Alain Maca made history in 1972 as he was the first very draft choice by a pro team in American soccer history. (Photo courtesy of Alain Maca)
By Michael Lewis
Even before he could walk, Alain Maca was destined to make soccer history in the United States.
When Maca was only four months old, his father Joe Maca played for the U.S. national team, which shocked the soccer world and England as it pulled off an amazing 1-0 triumph in the 1950 World Cup.
But then again, Maca made some history almost 50 years ago as the very first draft choice in U.S. soccer history. On Feb. 9, 1972, Maca was picked by the Miami Gatos of the original North American Soccer League.
Now older and wiser, Maca appreciated being part of history.
“On a personal note, it’s flattering to be the No. 1 pick,” said Maca, who grew up in Massapequa, N.Y. in suburban Long Island. “It probably means more now than it did then.”
When business associates hear that he was the top draft choice, Maca hears a familiar refrain.
“Wow, you’re the No. 1 pick,” he said. “They think the No. 1 pick is like what it means today, that you probably got a ton of money,” he said. “They’ll ask me, ‘What was it like?’ I’ll say it was great. I got a six-pack and two cheeseburgers. It was fantastic.
“Listen, I came out of a school like Brockport State. Back in the seventies, there was only one division. There wasn’t Division 1, 2 or 3. You got ranked. Sometimes we were ranked in the top 10. You either got a bit to the NCAA’s or you didn’t.
“To be an All-American a couple of times and to be a No. 1 pick, it was very nice. It was meaningful from a soccer perspective.”
Maca remembered sitting with Gatos general manager Norm Sutherland in a restaurant on one of Miami’s causeways.
“About four tables over, Paul Hornung [former Green Bay Packer] was sitting with people from the Miami Dolphins,” he said. “I’ll never forget what . . . Sutherland said. ‘Maybe one day Alain it will be as much as that guy across the table.’ If you ask me that question today: if you’re the No. 1 pick in soccer, is it anywhere close to being the No. 1 pick in football or baseball? Absolutely not. It will get on the news stations. It will get into the newspapers but is will not be like Wow!
“It was nice for me. It was nice for my teammates. It was nice for my school.”
When the Gatos made the two-time All-America defender the top choice, Bill Hughes, then the Brockport coach, received a call from the league. Maca was summoned from upstate New York to the league offices in New York City. His mother picked him up at the airport.
“My father could not have been bothered,” Maca said.
Maca was interviewed by the New York Times and New York Daily News.
“They had a picture of me with the draft board and I got a little bit of a lunch,” he said. “They said thank you and then me and my mother left.”
“That was pretty much it,” he said.
In those days, Americans weren’t high on the priority list of the NASL. There was an Americanization rule in that teams had to have at least one U.S. citizen in the lineup at all times. So, good Americans were a precious and rare commodity.
As it turned out, Maca had to sign with the Gatos twice. A Brockport State graduate, Maca agreed to terms with the team before the league decided to hold a draft. The Montreal Olympique was supposed to choose first, so the Gatos had to make a deal to secure the No. 1 choice, dealing high-scoring Flash Oliveria and their No. 1 pick to Montreal. Sal DeRosa was the Gatos coach.
In fact, Maca considered turning pro as an underclassman as he impressed the Rochester Lancers and DeRosa, who was their coach at the time, while he performed for the Rochester Baysiders, an amateur team that Maca called the NASL team’s sparring partner.
“Rochester wanted to sign me as a sophomore in college,” he said. “My father said, ‘No, no, no. Get your degree and education. What does it mean to be a pro soccer player in American? Nothing.’ ”
Like it or not, Joe Maca was correct.
The most Alain Maca earned in the NASL was $150 a week while playing for Miami and the Washington Diplomats. He made more money playing in the old German-American Soccer League (now the Cosmopolitan Soccer League in NYC). He played for Inter-Giuliana.
“That was more fun to play that in the NASL,” he said. “You would play in these small stadiums. The fans were intense. There was a lot of betting going on. I made more money in that league that I did in the North American Soccer League because you got paid cash.
“We used to change in these restaurants, and you’d come up to these restaurants when you’re done. People were sticking $20 bills in your pocket because they won so much money betting. It was cool stuff, the most fun I had in soccer after college.”
Maca earned a lot more than $150 a week when he was president of JFK International Airport Terminal 4 in Queens, N.Y.
He still follows the game and has been encouraged by the improvement in the game, even though he felt the sport still has a ways to go in getting its due.
“It’s great to see the level of playing has improved dramatically over the years,” he said, adding that MLS had created “a good fan base and a good following.“
“Our national teams, both men and women, particularly the women, have been fantastic. They’re a joy to watch and follow. And the men’s team is ranked.”
The sport, he added, “has found its niche, but it still doesn’t have that feeling that the rest of the world feels about soccer.”