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Since we got a minute, let me ask...

By James Flynn :  14/03/2011 :  Comments (30) :
Major League Soccer (MLS) is about to kick off here in the USA and the excitement level is the highest it?s ever been, what with the new teams and attendances going up and up.

Which got me to thinking about the history of pro soccer over here; particularly about the foreign players who came to play when they could no longer hook on with a European club.

Or some English player who might have developed in the American minor league and was signed back over by an English club. So to my question... Below is a list of players who came to America either back in the old NASL league or to MLS.

Do you remember any of them and what do you remember of them in their primes in the top leagues? I know a few of the names and actually saw the ones who played with Cosmos way back when. But, since ToffeeWebbers seems to have such a wide age-range, I?m curious as to what you remember of these fellows when they were at their peak?

(Did any of you see Pele in person in his prime? There?s a sight I?d liked to have seen.)

The List:

Giorgio Chinaglia
George Best
Johan Cruyff
Cuauhtémoc Blanco
David Beckam
Juan Pablo Angel
Guillermo Barros Schelotto
Freddie Ljungberg
Richard Gough
Lothar Matthaus
Mo Johnston
Adrian Alston
Clive Charles
Paul Child
Alan Ball
Gordon Banks
Cuauhtémoc Blanco
Peter Beardsley
Thierry Henry
Colin Bell
Clyde Best
John Best
Roberto Bettega
Gordon Bradley
Alan Brazil
David Byrne
Bobby Clark
Jimmy Conway
Youri Djorkaeff
Hristo Stoichkov
Charlie Cooke
Joe Corrigan
Roger Davies
Kaz Deyna
Mike England
Mike Flanaghan
Trevor Francis
Ron Futcher
Jimmy Gabriel
Terry Garbett
Johnny Giles
David Harvey
Kevin Hector
Gordon Hill
Alan Hinton
Jim Holton
Alan Hudson
Geoff Hurst

Reader Comments

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Eric Myles
1   Posted 15/03/2011 at 05:55:21

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George Best - simply THE best.


None of the rest compare.
Chris Bannantyne
2   Posted 15/03/2011 at 06:58:39

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I agree with Eric. Although I seem to remember hearing a thing or two about that Beckham character... Think he played for Preston or some little club like that...
Alan Clarke
3   Posted 15/03/2011 at 08:58:54

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Geoff Hurst? Never heard of him.
Phil Bellis
4   Posted 15/03/2011 at 09:15:30

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I saw Pele at Goodison in '66 and, from very youthful memory, he was kicked off the park and never performed as he could. He was, though, undoubtedly, from other World Cups etc, the best player I've ever ever seen.
The best I've ever seen play in the flesh was. George Best. Alan Ball remains the greatest Evertonian I've seen play ? the measure of how you judge skill and commitment combined.
Alan McGuffog
5   Posted 15/03/2011 at 09:30:45

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Like Phil, I saw Pele kicked off the park in '66. Was it against Portugal?

Talking of which, and going totally off the point, the greatest game I ever saw was Hungary v Brazil in that World Cup. Almost 60,000 spectators and the crowd seemed to be behind the Magyars. One of the greatest goals I ever saw as well... Florian Albert knocked it into the box and a guy, I think called Vargas (?) volleyed it first time into the Gwladys St goal.

Sorry, James, that had bugger all to do with your point but it will always remain one of my special Goodison moments... like curly scoring from that ridiculous angle against the RS in the cup that Saturday night in '67.

I recall it all so clearly... shame I can't remember what I've come upstairs to do!

Liam Reilly
6   Posted 15/03/2011 at 09:56:44

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I was very young when I saw Johnny Giles. He is up there with Roy Keane and Paul McGrath as arguably Ireland's greatest ever players.

I read in his autobiography that Clough said about him, that "he didn't find space, space found him".

One of the real hard men who could actually play football.
Dave Wilson
7   Posted 15/03/2011 at 10:05:37

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I knew a few players had gone over there, James, but I`ve never seen the names laid out like that. What an impressive list !

Some truly world class players in there, some personel favourites too... Charlie Cook? Forgot all about him, he was an absolute wizzard. Alan Hudson too, makes you realise Chelsea didn't just spring up ten years ago.

We loved Bally, he was somebody you would call "That Guy".

I have similar memories to Phil of Pele, as kids we would go to all the World Cup games ? as a bunch of scallies from Scottie Road, we didn't realise you were actually expected to pay to get in ? and we judged Pele rather harshly, he was dismissed as a tart for not being able to take a tackle, LOL ? they`d kicked fuck out of him, but what a player though.

You`ll have probably seen that wonderful goal The Belfast Boy scored when he was over there (can't remember who for)... Oh but if you could have seen him in his pomp.
Andy Kay
8   Posted 15/03/2011 at 10:24:39

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As the list appears alphabetical at times, the next name should be a certain Jimmy Husband who played with Charlie Cooke and Jim Steele at the Memphis Rouges. A top bloke and a great friend of my dad's. I only saw him play in the States (the only time I saw George Best play also) but everyone I've spoken to about him say he was a great player on his day.
Phil Bellis
9   Posted 15/03/2011 at 10:36:42

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Alan, spot on memory, man. I was in the Street that night ? still got all my tickets stubs in the little wallet they came with. The crowd took to Hungary who were the outstanding team of that World Cup ? all the kids were out next day being Ferenc Bene and Florian Albert.

