It was 38 years ago this week that the greatest soccer player in the world, decided to bring his services to Los Angeles. At the age of 32, a year after retiring and five years after dazzling at the world stage in the 1974 FIFA World Cup, Johan Cruyff decided to come to America.
The North American Soccer League (NASL) had reached it’s greatest heights as a league in the late 1970’s. Thanks in part to the popularity of the New York Cosmos. The Cosmos had put together a super team by signing some of the greatest players in international soccer. Players like Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, and Carlos Alberto all signed with the Cosmos and would regularly play in front 30,000 fans in NFL stadiums throughout the country.
Seeking to emulate the Cosmos’ success other teams followed suit and signed their own international stars, players like Teofilo Cubillas, Gerd Muller, Johan Neeskens and many more all sought riches in the NASL. The Los Angeles Aztecs went out and got George Best for a spell before Bell drank and partied his way off the team.
It was thought that Cruyff would join the juggernaut Cosmos, but his old national team coach Rinus Michaels was coaching in Los Angeles and Cruyff ultimately landed with the Aztecs.
In his one season with Aztecs Cruyff proved a popular draw as the Aztecs went from averging 9,000 fans at games to 14,000 plus, their highest average while in the league. Cruyff scored just minutes into his first game and would take the league by storm.
Cruyff would score 14 goals in 27 games, to go along with 16 assists. At the end of the season Cruyff would be named All-Star first team selection and league player of the year. He took a team that had been fifth the year before all the way to the conference semifinals in the playoffs.
In first round of the playoffs in a game against the Washington Diplomats Cruyff would score the game winning goal in sudden death overtime after carrying the ball 40 yards and shredding the defense. Ironically his performance against the Diplomats was so good it led to his departure from the Aztecs.
After seeing him play, the ownership group for the Diplomats went above and beyond to sign away Cruyff to the tune of 1.5 million dollars for three years. Thus Cruyff’s time in Los Angeles was over, the Aztecs would fold within two years.
Though all too brief it is no doubt that for one bright shining season the greatest player in the world played in Los Angeles.