New York's Uruguayan Soccer Connection

Uruguay Fans i i
Roberto Candia/AP
Uruguay Fans
Roberto Candia/AP

Why Uruguay?  Obviously because I’m a New Yorker.  And as every (ok about 12) New Yorkers remember, in 1967 a Uruguayan team named Cerro was assigned to play in the United Soccer Association as a team called The New York Skyliners.

Some background is in order.  In 1967 Jack Kent Cooke and some other rich fellows desperate to throw their money away on the dream of  a soccer league in the U.S.  decided to form the United Soccer Association, to be called U.S.A.

I guess they figured they’d get a lot of Google hits when people looking for information on the GREATEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD! Instead they happened upon the least-well-thought-out sports league in the world and said to themselves, “Hey, that’s good enough!”

But the U.S.A. (the league not the country) soon got wind that a rival league was about to plop onto the U.S.A (the country not the league) so they fast-tracked their plans by importing entire teams from abroad.  Stoke City of England became the Cleveland Stokers, The Los Angeles Wolves were the artists formerly known as Wolverhampton, The San Francisco Golden Gate Gales were comprised of ADO Den Haag, but chose to use that teams awesome logo or name.

New York City was assigned Cerro, a Uruguayan club even though New York had a sizable immigrant population from just about every country except Uruguay.  But New Yorkers were assumed to be so soccer crazed that they’d show up to see anyone.

In their opening game, The Skyliners played in Yankee stadium before a crowd announced as 21, 871, “perhaps more wishfully than factually” as the New York Times put it.  The Times also noted that 7,500 high school students attended for free.

The Uruguayans, sorry, the New York Skyliners, proceeded to go winless in their first seven games, and came to believe they were dishonoring Madison Square Garden, their corporate sponsors.  40 years later no such compunction was reported among players of the New York Knicks, a  team that was also apparently imported whole hog from the Uruguay club ranks.

Also adding to the feelings of player isolation was the fact that their home country was experiencing a months-long mail strike, thus making communication with family members difficult.  The team finished the 12 game season with only 2 wins, undone, perhaps uniquely among professional sports teams by homesickness, the Times reported.  Adding to the team’s feelings of sequestration was the fact that crowds had dwindled to the low quadruple digits, barely registering in the cavernous spaces of Cleveland’s Municipal stadium, and the Houston Astrodome.

The USA (the league not the country) merged with that rival league they had feared, thus forming the NASL, thus finding a way to more slowly bleed their owners money until the 1984 when the league folded.

The lesson of the NASL convinced some that in America, professional soccer, much like Spanish striker Fernando Torres (in this World Cup) would never find its footing. But the MLS shows that a home grown league can, like Dutch midfielder Wesley Benjamin Sneijder make head way in the USA (the country not the league).

As for the Skyliners, they went back to Uruguay, where, as Cerro their fortunes reversed and they were relegated to the second division.  But a scan of their roster does show a connection to the current Uruguay world cup darlings.  Cerro, sorry the Skyliners, featured a player named Luis Suarez,  though there’s no indication that particular  Luis Suarez ever deputized himself emergency keeper and saved the Skyliners season.

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