By the way, I've seen that goal (Janos Farkas) since. Such memories of magical Goodison... Have this one on me:

Guy Hastings
10   Posted 15/03/2011 at 10:48:51

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Cruyff! Or as Joe Mercer called him 'Cruff'. And on the subject of City when they still had a vestige of class, Allison made Deyna his captain even though the Pole did not have a word of English. Big Mal ? just gotta love that man.
Louis Platt
11   Posted 15/03/2011 at 13:03:23

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On a related note, does anybody know whether Billy Kenny (of the early seventies) went on to play for the Cleveland Cobras in the American Soccer League?
Paul Rice
12   Posted 15/03/2011 at 14:09:47

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Where's Preki in that list!!
Trevor Lynes
13   Posted 15/03/2011 at 17:02:38

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Liam, I am afraid that Johnny Giles was one of the slyest, dirtiest midfielders I ever saw!! He played for a very hard but good Leeds side. Tommy Smith rated Giles a nasty player and said that Norman Hunter was very hard but fair. Alan Clarke was another nasty bastard in the same side. Bobby Collins was at Leeds following his time with us and he was revered at Leeds as he virtually carried the side. Giles was a good player but never a great!!

Pele, Maradona, Messi, Henry, Cruyff, Floran Albert, Puskas, Di Stefano, Tostao, Garrincha... they are the best foreign players I have ever seen... BUT Pele was Number One for me!!

Best was definitely the best ever Brit but, like Gazza, he ruined his career and was finished too young... so I have more time for players who realise their potential and have full careers ? not arseholes who don't!!

Pete Gunby
14   Posted 15/03/2011 at 17:25:17

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Liam (#6) ? Ireland's greatest? How about Best, Jennings and Brady. Although I never saw him, my dad swears that Danny Blanchflower was as good as any.
Mark Smith
15   Posted 15/03/2011 at 20:42:55

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James, you have missed one of the greatest players to leave for the states. The legend that is Terry Darracott, who played more games than Tony Hibbert without scoring a goal, joined Tulsa Roughnecks but only had a short career in the USA due to injury.

Terry was not the most skilful of players, but was such a committed Blue and I'll never forget his reaction the day he thought he scored (unsighted by a defender after the shot, Martin Dobson tapped in the rebound off the keeper).

Gavin Ramejkis
16   Posted 15/03/2011 at 22:37:53

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How about two off that list ? George Best's cheeky and perfectly good disallowed goal against Gordon Banks.

To this day, I can't believe Man U fans voted Cantona over Best as their all time player a few years ago.
Greg Anderson
17   Posted 16/03/2011 at 00:23:58

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James, what an incredibly mixed list! All-time greats and complete nobodies. Basically, none of MLS-era players (except Stoichkov, Matthaus & Henry) were anything more than "useful", even at their best.

But the cast of characters who played in the NASL is much much more impressive for the most part, and it includes a good number of the consensus top twenty players in the history of the universe ("first ballot Hall of Famers" if you will) ? Pele, Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Eusebio, Best, Banks ? legends all.

It also includes many who were stars or at least mainstays of the better teams in England in the 70s, including what looks like about half of Brian Clough's great Derby County team of that era.

Rodney Marsh (should be mentioned here), Alan Hudson, Charlie Cooke, and Gordon Hill were all personal favourites of mine because of their very un-British, playful virtuosity.

Pele was a better all-round player than Best ? he could do literally everything brilliantly. But when he could be bothered, Best could do things that no-one else, not even Pele, could do. Mercurial genius, bless him.

Roman Sidey
18   Posted 16/03/2011 at 01:06:13

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Wish the hype extended up this way, James. I'm in Toronto and you wouldn't even know Toronto FC exists unless you live in Little Italy or the Portuguese section. Real shame considering they're one of the more successful sporting teams from Toronto. Much better than the Too Busy Rapping-tors and the Larfs.
Ray Roche
19   Posted 16/03/2011 at 11:34:34

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Phil Bellis.

Thanks for that, Phil, it brings back some memories.I was at those games with my old feller, I got my tickets due to having a season ticket in the Street End. I well remember Bené and Albert as wonderful footballers who would have graced any side.

The game that caught the imagination,though, was the North Korea v Portugal match, Portugal being 3-0 down but winning 5-3. I remember Eusebio, another true great, having some good things to say about the Goodison crowd and the stadium itself. Actually, if he came back now he'd still remember much of it!

James Hollister
20   Posted 16/03/2011 at 13:30:29

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Let's be honest here ,the MLS and its former incarnation are pretty dire to say the least.

When players are about to retire, they are offered one last hurrah with a big packet for a year or two.

I am not convinced that the players listed by your good self have really done a thing for MLS (or American soccer in general).

The people who end up over there are usually very washed out over-aged players earning big money, with the MLS trying to make a name for itself in the footballing world. To me, it's all desperate Dan stuff, lol.

