Lively Tales About Dead Teams

September 14, 2002 – Michelle Akers Testimonial Match

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Michelle Akers Boston Breakers

Photo courtesy of Tony Biscaia

Boston Breakers vs. Washington Freedom
Michelle Akers Testimonial Match
September 14, 2002
Nickerson Field
Attendance: 10,279

 

We’re preparing to put our house on the market, so I’ve been rifling some old boxes from my women’s pro soccer adventures in the course of clearing out the attic.  I came across this gem on a beat-up old VHS tape…

This is the in-stadium tribute video created by the original Boston Breakers of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) for Michelle Akers farewell/testimonial match in September 2002.  (Scroll to the bottom of this post for the video embed).

Akers was arguably the first transcendent star of the U.S. Women’s National Team program.  A Hermann Trophy winner, Olympic gold medalist, two-time World Cup champion and FIFA’s Female Player of the Century.  The WUSA attracted investors and got off the ground thanks in part to Akers’ heroics during the 1990′s, and the tens of thousands of young girls and women inspired by both her relentless, physical playing style and by her battle with chronic fatigue syndrome throughout her career.

But by the time WUSA launched in April 2001, Akers was 35 years old and retired from international play.  She had had 13 knee surgeries, several concussions, and faced her fourth and fifth shoulder operations in 2001.  She was the only player among 20 so-called “Founders” of the WUSA – top players from the U.S. National Team pool who were given an equity stake in the league – who didn’t play during the 2001 inaugural season.  In October 2001, Akers announced her final retirement from soccer and that she had abandoned her hopes of playing in the WUSA.

Michelle Akers WUSA

Photo Courtesy of Tony Biscaia

11 months later, on September 14, 2002, the Boston Breakers hosted a postseason Testimonial Match to honor Akers’ legendary career.  FOr one night only, Akers would don her old number 10 for the Boston Breakers.  The opponents were the WUSA’s Washington Freedom who brought with them the biggest drawing card in the women’s game – Akers’ former U.S. teammate Mia Hamm.  At the time, Hamm and Akers were the top two scorers in the history of the U.S. National Team.

The exhibition had huge appeal in Boston.  Akers, Hamm and Breakers’ star Kristine Lilly threw out ceremonial first pitches at the Boston Red Sox game the night before.  The Testimonial Match sold out Nickerson Field in advance.  In fact, the crowd of 10,279 was the second largest in the 9-year history of the various incarnations of the Breakers, trailing only the club’s inaugural WUSA game in May 2001.

The Breakers won the match 1-0.  An interesting footnote – the Breakers finished a disappointing 2002 campaign a month earlier and fired Head Coach Jay Hoffman.  The club’s new Head Coach would be Pia Sundhage, the Swedish-born manager who would later lead a restoration of the U.S. National Team program from 2008 to 2012.  It would have been a compelling cross roads – the dominant star of the 1990′s in her final match and the woman who would become one of the key figures for U.S. Soccer in the early 21st century managing her first game (albeit an exhibition) in the States.   But as it was, Sundhage hadn’t arrived in Boston yet and the Breakers were guest-managed on this evening by former Harvard coach Jape Shattuck.

 

==YouTube==

Michelle Akers Tribute Video, played in-stadium during halftime of her Testimonial Match at Nickerson Field.

 


 

 


Written by andycrossley

August 22nd, 2014 at 3:01 pm

1967-1968 Detroit Cougars

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Detroit CougarsUnited Soccer Association (1967)
North American Soccer League (1968)

Born: 1967 – USA founding franchise.
Died: September 23, 1968 – The Cougars cease operations.

Stadiums:

Team Colors:

Owners: William Clay Ford, John Fetzer, Ozzie Olson, Max Fischer, John Anderson & Wendell Anderson

 

The Detroit Cougars were a well-financed but short-lived effort to bring pro soccer to Detroit in the late 1960′s.  The club was backed by Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford, grandson of Henry Ford and largest single stockholder in the Ford Motor Co., and Detroit Tigers owner John Fetzer, among others.

The Cougars formed in 1967 as one of twelve founding members of the United Soccer Association (USA).  The USA was one of two U.S. pro leagues formed in 1967, the other being the rival National Professional Soccer League (NPSL).  In order to keep pace with the NPSL’s 1967 launch date, the USA elected to import entire European and South American clubs to compete under stage names during the 1967 season.  (The USA’s spring/summer schedule conveniently coincided with the offseason for Continental and South American leagues).

The 1967 Detroit Cougars were actually Glentoran F.C. of Northern Ireland.  The Cougars/Glentoran finished out of contention at 3-6-3.

Ian Thomson over at The Soccer Observer blog has a great piece on a 1967 riot at the University of Detroit Stadium between the Cougars and the visiting Houston Stars (actually Bangu of Brazil).

After the 1967 season, the USA and NPSL ended their competition and merged to form the 17-club North American Soccer League.  For the 1968 season, each franchise would assembled a roster in the conventional manner and the USA’s practice of importing foreign clubs was abandoned.

34-year old English forward Len Julians was tabbed as player-coach of the Cougars for the 1968 campaign.  The season was a disaster for the Cougars and Julians would resign in mid-August with the club mired in last place in the NASL’s Lakes Division.  Andre Nagy was hired to manage the final meaningless games as the Cougars finished 6-21-4.  Only the hapless Dallas Tornado (an historically awful 2-26-4 mark) were worse in the 17-team circuit.

At the box office the situation was just as grim.  Although the American Soccer History Archives has the Cougars average attendance at 4,266 in 1968, the Associated Press reported in September 1968 that Cougars fans numbered fewer than 1,500 per game.  Either way, it was a bad scene and the Cougar’s well-heeled backers pulled the plug on September 23, 1968.  Detroit was the first NASL club to fold after the 1968 and it began an exodus that saw the league shrink down to just five active clubs in 1969.

