NASL Quakes to return Saturday

Since the Quakes are the only MLS team with a moniker dating back to 1974, it makes sense to celebrate their 30th anniversary in grand fashion. A throwback game takes place on Saturday August 21st with NASL Earthquakes players from the 1970s and 1980s. The MLS Quakes will suit up that night against Dallas wearing retro-NASL jerseys with the old logo just for the occasion. So if you're used to watching the Boys in Blue, you will literally see red this time around.

Now, obviously the Quakes have not played in San Jose continuously for 30 straight years, so at first it might seem silly to stage a "30th Anniversary," but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. 1974 will hopefully be given special attention, as that's when it all began. They played their first match on May 5th of that year, defeating the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 in penalties. Mark Demling got the winning goal in the tenth round of penalties.

San Jose's Paul Child was the NASL's leading scorer that year and went on to become sixth on the all-time NASL scoring list. He will return for the Quakes 30th anniversary, as will Davie Kemp and Archie Roboostoff. Godfrey Ingram is flying in from the U.K. Other "old-timers" who have verbally committed include Mani Hernandez, Art Welch, Mike Ivanow, Gabbo Gavric, Steve David, Ilija Mitic, Johnny Moore and former San Jose Clash coach Laurie Calloway. The list goes on.

The crew will undoubtedly swap some ancient memories:

The bench-clearing brawl versus the Houston Hurricane in 1980; Krazy George coming down onto the field in a helicopter, a camel, a hang glider or a police car; the heartbreaking loss to Toronto in the 1983 semifinals after going undefeated all season at home; Bernie Gersdorff picking up the ref's yellow card after he had dropped it and then carding the ref; The Taylor Concessions company, who provided 32-ounce Spartan Stadium beers in paper Budweiser cups; the Aftershocks booster parties at Lou's Village; Willy Johnston of the Whitecaps taking a drink from a fan's beer before blasting a corner kick that led to a goal; and, of course, The Shakers, a few of whom will also make an appearance.

Pele himself even came to Spartan Stadium twice with the Cosmos-once in 1975 and once in 1976. The Quakes won both times.

"It was unbelievable," former Quakes player and General Manager Johnny Moore recalled. "I'll never forget it. As my brain clicks on it now, I get goose bumps...Our crowd at that time was the start of youth soccer, American family type crowd. Youth soccer was just starting to get going and we had a huge amount of fans that were largely new to the game...I remember standing there, looking at Pele and thinking, 'I wonder if our fans will really know who he is.' [But] there was an immediate standing ovation. It still gives me goose bumps thinking about it. He just had this tremendous aura or charisma about him."

At that time, Spartan's capacity was somewhere around 17,000 and people were hanging in the trees for Pele's appearance.

"We had about twenty-five thousand in a stadium that held seventeen," Moore noted. "At that time we still had the legal right to sell standing room only tickets. We even put bleachers between the walls and the sideline. The whole thing was just a mass of people and noise and excitement."

Many will say Pele's appearances at Spartan were the highlight of the entire Quakes 10-year NASL reign, but my vote goes to a notorious individual from Northern Ireland instead.

Some argue that George Best-not Pele or Maradonna-was the greatest player to ever have played the sport. He took Manchester United to the European Cup Championship in 1968 and practically invented the rock-star millionaire hard-drinking womanizing sports figure. Denis Rodman couldn't hold a punk candle to George Best in his day. But, alas, he took it all way too far and his career soon plummeted as a result.

By the time Best donned a Quakes uniform in 1980, he was past his prime, but there were occasional flashes of incomparable genius. In 1981 he scored a near-impossible, bordering-on-frightening goal that people are still talking about to this day. He was called for a questionable foul and booked for verbally assaulting the ref afterwards. Clearly angered at the referee's incompetence, he took a pass and then went through six Fort Lauderdale players in 25 yards all by himself and blasted home the goal. Ray Hudson and Thomas Rongen were the first two guys he burned and he even beat another defender twice in the play. Most who attended that match say it was the greatest goal they've ever seen and it was the NASL goal of the year.

At that time, Best was temporarily on the wagon and he wanted prove to himself that he could still play:

"I got thirteen goals that summer season of 1981, and one of them was the best I've ever scored," he explained in his 2001 autobiography, Blessed. "It came against my old club, Fort Lauderdale Strikers, when I got the ball 25 yards from goal and sidestepped a defender. There were three more waiting to pick me off but I dummied left, then right, then left again and shook them all off and as the keeper came out, I knocked it past him. The goal didn't mean anything in terms of the Earthquakes fortunes or the League table. But it meant everything to me in terms of personal pride."

The NASL finally dive-bombed in 1984, and arguments still rage over the reasons behind it all, but most agree that the generation who grew up with the NASL produced the players of the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. Which, in turn, set the foundation for MLS.

"[The NASL] was a hugely important part in the growth of the game," Moore said. "All of the youth leagues really took off at that time. All of them continued to grow. Where the game is today simply wouldn't have happened had [the NASL] not happened."

When the Earthquakes moniker returned to a national established major league again in 2000, everyone-at least the locals-immediately conjured up NASL stories, and in 2001, an old-timers game took place at Spartan Stadium preceding an MLS contest. During that match, Paul Child scored on a header, as he looked like one of the few who were actually still in shape.

But now that 30 years have come round, the festivities will be amped up even more. The Quakes remain the only MLS team who can claim an original NASL moniker, that is, at least until the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers finally move up from the A league. Also, rumor has it that fans in the Big Apple are already calling for a New York MLS team-the Cosmos. We know that Rochester is gunning for an MLS franchise as well, but we don't know if they'll hang onto the Rhinos moniker or exhume the Lancers one instead.

Finally, forget all that nonsense about nostalgia being nothing but hopeless longing for the past.

As Harvard professor Svetlana Boym says in her book, The Future of Nostalgia: "Modern nostalgia is a mourning for the impossibility of mythical return, for the loss of an enchanted world with clear borders and values; it could be a secular expression of a spiritual longing, a nostalgia for an absolute, a home that is both physical and spiritual, the Edenic unity of time and space before entry into history."

That's not a bad thing. MLS wouldn't exist if weren't for the NASL. Landon Donovan wasn't even born when George Best scored the 1981 NASL goal of the year at Spartan Stadium. To see Donovan and company sporting red retro-NASL jerseys will be a beautiful thing.

Gary Singh is a staff writer at Metro, Silicon Valley's weekly newspaper. As a freelancer, he regularly contributes to IEEE Computer Graphics, The Meeting Professional, and several other outlets.

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