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7 Football Legends Who Played in the NASL

The North American Soccer League (NASL) may have been short-lived, but it boasted an impressive roster of football legends who graced its pitches during its heyday.

A Brief Review of the NASL

It was absolutely ostentatious for the time.

But pretty tame by today’s standards.

I suppose we have Saudi Arabia’s silly spending to thank for that – as we’ve covered with the most in-demand shirts you can buy in the Saudi Pro League – but back then, it was unheard of to just scout the football league and hoover up the biggest names to drive the growth of your competition’s brand.

From iconic goalkeepers to prolific strikers, these players brought their talent and charisma to the burgeoning soccer scene in the United States and Canada. To varying degrees of success.

In this article, we’ll celebrate seven football legends who left an indelible mark on the NASL, captivating fans with their skill, passion, and star power. So, in no particular order, let’s go with the biggest name…

Pelé at New York Cosmos

Arguably the greatest footballer of all time, Pelé electrified the NASL when he joined the New York Cosmos in 1975. And it shocked pretty much everybody.

Despite being in the twilight of his career, Pelé’s arrival in the United States was a watershed moment for soccer in North America. The Brazilian maestro dazzled fans with his skill, vision, and goal-scoring prowess, helping to elevate the profile of the NASL and inspire a new generation of players and fans.

His New York Cosmos shirt sold for eye-watering amounts at auctions following the great Brazilian’s death at the end of 2022 (it’s also still available for purchase today), and I’m sure he would’ve been glad to see the re-rise of ‘soccer’ in the United States before he finally did say goodbye to us all.

Johan Cruyff at LA Aztecs / Washington Diplomats

Just so you know, I think this guy is the real GOAT.

Dutch footballing legend Johan Cruyff made a brief but memorable stint in the NASL, suiting up for the Los Angeles Aztecs and the Washington Diplomats in the late 1970s.

Known for his elegant style of play and unparalleled footballing intelligence, Cruyff brought a touch of class to the NASL, mesmerizing fans with his sublime skill and creativity on the ball.

His time in the league may have been short-lived, but his impact was lasting, helping to raise the standard of play and attract attention to the burgeoning soccer scene in the United States.

He ended up returning to Europe and winning trophies, so a win is a win.

Franz Beckenbauer at New York Cosmos

The late, great German football icon Franz Beckenbauer, affectionately known as “Der Kaiser,” joined the New York Cosmos in 1977 and became a central figure in the club’s golden era.

As both a player and a coach, Beckenbauer brought a wealth of experience and leadership to the Cosmos, guiding them to multiple NASL championships and cementing his status as one of the league’s greatest ever players.

Most certainly their greatest ever centre-back, at least!

George Best at LA Aztecs

Northern Irish winger George Best, often referred to as the “fifth Beatle” for his rock-star lifestyle and flamboyant playing style, graced the NASL with his presence in the late 1970s.

Best showcased his dazzling dribbling skills and instinctive goal-scoring ability while playing for the Los Angeles Aztecs, captivating fans with his charisma and swagger both on and off the field.

It was the perfect match for where George Best was at that time in his career and for what American soccer was trying to become. 15 goals in 24 games in his first season wasn’t a bad return!

Arguably the most naturally skilful player ever to have graced the broken turf of NASL soccer.

Gerd Müller at Fort Lauderdale Strikers

German striker Gerd Müller, renowned for his clinical finishing and predatory instincts in front of goal, made a brief but memorable appearance in the NASL with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

Müller’s lethal scoring touch earned him the nickname “Der Bomber,” and he continued to find the back of the net with ease during his time in North America, leaving a lasting impression on fans and opponents alike.

I’m sure he inspired much of the generation that would propel American soccer into the eyes of ‘legitimacy’ as they returned to the game with the MLS almost two decades later.

Giorgio Chinaglia at New York Cosmos

Italian striker Giorgio Chinaglia etched his name into NASL folklore during his time with the New York Cosmos in the 1970s and 1980s.

A prolific goal scorer with a fiery temperament, Chinaglia formed a formidable partnership with Pelé and led the Cosmos to multiple NASL championships. His passion, determination, and knack for finding the back of the net made him a beloved figure among Cosmos fans and a legend of the NASL era.

Oh, and speaking of ‘beloved’ figures in New York…

Carlos Alberto at New York Cosmos

Brazilian defender Carlos Alberto Torres, best known for his iconic goal in the 1970 World Cup final, also enjoyed success in the NASL with the New York Cosmos.

In the same side as compatriot Pelé and ex-foe Beckenbauer.

As captain of the Cosmos, Alberto brought leadership, skill, and a winning mentality to the team, helping them to achieve unprecedented success in the league. His powerful presence on the field and his ability to inspire those around him made him a true legend of the NASL era.

He’s still talked about today as the greatest defender in the history of American soccer


The NASL may have been a bit of a ‘flash in the pan’ experiment, but it left an indelible mark on the soccer landscape in North America.

Which simply wouldn’t have happened without the arrival and influence of these players.

Oh, and money. They were paid quite a bit of money. Forming a largely unsustainable business model which basically began and ended with Pele. But still, it must have been a very fun time!

Who is your favourite ever NASL legend?