Every week NASL.com will take a look back in time and recall memories of the North American Soccer League in a regular ‘Throwback Thursday’ feature. From players, coaches and fans to landmark games, each Thursday will offer a new memory from years gone by.
The Atlanta Silverbacks take a belated bow and open their 2013 NASL Spring Season at home to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers this Saturday, having drawn the kickoff weekend bye. The NASL is welcomed back to the Peach State for a third season, with Atlanta Silverbacks Park expected to be buzzing for the visit of the Strikers.
But the legacy of professional soccer in Atlanta stretches back almost half a century and 45 years ago it was the city’s Atlanta Chiefs who were crowned the first champions of the debut North American Soccer League season.
The roots of the Atlanta team that would go on to capture the 1968 NASL title were formed a year earlier when the Atlanta Braves baseball organization entered a franchise in the National Professional Soccer League and appointed Welshman Phil Woosnam as head coach. Following an inconspicuous fourth place finish in the NPSL and failure to make the playoffs, the Chiefs became part of the inaugural NASL season after the NPSL and United Soccer Association merged.
Woosnam retained many of his English contingent in the squad from 1967 and notably added striker Kaizer Motaung, a South African who later returned home to form the now famous Kaiser Chiefs club. Scouting the South African was something Woosnam was not able to keep secret as he sought firepower to complement a defense that proved the league’s stingiest that championship season.
“We could hardly hide the fact that we were there watching him because we were the only two white faces in a crowd of 30,000,” explained Woosnam, who went with a colleague to watch Motaung play for the Orlando Pirates in Johannesburg during the days of Apartheid. “He made the difference to our team that year. He had immense ability around the box.”
The Chiefs duly won the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division and saw off the Cleveland Stokers in the playoffs to face a San Diego Toros team whose star player was Vava, a member of Brazil’s 1958 and 1962 World Cup winning teams, in the inaugural final.
Neither side could break the deadlock in the first leg of a two-game contest in California and when the teams met in Atlanta, almost 15,000 braved a rainy night for the deciding game.
“There was a great atmosphere,” said Peter McParland, the Chiefs striker who had played 293 games and scored 98 goals during a ten-year career with Aston Villa back in England. “The crowd was very enthusiastic because the city of Atlanta had never won a national title in any sport.”
McParland was among the scorers in a 3-0 win that captured that elusive title for Atlanta and helped Woosnam win the Coach of the Year award.
While McParland only played again briefly in his native Northern Ireland for Glentoran, Woosnam became a legendary figure in the NASL, serving as the league’s Commissioner until 1982 as the league overcame the financial issues that claimed the Atlanta team and thrived under his leadership during the 1970s.
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