Money was plentiful, opportunities rife for both established footballers and journeymen alike. Goliaths such as Pele, Johan Cruyff and George Best were spirited away to act as high priests with a mission to convert the philistines, while the likes of Alan Brazil and Rodney Marsh were tempted by a few dollars more. But by the time the North American Soccer League collapsed in 1983, the novelty had worn off. The cash, and enthusiasm, had simply run out.
It took a decade, spurred by the awarding of the 1994 World Cup to the USA, to bring a new professional league in the shape of Major League Soccer. But nearly 20 years on, NASL has itself been reborn, reviving treasured brands like the New York Cosmos and Tampa Bay Rowdies in its quest to become a complement and a rival to the MLS.
The Big Apple apart, it has shied away from direct competition from its competitor, choosing diverse cities such as Atlanta, Edmonton and Cary (in North Carolina) for expansion. There is room, insists its Commissioner Bill Peterson, for two leagues in a two-country market spanning 350m people. MLS will grow to 20 teams in 2015 with the arrival of the aptly-named New York City, a joint venture between the Yankees and Manchester City. With great swathes of unexplored territory, NASL will look for gaps to exploit with a different approach.
The Cosmos, Peterson admits, are the jewel in the crown. The rejuvenated club has Pele has its president, Eric Cantona as general manager, and nostalgia as its asset. Its owners, who have utilised former Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry as an advisor, had set their sights on joining MLS but were boxed out.
Now they have entered NASL, officially designated as the Championship to MLS's Premiership. Bringing them on board, reviving their green jersey and fabled logo, has been a boon for the upstart. "I don't think there's a day goes by where I don't meet someone who attended a Cosmos game or their father took them to a game or that was their favourite team," Peterson declares.
"You start off with great awareness. That's not a normal starter situation. But at the same time, you have to understand that although that's a benefit, they still have to find a way to build their own brand and find a way to continue that legacy."
The executive, based at league headquarters in Miami, has past form in attempting to reach into new territories. He was once president of NFL Europe and a regular visitor to the offices of the Scottish Claymores where he would deliver team talks to staff attempting to convince a sceptical public of the value of touchdowns and field goals. "I look back at my last couple of years there and it felt like we really had clubs who were starting to see some traction," Peterson says. But, "it was difficult for people in New York [at NFL HQ] to understand that it takes time to build a league like that in Europe. And at some point they lost their appetite for it."
He thinks NASL's investors will remain steadfast, despite criticism of the league's format - borrowed from the early days of NFL Europe - that means a split season: one part in spring, the other in autumn, with the winners of each playing off for the title in the end-of-year Soccer Bowl. "What that creates is that every week you have a situation where it's vital you win a game." Others contend that dividing the campaign in two robs it of traction.
There are plans for a rethink. The American way is that the customer is king. "The No.1 lesson in professional sport is that every decision needs to be about the fan," he says. "We're here to provide entertainment and a sporting product to the people of our communities. So for us to reach out to those fans, we need to put exciting games on the field every week."
Regardless, this remains a boom time for soccer across the Pond. MLS may yet expand in tandem with Brand Beckham. This weekend, broadcaster NBC began its coverage of the Premier League with a pledge to screen every game live. And with two national competitions out to win hearts and minds, there is optimism football can disrupt the oligopoly of gridiron, basketball and baseball.
Peterson is among the evangelists. "I'd say that within a decade, it could be the No.1 sport in our country in all of the different measurements used. This is a sport that already has very deep roots because of the huge participation. Now what you have are third-generation families who didn't play baseball, who didn't play football. They're following the English Premier League and other leagues around the world. When you combine those audiences, soccer's really strong. The numbers are massive. This sport is going places."