By Michael Preston
Back in 1875, teams playing the relatively young sport of Association football were increasingly passing and shooting the ball above head height, causing the powers that be to introduce a new form of hardware that we take for granted in today’s game. No longer would the piece of thin tape that stretched eight yards between the two goal posts be sufficient to settle arguments over whether or not a ball had entered the goal. Instead, a crossbar, eight feet from the ground, was added to the structure to replace the ineffective tape and still stands today as the standard goal design for all games.
That cross bar, along with the posts or uprights that are often called the ‘woodwork’ or ‘frame’ will need a new coat of paint at the Metrodome following Saturdays scoreless draw between Minnesota United FC and the San Antonio Scorpions. Goalkeepers Daryl Sattler and Pat Hannigan might have combined to make seven saves in each earning a clean sheet, but the woodwork played its part too.
“The MVP of the game was the crossbar for both teams,” said Scorpions coach Tim Hankinson, only half joking as the ball flew everywhere but into the net in Minnesota.
Had tape still been in use, perhaps Edin Husic and Simone Bracalello would have scored with headers that bounced off the bar at either end and we would have had a 1-1 draw instead. Those who scratch their heads and wonder how a nil-nil stalemate can often be more entertaining than a game featuring several goals should take a look back at the game video on NASL.com.
There were no goals in Tampa either, where RailHawks keeper Akira Fitzgerald was a busy man between those sticks and earned praise from his coach Colin Clarke as seven saves kept the hometown Rowdies at bay. The Northern Irishman was less impressed with the decision to show his newly signed defender Paul Hamilton a second yellow card and present him with an early bath on his Carolina debut.
Clark was as direct in front of the camera on Saturday night as he used to be during his playing days in the English First Division and on the international stage, with short, sharp answers during his halftime and postgame on-field interviews. Sensibly the interviewer recognized a frustrated coach when he saw one and moved on to talk to the more jovial Ricky Hill.
Talking of the Rowdies, their pregame unveiling of a championship banner that aligned the club’s 2012 success next to the 1975 title won by the Rowdies of old appeared to be well-received by soccer fans. When the second championship star appeared on the new game jerseys earlier this year, there had been some debate as to whether the new NASL team should be associated as directly with the success of the team back in the days of Rodney Marsh and Derek Smethurst. But not this time as history was embraced.
If you’re an average NASL fan, there are more of you around than there used to be. The 16,187 fans who enjoyed the season kickoff in Minnesota, Fort Lauderdale and Tampa Bay averaged out at 5,395 per game. (We’re not sure how to categorize the extra .6667 fans, or fan from the 16,187 divided by three equation. Answers on a postcard please…) That new record figure of 5,395 tops the 4,859 who graced opening weekend in 2012 and the 4,053 from 2011, when on both occasions there were four games played.
Attendances are an odd yardstick. Take for example Oldham Athletic, formerly of England’s top division and now in League One, who enjoyed a fantastic FA Cup run this season, claiming the scalp of Liverpool before bowing out to Everton after a replay. The Latics have averaged 4,108 fans attending home games this season. Up in Scotland, St Mirren might have won the Scottish Communities League Cup final, but still they only average 4,417 fans at their home in Paisley.
This in countries where the game has been established and drawing support from all corners of the community since the days when tape was still stretched between two posts before the introduction of the crossbar (Oldham were formed that same year, St Mirren two years later). So if the new NASL - a relative infant at only three years - is already out-drawing such established clubs, perhaps attendance figures are a number that will continue to grow steadily as generations to come devote their Saturdays to watching NASL soccer.
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|New York Cosmos||14||9||4||1||10||31|
|Tampa Bay Rowdies||14||5||5||4||3||20|
|Minnesota United FC||14||6||2||6||2||20|
|Fort Lauderdale Strikers||14||5||3||6||-2||18|
|San Antonio Scorpions||14||3||1||10||-9||10|
|San Antonio Scorpions||12||6||2||4||4||20|
|Tampa Bay Rowdies||12||5||3||4||5||18|
|Minnesota United FC||12||4||2||6||-5||14|
|Fort Lauderdale Strikers||12||2||2||8||-14||8|