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There's a lot of magic to be found in 450 matches worth of NASL video

Over 20 years Dave Brett Wasser has collected over 450 match videotapes from the original NASL and converted to DVD. Among those are some Sounders classics.

Among the Sounders offerings is their visit to Vancouver for the 1983 opening of BC Place
Among the Sounders offerings is their visit to Vancouver for the 1983 opening of BC Place

There's the underlying beat of disco and the images are grainy, but you get the picture. And that's the bottom line. You're watching America's soccer heritage unfold in living color.

While it's definitely not HiDef, videotapes from NASL broadcasts during the 1970s and early-80s are in many ways more telling than any prose. If pictures are worth a thousand words, actual match footage is the closest anyone will get to a time machine.

Dave Brett Wasser has spent 20-plus years unearthing these forgotten volumes and now has amassed and converted to DVD more than 450 matches from the days when Sounders, Whitecaps and Timbers first roamed the turf.

It's the most comprehensive collection of vintage soccer Americana anywhere. For a nominal fee ($12 per game; $10 each for five or more) Wasser has distributed worldwide copies of games featuring countless combinations, from the original, star-laden Cosmos to the short-lived, enigmatic Las Vegas Quicksilvers.

"It's people who, like myself, grew up watching NASL games. It's younger people curious about those times. It's people from overseas," says Wasser. "And I've provided a ton of footage to ESPN and European stations."

Sounders Legends' Most Wanted

For Sounders assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, he would love to revisit his professional debut. A month shy of his 19th birthday he came on for Seattle in a Trans-Atlantic Challenge Cup match versus Celtic. "My brief cameo; I maybe got three touches," quips Schmetzer.

He also longs to see the likes of Sounders Tommy Hutchison running down the wings, of Bruce Rioch defending to the teeth, and of Pepe Fernandez in his prime.

Former coach Alan Hinton and midfield maestro Alan Hudson crave a second look at the 1980 quarterfinal playoff. The second leg of Seattle's series against Los Angeles represented the best of times and the worst.

"It was a brilliant performance from the team," judges Hinton. "We won 4-nothing, annihilated them before 35,000 fans, and under world rules we would've gone through (on aggregate; in fact, they were eliminated in a shootout). For me that was the top performance."

Interspersed amongst the hundreds of hours of action are some real jewels, many of which have been uploaded to YouTube by Wasser's customers. There's the Johan Cruyff dissection of the Sounders at the Rose Bowl in 1979. The heralded Cosmos debut of Pele´on Randall's IslandGeorge Best making a mockery of the Fort Lauderdale defense for his last, best goal in 1981.

There was no shortage of stars or showmanship in the NASL. Devoted British fans find the flamboyant game productions intriguing; with cheerleaders, mascots, exploding scoreboards and artificial turf in modern stadia, it was unlike anything in Europe.


While a youth in New York, Wasser was a Cosmos fan who only occasionally found himself a ride out of the city to the Meadowlands. Instead he followed the exploits of Pele´, Beckenbauer and Chinaglia courtesy of WOR, Channel 9. His attraction ebbed with the league's demise in 1984. But about 10 years later, as the World Cup was approaching our shores, his interest re-ignited.

Nostalgic, he wondered if anyone had kept copies of those NASL classics. So he began scouring the nation, ringing up players, coaches, staffers and broadcasters. In ones and twos and sometimes bunches, copies were scattered in basements and garages across the country, some in good shape, some ruined by exposure to heat and moisture.

Many of the tapes had been created not on consumer-friendly VHS but a virtually-defunct format: U-matic. It was three-quarters inch and cassettes were limited to 60 minutes. That meant most games consisted of two tapes, maybe three if overtime and a shootout were involved. He found an old U-matic machine on eBay, created a web site and a cottage industry was born.

The oldest complete game tape in Wasser's NASL collection is the 1973 league final featuring Philadelphia and Dallas. He drove from his Austin home to Waco to retrieve one cassette from the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Wasser can't recall where he located the second half.

Unearthing footage is akin to finding an artifact in your backyard; there's a rush of excitement and an urge to look for more treasure.

"I was hoping to find around 20 games, and I wound up with 450," says Wasser, who acquired many games via trades. "So I'm really amazed." In all, he's collected over 2,000 titles, including team and league highlight packages, and U.S. national team matches for both men and women.

Quest for the Grail

If there's a Holy Grail-like quest for Wasser, it's finding a USMNT epic from 1980, when the Yanks ended 46 years of frustration versus Mexico, beating El Tri 2-1 in Fort Lauderdale. That match was televised back to Mexico and an archive exists. However, Wasser has been unsuccessful in prying it from a Televisa storeroom.

Also under lock and key is the complete Cosmos video library (although Wasser already has dozens). For decades the former owner virtually held the videos for ransom. According to Wasser, the new regime first wants to restore and digitize the inventory. Meanwhile, he waits.

Sounders fans will find lots to choose from. Not only are Schmetzer and Hinton's top picks available, so are some classics, such as:

  • Pele´'s nationally televised visit to Memorial Stadium in 1975
  • Soccer Bowl '77 vs. the Cosmos in Portland
  • Rout of LA when both Hinton & Rinus Michels were ejected
  • T-A Cup-clinching draw at Cosmos in ‘81
  • Sensational, season-saving extra time '82 playoff win at Ft. Lauderdale

Seattle's Best Pictures

The latter is one of three Sounders matches making Wassers' NASL All-Time Top 10. Others are the improbable late comeback of the '77 first leg playoff at Minnesota ("One of the wackiest games I've ever seen," claims Wasser) and the extra time postseason loss to Portland in '75, more so legendary in Timberland.

Seattle, says Wasser, was the only NASL team to air home matches on tape-delayed basis. Games were edited to 60 minutes and shown as part of Sunday doubleheaders with Soccer Made In Germany on KCTS. They were free of commercial interruption. Not so, the other NASL offerings.

Networks and affiliates all made it a practice to break from action for commercials. Often it was during goal kicks and, yes, occasionally they were still on break for goals.

"They needed to make a profit, but that was a huge mistake cutting away," remarks Wasser, who adds that the practice wasn't halted by U.S. broadcasters until 1993.

So much has changed in North American soccer broadcasting in the last generation, not to mention the sheer volume of games available from MLS and the rest of the world. Hot spots for fan interest have flipped. New York and Tampa were once hugely supported but have struggled in MLS. New markets such as Kansas City and Salt Lake, once barren, are thriving.

There is one exception, notes Wasser.

"Seattle is the one city where it was huge then and it's huge now," he says. "It's remarkable MLS didn't put a team there from the start; in fact they neglected the whole Pacific Northwest. It's a real testament to the greatness of the fans out there."

Frank MacDonald is a Seattle soccer journalist and historian. This story first appeared on his website and has been republished here with his permission.

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