Immigrants have played a crucial role in the history of American Soccer. If there was a water mark where the imprint of the game became more American, it was 1973 and the Philadelphia Atoms.
The Atoms were an expansion club in the North American Soccer League (NASL). The previous season the New York Cosmos, a team in its 2nd year, won the Championship. That Cosmos side featured one native born and 2 naturalized Americans in a limited capicity.
Conversely, the Atoms roster had 11 Americans of whom 7 participated in over half their games. Of those, four would represent the US National Team during 1973 World Cup qualifying - Bob Rigby, Bobby Smith, George O'Neill and Barry Barto.
1973 NASL CHAMPIONS
Playing their home matches in Veterans Stadium, they were coached by Pennsylvania native, Al Miller. Miller built the squad around American players, most notably his Goalkeeper Bob Rigby, who played under him at East Stroudsberg State.
Miller would be named the U.S. National Team coach in 1975. However, he would face a tug-of-war with the NASL clubs and the international schedule.
Contrary to popular belief, the excitement of the NASL and its rising stars came before the arrival of Pele' to the Cosmos.
This was evidenced by the September 3rd 1973 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED cover. (see below)
Bob Rigby - SI cover boy.
The Atoms finished with a 9-2-8 record and progressed through the NASL Play-off rounds where they defeated Toronto. In the NASL Final, dubbed The Soccer Bowl, they shut out Dallas to win the title.
1973 NASL Championship ring.
The reborn North American Soccer League will play its Soccer Bowl Final in November at Atlanta. While there are several Americans in the new league, none are internationals representing the USA.
The Philadelphia Atoms were one of the possible names for the MLS's expansion club Philadelphia Union. The 1973 Atoms provided the most US National players from a Philadelphia club since Walter Bahr and Ed McIllvenny of the Philadelphia Nationals appeared in the 1950 World Cup.
Walter Bahr's sons - Casey Bahr and Chris Bahr also played for the Atoms in the early 1970's before they became NFL place kickers.