Pro soccer would return to Detroit a decade later with the formation of the NASL’s Detroit Express in 1978.

 

==Detroit Cougars Matches on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1968 7/20/1968 @ Baltimore Bays  L 3-1 Program Roster

 

==Links==

The Infamous 1967 Detroit Riot … On The Soccer Field“, Ian Thomson, The Soccer Observer, June 14, 2013

United Soccer Association Programs

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs

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1972-1973 Ottawa Nationals

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1972-73 Ottawa NationalsWorld Hockey Association (1972-1973)

Born: 1972 – WHA founding franchise.
Died: 1973 – The Nationals relocate to Toronto, Ontario.

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owners: Nick Trbovich & Doug Michel

 

The Ottawa Nationals were a short-lived original franchise in the defunct World Hockey Association (1972-1979).  Originally the WHA and team founder Doug Michel hoped to place the club in either Toronto or Hamilton, but the Nationals struggled to line up an arena in those cities and ultimately ended up at the Ottawa Civic Centre.

Wayne Carleton Ottawa NationalsWhile upstart franchises in Winnipeg, Philadelphia and elsewhere made headlines luring big-name players away from the NHL, the cash-poor Nationals were unable to lure big names to Ottawa.  Nevertheless, the club was competitive under Head Coach Billy Harris, finishing with a 35-39-4 record and a 1973 playoff date with the New England Whalers.  Ex-NHL journeyman Wayne Carleton was the Nats’ leading scorer with 42 goals and 49 assists.

The team was poorly supported in Ottawa and chose to move its home playoff games to Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.  The Whalers eliminated the Nationals 4 games to 1.

In May 1973,  John Bassett Jr., the son of former Toronto Maple Leafs owner John Bassett, Sr., purchased the Nationals.  Bassett was considerably wealthier than the club’s previous owners.  He moved the franchise to Varsity Arena in Toronto and re-named the team the Toronto Toros prior to the 1973-74 season.

 

==Ottawa Nationals Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
11/2/1972  vs. Los Angeles Sharks T 1-1 Program
11/20/1972 @ New England Whalers L 7-5 Program
12/4/1972 @ New England Whalers L 7-2 Program
1/9/1973 vs. Quebec Nordiques W 7-5 Program
2/2/1973 @ Chicago Cougars L 4-1 Program

 

==Links==

World Hockey Association Media Guides

World Hockey Association Programs

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Written by andycrossley

August 18th, 2014 at 2:51 am

November 15, 1977 – Indianapolis Racers vs. New England Whalers

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Rick Ley New England WhalersIndianapolis Racers vs. New England Whalers
November 15, 1977
Market Square Arena
Attendance: ?

World Hockey Association Programs

 

All eyes were on 49-year old Gordie Howe on this Tuesday evening in Indianapolis in November 1977.  Three network film crews were in the house at Market Square Arena, hoping to record the New England Whalers star as he scored his 1,000th professional goal.  Instead the legend got himself tossed out of the game.

Howe managed to get off a couple of shots in the first period, but they were turned away by Indianapolis Racers goalie Gary Inness.  While the Racers bottled up Howe, Mike Antonovich picked up the slack for New England, scoring a hat trick to pace a 6-4 Whalers victory.

With 10 minutes remaining in the game, Howe picked up a two-minute minor for tripping.  Howe flicked the puck in disgust, inadvertently (?) dinging referee Ron Ego.  In a move reminiscent of Billy Crystal ejecting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from his farewell game (Forget Paris, anyone? No?), Ego promptly slapped the legend with a game misconduct penalty.

Ultimately it would take Gordie Howe 11 more games to get his 1,000th goal.  The historic tally finally game on December 6th, 1977 against the Birmingham Bulls.  To this day, Howe remains the only player with 1,000 pro goals.

All things considered, it would have been a nice gesture for the Racers to put Gordie Howe on the cover of the evening’s game program (above right), but that’s Whalers captain Rick Ley pictured instead.

 

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Written by andycrossley

August 18th, 2014 at 1:08 am

October 30, 1974 – New England Whalers vs. Toronto Toros

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Frank Mahovlich Toronto TorosNew England Whalers vs. Toronto Toros
October 30, 1974
Eastern States Coliseum
Attendance: 3,602

World Hockey Association Programs

 

That’s future Hall-of-Famer Frank Mahovlich pictured on the cover of this October 1974 New England Whalers program from the World Hockey Association.  After engraving his name on six Stanley Cups over 18 NHL seasons, the 36-year old Mahovlich jumped to the rival WHA prior to its third season of play in June 1974, inking a four-year deal with the Toronto Toros franchise.

The Toros came in to Springfield, Massachusetts on this night as the hottest team in the WHA.  The team was 6-0 on the 1974-75 season and had a 12-game regular season win streak snaking back to the end of the 1973-74 campaign.  The host Whalers, meanwhile, were killing time in West Springfield in late 1974, waiting on the January 1975 grand opening of their permanent home at the new Hartford Civic Center.

Mahovlich didn’t factor in the scoring sheet on this night.  The game was tied 2-2 early in the third, but the Whalers broke it open with late goals from Tom Webster, Thommy Abrahamsson and Mike Byers.  New England’s 5-2 victory snapped the Toros win streak at twelve.

Mahovlich played the final four years of his career in the WHA, adding 89 goals to his 533 NHL tallies.  He retired in 1978 and was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1981.

 

==Links==

Toronto Toros Home Page

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Written by andycrossley

August 17th, 2014 at 1:51 am