In its 13th year, the North American Soccer League remains un-American.
Although the NASL has a rule which states at least two North Americans (U.S. or Canadian citizens) must be on the field at all times, the league still is dominated by European stars.
Of the approximately 560 players in the NASL, only about 180 players are North American. Of that total, 150 are U.S. players.
But there is another catch that keeps native-born American of the lineup.
Some NASL terms circumvent the minimum North American player rule by using foreign players who have become U.S. citizens. Giorgio Chinaglia, Cosmos forward and 1978 league MVP, is an example. He received his U.S. citizenship last year.
Despite some improved showings in international competition and general upgrading in the performances of North Americans in the NASL, coaches, league officials and players agree it will take five to 10 years before Americans can even think about competing equally with foreigners.
"I've been in soccer 10 years now and people have been saying for 10 years, wait until these kids get older, they'll be great," said Terry Hanson, director of operations for the Atlanta Chiefs. "Well, we're still waiting and nothing has happened. The good 7-8-9-year-olds turn to other sports when they get to high shcool and college.
"Inferior coaching, no interest or support from the schools or no facilities all have hampered the progress of soccer in this country. Kid want to chase by the cheerleaders. Right now, the football and basketball players get all the attention.
"We've come a long way but it'll take at least five to 10 years before we're on par with the foreign players. But this country doesn't like to be second in anything or to anyone, so eventually we'll begin to concentrate on developing out skilled players."
In the last five years, some North Americans have left the bench and made names for themselves on the field.
In its attempt to Americanize the sport, the NASL INSTITUTED THE MINIMUM NUMBER OF NORTH AMERICANS (TWO) THAT MUST BE ON THE FIELD AT ALL TIMES. NEXT SEASON, THE MINIMUM WILL BE THREE.
NORTH AMERICANS HAVE IMPROVED TO THE POINT THAT SEVERAL HAVE BEEN NAMED TO THE NASL all-league team, not for sympathetic or token reasons, but because they were good enough.
"We've improved but not as much as expected," said U.S. National team Coach Walt Chyzowych. "But at least, now, we're finally beginning to look up to some American players."
NASL teams have used different avenues to develop American heroes.
Dallas built up Kyle Rote Jr., the son of the famous New York Giant back-receiver, even though forward Rote is not considered a genuine soccer superstar. Rote, nevertheless, became the league's first American household name. He was the first rookie and American to lead the NASL in scoring, with 30 point in 1973.
Rote greatly enhanced his image by winning the American Superstars competition (ABC-TV) three times.
"Yes, he was good for the game," said Willy Roy, coach of the Chicago Sting and one of the first Americans to play in the NASL. "But who do you compare him with?"
"He's average, but he's done more for American players than anyone else in the league," said one player. "And that's important. We need a couple more Kyle Rotes."
Some teams have tried to play American-oriented lineups, only to meet disastrous results. Dallas, using Rote, went that route. The experiment ended this season when Al Miller, one of three American coaches in the NASL, decided to bring in more foreign players and win a few more games.
"Dallas tried, as did a few other clubs, but you can't rush it," Hanson said."We still have to bring in foreign stars to keep the NASL level of play up. Anyone who thinks we can totally Americanize the game right now is sadly mistaken."
The financially stable Cosmos are the only team in the NASL that can afford to sign the potentially great American players and develop them.
Forward Gray Etherington, the NASL rookie of the year in 1978; midfielder RicklyDavis, and goalie David Brcic are among the top American players in the NASL biding their time playing behind such stars as Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer and Erol Yasin.
"We expect our American players to be dominant in a few years," said Nesuhi Ertegun, the Cosmos's chairman of the board. "We not only try to get the best foreign players in the world but the best young Americans, too. They are an integral part of our team.
"Our business is to develop soccer in this country. And at the same time, we want to develop our young players. We want them to be skilled enough to be competitive in the 1984 Olympics."
The continuing influx of foreign stars has kept the Etheringtons, Bobby Stetlers (Washington goalie), and Brcics on the bench for the most part. The other NASL teams, trying to stay competitive with the Cosmos, have had to junk their develop-Americans-now philosophy in favor of foreign players.
Many American players feel they are not being treated fairly and should be playing.
"It bothers me that the Cosmos are still bringing in new (foreign) players," said Etherington, who said so emphatically. "I think I should be playing. If not here, then somewhere else."
"We've been brainwashed into believing we can't compete with the foreign players," Diplomat defender Robert Iarusci said. "Their skill level is better but a lot of it is confidence. Foreign players feel they're superior and play better. Some of us are still awed by the Beckenbauers and Chinaglias
"Even our coaches, unconsciously, downplay our ability. We've got (American) players that are as good as the foreign players in the league right now. Every team has one or two excellent American players. Next year when the league minimum for American players goes up, the play won't suffer."
Other excellent North American players include Dallas' Glenn Myernick and Steve Pecher, Tampa Bay's Wes McLeod, Vancouver's Bob Lenarduzzi, Atlanta's Greg Makowski and Seattle's Jim McAlister.
All of these players were developed in the vastly improved college programs. Many have retained their amateur status so they can compete for the U.S. National team.
Washington defender Don Droege, a member of the U.S. team that was soundly whipped by the French, 6-0, recently, said "Very few NASL teams could have beaten them (the French).
"They were a good team. That score wasn't indicative of how bad American players are by any means. We're getting much better as time goes on, or at least I'd like to think we are.
"The foreign players just do everything quicker. That's the big difference. They know exactly what they're going to do with the ball before they touch it. They're very fluent in their skills. We need set plays, where the foreign players do things naturally."
Hanson, a former college soccer coach, said American players must remain patient.
"Yes, I'm prejudiced toward American players, but I'm also a realist," he said. "Our skill level has to improve and that'll only come in time. We can run all day and get in perfect condition but we have to learn the subtle things, like reading the game and reacting to situations.
"While everyone wants soccer to be an accepted American sport, we must be patient. Right now, the league teams, including Atlanta, want the very best team on the field."
Chicago's Roy, who came to the United States from Germany at age 11, said, "The U.S. players are getting better but the league should not force Americans in the games." "Some years, you might not have five or six that should start. Other years you might not have but one.
"I start three because they are the best I have at their positions. I totally disagree with that minimum stuff. Our issue is to improve the sport in this country and right now we have to use foreign players to do that."