that great, and can rightly be called the archetypal NASL ‘flash in the pan’, they indirectly had a worldwide impact. To be a franchise other than the New York Cosmos or the Tampa Rowdies and then inspire a football institution in another continent is a quite a feat. While, you won’t see people wearing Atlanta shirts to the same extent as those of the Kaizer Chiefs, their legacy lives on.
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