I have seen quite a few of the players in your list.
James Flynn
21   Posted 16/03/2011 at 16:45:54

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James (20) No arguing with the facts. We're well-aware over here that we got the overwhelming majority of these players and others because they were over-the-hill (Except Chinaglia I think. He simply looked too good to be playing here and was still in his prime years when he came).

For the rest of your post, the point of signing these guys is so the rest of the players can see how the game is played correctly. MLS means fast, athletic, in-condition players with, unfortunately little soccer talent. That'll be changing here soon (5 years tops, I estimate). But in the mean-time an over-the-hill Beckam still knows how to find a little space to make a beautiful cross or 3 and have us American fans think, "Ah, one day. One day we'll have a league full of these types in their prime".
James Flynn
22   Posted 16/03/2011 at 17:20:18

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Roman (18). Yes, too bad about Toronto, one of the best sports towns in N. America. Beautiful city, too. I've been there a couple of times visiting.

You guys (like every other MLS team) need to find or sign a top goal scorer. The goal scorers make the highlight reel on sports shows and create the interest. On the other hand, what great supporters the team has. Like I said, one of the great sports towns on the continent.

Regarding your currently poorly run franchises, look at the bright side. When the Wilsons move the Buffalo Bills there, you'll have added another shitily-run franchise to the Toronto sports panorama. Ha!
Martin Mason
23   Posted 16/03/2011 at 17:32:59

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It's great to be an evertonian of a certain age, to have seen a WC group in the best ground in the country; to have seen the real Pele and our own wonderful white Pele, Georgie Best in his Prime, Bobby charlton and the wonderful Leeds team of the late 60's but most of all Alan Ball of the same period. What wonderful players all of them. George Best was the best UK player but he was as good on his day as anybody on the planet who has ever been and he broke our hearts many times. Bally was the most wonderful running-short passing player I've ever seen and possibly the most underrated player ever. Being a Blue then was very special, especially so for descendents like a lot of us lads that had moved out to growing new towns South of Manchester in the vipers nests of City and United supporters.

I can't add to the list that went to the USA because they were normally at an age where they were soon forgotten.

I don't rate Pele as the greatest personally but Maradona. Lional Messi is probably as good as either given his day and age when it is so much harder to shine. His skill is sublime. Johny Giles was also an exquisite player who like other greats such as Ray wilson and Bobby Moore just always found space and movement. Like every player in that great Leeds side though Giles was a dirty bastard when it came to it, it was institutionalised.
James Flynn
24   Posted 16/03/2011 at 17:28:16

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To the Pele responders - Thanks. The one player I wish I saw in his prime. Over all the rest; Pele. Although, I'll have to YouTube search George Best now. He looks worth it, from your remembrances.

Pele was clearly past it when he came here. mainly just jogged around the field, making some fantastic passes, but only the occasional attack of goal. But you could see it. The hand of God had touched this man.

Plus (If you'll forgive the walk down memory lane. I envy you all your memories of the game. NASL is as far back as we go over here), the complete and utter pandemonium that surrounded the Cosmos. They were treated like rock stars everywhere they went. I'll always remember Beckenbauer saying (and still does when asked) he got to live in a beautiful suburb with his family. Made a nice buck, played the game he loved in front of packed houses and on a good team. then go to the mall with his kids and no one would recognize him. So he got to do what he loved beyond the years he thought he would AND lived a normal lifestyle while doing so.

Sorry, wish I had your memories, but that's as far back as an American fan can go. When my grandkids are they age of the oldest ToffeeWebber, they'll be able to talk of the "Old" MLS stars just as you all can about the English game now.

One day.
James Flynn
25   Posted 16/03/2011 at 17:49:27

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On the incomplete list - Yes, I stopped after realizing just how long the list was. Appreciate all the responses though and reading the great memories so many of you have.

James Flynn
26   Posted 16/03/2011 at 21:49:34

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Dave Wilson ? Who was the Belfast Boy?
Jamie Sweet
27   Posted 17/03/2011 at 03:26:09

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Youri Djorkaeff, the most over-rated footballer ever. In my opinion. Just a personal thing.

Peter Beardsley played in an Everton team where it was embarrassing how much better he was than everyone else!

Richard Gough is a legend purely because, on a hunch, I stuck a fiver on him to score against Southampton I think it was... and he did (his only goal for the Blues?!)
Gary Hughes
28   Posted 18/03/2011 at 01:09:16

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The best I ever watched was Maradona but unfortunately I wasn't yet born to see the finest thing to have ever happened on a football pitch which has to be Pele's dummy on the Uruguay keeper in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. He might have missed but no one in their right mind would ever of even thought of attempting it.

The mark of a true genius is originality. Everyone remembers Beckham's halfway line goal but would he have even thought of trying it if Pele had not missed with the same effort 25 tears before?

Dave Wilson
29   Posted 19/03/2011 at 05:47:15

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Sorry James

Didn't see your post.

The Belfast boy was George Best, the name stems from a truly awful song about him.
James Flynn
30   Posted 21/03/2011 at 01:44:21

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Thanks Dave. I've been YouTubing him. What a player!

And good to see you back here trading blows.

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