Johan Cruyff Brought His Magic To The US In The 1970s

The legend played for two NASL teams between 1979 and 1981, scored many goals, and helped spark the United States’ fascination with soccer.

Gone is Johan Cruyff, the player who revolutionized soccer in the early 70s. Cruyff epitomized the famed Total Soccer philosophy, but failed to win the 1974 World Cup, the only one he played in.

Cruyff as a player won three Ballon d’Or before retiring from international soccer in 1977, the year before the Netherlands played again in a final of a World Cup. Unfortunately Argentina ‘78 ended up just like West Germany ‘74. The Netherlands could not beat hosts Argentina in the final, and were again runners up.

Much has been speculated about the reasons why Cruyff was not in the 1978 World Cup. However, it seems that the main reason was the safety of his family.

Cruyff confessed that he and his family had suffered an attempted kidnapping in Barcelona. They were in shock, so he decided to quit European football and the Dutch national team and went to the USA. There, Cruyff seeked safety and a new environment in which football stars were welcome to build up this sport.

Cruyff signed with the Los Angeles Aztecs of the North American Soccer League for a reported $1.4 million over two years after turning down, so it was said, a $5 million offer from the New York Cosmos, where he played two exhibitions games.

 

"I wanted to try to build up soccer where it wasn't popular," he explained. "Besides, the weather is warmer in L.A." Because the Cosmos owned the rights to Cruyff, they demanded $600,000 to let the Aztecs signed him.

Rinus Michels, another Dutchman like Cruyff and his former coach, was then the Aztecs manager.

Whatever made him come stateside, his impact on the sport in this country was significant. The Aztecs' attendance increased 24 percent since Cruyff joined, and his teammates' both liked and respected him. "No one can read a game better or make the right move in the right situation," said Aztec coach Rinus Michels.

His debut was on May 23, 1979, scoring two goals in a 3-0 Aztecs win. Throughout the season, Cruyff scored 13 goals in 23 games.

At age 32, Cruyff helped soccer gain a toehold in the United States and won league MVP honors in his one season in Southern California.

He then moved to the Washington Diplomats for the 1980 season. He scored 10 goals that year and was included in the All-Star NASL Team.

In 1981 Cruyff went to the Spanish second division to play with Levante UD. He arrived in March and scored two goals in 10 games. Later, he returned to Washington to play five games and scored a couple of goals too.

The Washington Diplomats disappeared after the 1981 season. Cruyff's career seemed to be coming to an end, but surprisingly Ajax Amsterdam signed him again despite the fact he was 34 years old. During his two seasons at his boyhood club he managed to win the league twice, plus a Dutch Cup.

On the whole, Cruyff adapted to the US smoothly, even developing a taste for hot dogs. "People stand in lines quietly here," Johan said admiringly. "They say, 'Have a good day.'" In Spain, the Cruyffs bought two Dobermans for security because they were concerned about kidnap threats and political violence. "At least, here you can go out to the supermarket or to the beach with your wife and kids."

In the US, Johan Cruyff found the family peace he sought and alongside Pele, Teofilo Cubillas, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Hugo Sanchez, Javier Aguirre and Gerd Muller, among others, formed the legion of great players who built up soccer in a country that since 1990 has been present at each World Cup, and now has two professional soccer leagues.

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