Reclaiming Culture & Identity: The LA Aztecs of José López, Sergio Velásquez & Javier Aguirre

When modern soccer fans and connoisseurs think of the LA Aztecs, the now-defunct team that once competed in the North American Soccer League from 1974-1981, they simply think of George Best, Johann Cruyff and Elton John. Some other names synonymous with the brand are Alan Rothenberg, Thomas Rongen and Rinus Michels.

But what is mostly overlooked now are that at least two LA area Chicano-Angelino players, namely José López of Santa Ana, CA who attended Santa Ana Valley High School and captained UCLA soccer before being drafted by the Aztecs, and fellow Bruin Sergio “Cucharita” Velásquez, also played for the Aztecs. But their opaqueness when thinking of the LA Aztecs was due to deliberate whitewashing enabled by the club’s former ownership, the media, and the league itself.

A Club Ahead of its Time

The Los Angeles Aztecs, in theory and in name, was a club project ahead of its time. Imagine Los Angeles in the 1970s, fresh off of the gains made during the Chicano Rights Movement, and shortly after the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, and how these events captured the imagination of angelinos at the time. Aztecs was a good name to go with, and Los Angeles was always synonymous with things Mexican, given the city’s Mexican origins. This was the accepted climate in LA, but the rest of the country, even parts of LA itself, weren’t ready for this identity to be expressed as was intended through that soccer club. Efforts were made not to equate the LA Aztecs with “Mexicans.” One NASL club, the Philadelphia Atoms, even refused to play a match against the Aztecs in protest of the LA side fielding a Mexican. The LA Times played a hand in assuring LA area fans that the Aztecs weren’t going to play on the Eastside but instead at the Pasadena Rose Bowl.

All of this backstory contributed to, and resulted in, the historical opaqueness of players like López and Velásquez, and perhaps to Aguirre to a lesser extent.

Javier “El Vasco” Aguirre is a name more synonymous with the LA Aztecs because of his international playing and coaching career in and out of Mexico. It helped him become more recognizable that he coached in the Mexican and Spanish first division, and eventually the Mexican national team. He later coached the Japanese national team and currently coaches club Al-Wahda in Abu Dhabi.

López and Velásquez would not share the same type of success or name projection, arguably because their opportunities were cut short, and their demise went hand in hand with that of the first NASL.

A Legacy Lost, Now Recaptured

History went on to define or equate the legacy of the LA Aztecs with names like George Best, Elton John and others, ironically. But that legacy was taken away from Chicano-Angelinos like López and Velásquez, and their Mexican brethren, like Javier Aguirre. The legacy of the LA Aztecs was meant for other LA products like López and Velásquez. It was meant for Mexican reinforcements like Javier Aguirre.

People nowadays clamor for a return of the LA Aztecs. Maybe they’ll be brought back. Maybe the historical wrong in taking the legacy and opportunity from angelinos like López and Velásquez will be made right.

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Author: Omar Ávalos Gallegos

I'm a music composer, musicologist, pianist, flamenco guitarist and writer out of Santa Ana California. I've written on soccer in the past for Soccer Newsday, SB Nation and have contributed to TheCup.US and The Guardian US. Covered the 2017 NPSL Combine for Midfield Press. Started own soccer blogs including Saint City Post, Angeltown FC, The Anemometer and more.

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