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After a respectable first season
on the pitch with a 3-3-6 record in
1967 while playing in the United
Soccer Association, 50 years ago
the Detroit Cougars began their
second year of operation in a new
league under new conditions.
The '67 Cougars was the imported
Glentoran FC from Northern Ireland.
The USA was a league of imports with
entire teams brought in from Europe,
Central and South America to represent
North American cities from Boston,
MASS to Vancouver, BC.
The semi-pro Cocks-&-Hens held their
own against far superior foes recruited from places like English First Division
Sunderland and Stoke City and Scotland’s Aberdeen and Dundee United.
However, the Cougars never did match the home opener attendance of
11,629 at University of Detroit Stadium for a 1-Nil win in a rematch vs the
Boston Rovers (South Dublin, Ireland's Shamrock Rovers) on 6/7/1967 that
followed a season opening 1-all tie 5/28/1967 between the two teams at
the Manning Bowl in Lynn, MASS.
The United Soccer Association merged with the National Professional
Soccer League, also founded in 1967, to form the North American Soccer
League for the 1968 campaign to create a 17 team, four division circuit.
The Cougars were placed in the Lakes Division with the Chicago Mustangs,
Cleveland Stokers and Toronto Falcons.
Although entire foreign teams were not imported to represent NASL
clubs, the sides were almost entirely comprised of foreign players,
something which would continue into the 1990s.
The 1968 Cougars included (in no particular order) players from Ghana,
Haiti, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland,
Denmark, Sweden and Germany. The lone "North American" on the squad
was Scottish-born John Kerr, who joined his mother in Toronto, ONT at
age 20 and became a naturalized Canadian citizen.
The mish-mash of different international playing styles proved to be
a disaster for the Cougars. Although the Cougars scored 65 goals while
yielding only 40, the team struggled to a woeful 6-21-4 record. Only the
Dallas Tornado at 2-26-4 were worse.
Cougars' '68 manager Len Julians, a well respected former player who
had scored 24 goals in 58 English First Division matches for the famed
Nottingham Forest team in 1960, grew disgusted with the Cougars and quit
with a few games left on the schedule. Andrej Prean Nagy, a Romanian-born
Hungarian footballer who'd played for the famed FC Bayern Munich club
in Germany in the immediate aftermath of World War II, took over to guide
the Cougars to the finish line.
In spite of declining 1967 attendance, the Cougars split the 1968 home
schedule between U-of-D Stadium and Tiger Stadium, which increased
operating costs. The 1968 average attendance was announced as 4,266,
although crowd counting most often found less than 1,500 watching.
It's no small wonder the franchise folded immediately after the season
finale on 9/23/1968. Among a group of part owners pulling the plug were
William Clay Ford (Detroit Lions owner) and John Fetzer (Detroit Tigers
The Cougars weren't alone. A total of 12 NASL teams ceased operations
after the inaugural 1968 season, reducing the league to a five team circuit.
It wasn't until 1974 that the NASL returned to double digit franchises
with 15 clubs. Detroit rejoined the NASL in 1978 when the Express began
play at the Pontiac Silverdome.
Kerr, the lone "North American" on the '68 Cougars, led the team, by
far, in scoring. The diminutive 5-foot-6, 155-lb, 24-year old rookie midfielder
recorded nine goals and added a pair of assists to tie for 26th-best in NASL
scoring. John Kowalik of Chicago and Cirilo Fernandez of San Diego tied for
the league lead with 30 goals each.
DID YOU KNOW that while the Detroit Cougars did not survive in the
NASL, John Kerr Sr. did?
Kerr joined the Washington Darts in 1969 where he became a first team
NASL All-Star. His best scoring year apart from Detroit was six goals and
six assists in 24 matches for the 1971 Darts.
Kerr moved on to the elite New York Cosmos from 1972--75 where
he also earned All-Star honors and teamed with Brazilian superstar Pele
Kerr returned to Washington in 1976-77 for the NASL Diplomats,
serving as player-assistant coach in his second year back in DC.
Kerr retired from the NASL after the 1977 campaign with 22 goals
and 19 assists in 145 career contests. He also played in 10 matches
for the Canadian National team and appeared for Canada in several
World Cup qualifiers.
Kerr is best known for his post-playing soccer career as a pro union
leader and amateur coach.
As the first executive director of the NASL players association Kerr
led a 1979 strike that increased player salaries. He remained in the
union in a variety of executive positions for more than 20 years.
Back in the DC/Fairfax, VA region, Kerr turned his attention to
youth soccer. Kerr guided Montgomery United Ponies to the North
American championship in the under-16 age group in 1981 and two
years later the team won the McGuire Cup, the national championship
for teams with players under-19. Kerr also coached the Fairfax Spartans
to the National Amateur Cup championship in 1986. Many of Kerr's
players went on to play for major college programs, international clubs
and U.S. national teams.
The Fairfax Spartans grew into the minor pro league Washington Stars
with Kerr as coach in 1987. After struggling for three years and playing
at two different high school stadiums in Fairfax, VA, the team merged into
the Maryland Bays in 1990.
Kerr's son John Jr. played at Duke University where he was a two-time
All-America and won the Hermann Trophy in 1986 as college soccer’s top
player. He played professionally in England and North America. John Kerr Jr.
became head soccer coach at his Duke alma mater in 2008.
After living in Alexandria, VA, Kerr Sr. moved to both Hilton Head, SC
in 2004 and Chapel Hill, NC in 2009 where he continued coaching youth
soccer until his death of heart disease at age 67 on 6/19/2011.
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