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Time for Toronto and Edmonton to honour NASL champs of the past

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Earlier this week, the Vancouver Whitecaps named Carl Valentine, a member of Canada’s 1986 World Cup squad, as the club’s official ambassador.

Valentine was a member of the 1979 Whitecaps squad that won the NASL Soccer Bowl, defeating the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Giants Stadium, just a week after Vancouver stunned the heavily favoured New York Cosmos in the semifinal.

“Valentine, at 21, the kind of young recruit NASL teams should be looking for—rather than the big-name, passe players they are forever signing—was continually showing thrust and speed,” wrote Sports Illustrated’s Clive Gammon about Valentine’s performance in the Soccer Bowl.

As well, you can’t miss the fact that, on the Whitecaps website, right beside the logo, reads a simple statement: “Since 1974.” This a team that was forged in the NASL, and doesn’t talk about the league in embarrassed hushes.

In September of 2009, before a game with Toronto FC, the Chicago Fire honoured the 25th anniversary of the Sting’s NASL Soccer Bowl title. The Sting beat the Blizzard in the final, so the Fire thought it was apt to mark the game before a modern-day Toronto-Chicago game.

So, if it’s OK for the Whitecaps to beat their breasts about their glorious NASL past — and it’s OK for the Fire to pay respects to the Chicago Sting — shouldn’t more clubs be following those leads?

Understood, with a new version of New York Cosmos on the way, the Red Bulls aren’t going to have a “Remember Pele” night any time soon.

But, if Toronto FC was to secure permission to use the name and logo, would it not be fitting for the club to honour the city’s NASL past? The Reds are starved for any kind of decent PR, so wouldn’t it be fitting for the club to have a day to mark Toronto Metros-Croatia’s 1976 Soccer Bowl win? Maybe even a pennant that flies permanently at BMO Field?

Or, in a world where alternate retro jerseys are hip, would it not be something if the Reds were to play just one game a year in Blizzard colours? The NFL sees no problem with the New York Jets wearing the old blue-and-yellow uniforms of the AFL’s New York Titans, so why wouldn’t MLS turn away such an obvious marketing opportunity?

Heck, you could have Vancouver face Toronto, with both teams wearing the strips from their NASL godparents of the ’70s — minus the short shorts. Bring out old Blizzard standbys, such as the South African striker Jomo Sono, for the coin-toss. Have Trevor Whymark, who starred for the Caps in the Soccer Bowl season, also on hand.

But, while Vancouver celebrates the NASL, in Toronto the thought that the Metros-Croatia/Blizzard existed decades ago is a secret, to be forever guarded.

Toronto isn’t the only team that could benefit from embracing the retro.

FC Edmonton will play in a league that carries the old NASL name. While the “Drillers” name has been used for a number of teams, including the team that battled in the old North American Professional Soccer League, the indoor circuit that had its heyday in the late ‘90s, allowing players to score three-point, two-point or one-point goals, it is still best remembered for the orange-clad crew that played in the NASL, and won the 1981 indoor title.

Once again, wouldn’t FC Edmonton benefit from wearing the orange Drillers kit once a year? Or to bring back a mainstay, such as defender Mike Sweeney, a teammate of Valentine’s on the 1986 Canada squad?

The Montreal Manic didn’t establish enough of an NASL history to be honoured by the Impact. But the Drillers and Metros-Croatia/Blizzard did enough to be remembered by the new clubs that have replaced them. It’s time for Toronto and Edmonton to begin planning — and follow Vancouver’s lead when it comes to honouring the old guard.

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