North American Soccer League season the clubs and officials knew the end was near by the end of the 1984. With the death of NASL chief executive Howard Samuels, Toronto Blizzards chairman Clive Toye was pressed into service as interim league president. His job was simple, to save the league from its impending collapse.
Clive Toye was no stranger to the problems facing the NASL. He had been a part of the league since its beginnings in 1967. In fact it was Toye, as Cosmos manager, who signed the likes of Pele and Beckenbauer, inciting the American soccer boom of the mid 1970’s.
A short stay with the Chicago Sting saw him move to the Toronto Blizzard, struggling to stabilize the faltering and poorly supported franchise. Toye led the Blizzard to appearances in the last two NASL Championships, but he never figured out how to boost attendance in Toronto. Now he faced the task of reviving the dying NASL.
Toye acted with a belief that the best was still possible. When he took over the Blizzard, the city of Toronto had a reputation as a city that enthusiastically supported their professional sports teams regardless of their record… except for the Blizzard.
Shortly after joining the franchise, Toye predicted gates of 20-30,000 Blizzard supporters at the old Toronto Exposition Center, cheering on one of the NASL’s elite clubs. “There is no question whatsoever in my mind that Toronto should be and could be, one of the best — if not the best — franchises in the North American Soccer League.”
Toye’s unabashed optimism was met by falling attendances no matter how well his side performed on the field.
By the middle of the 1984 season, even Toye saw the Toronto situation for what it was. “in the past three years we have removed the reasons always given to us by the fans as an excuse as to why they’re not supporting us. People said all winter that they will be behind us now that we have done all those things. They didn’t keep their promise and I feel somewhat let down.” By any estimation, Toye’s time with Toronto was a failure.
On September 12, 1984, Toye submitted a 46 page plan on how to save the league. Toye proposed a six team league for 1985, with gradual expansion over the next decade. He also advocated a sixteen game season with a cup tournament between the NASL and Mexican club sides. The plan had support among the remaining league officials, with the Cosmos, Blizzard, Minnesota Strikers, and the Vancouver Whitecaps pledging their clubs to a 1985 season. The owners also named Toye interim Chief Executive and President of the NASL.
With four teams in place, Toye attempted a merger between Golden Bay and San Diego, and hoped that one of the Major Indoor Soccer League franchises (St. Louis or Baltimore) would choose to play outdoors in the NASL. Toye’s plan was “to bring together the remaining clubs in the NASL along with those who share our philosophies to form a valid, common-sense league.”
By early March, only Toronto and Minnesota would still be solvent, with new ownership trying to rekindle the Tulsa Roughnecks, with San Diego and champions Chicago Sting leaving for the MISL.
With only two sides there would be no 1985 season, yet Toye was predictably optimistic.
“I found in the last 90 days a strong, positive attitude from a number of people in a number of cities, but the problems of the past combined with an extreme shortage of time made it impossible to bring in new members in 1985. It is this positive attitude, however, that makes me believe that professional soccer can be reorganized and restructured and that a good pro league will be in operation for the 1986 season.”
It would be 12 years before another fully professional first division match would be played in the United States.