Chicago Sting vs. Toronto Blizzard
Soccer Bowl Series ’84
This was the second-to-last match ever played in the old North American Soccer League (1968-1984) and the last outdoor pro soccer match in Chicago until the arrival of Major League Soccer and the Chicago Fire in 1998.
A little more than a decade earlier, back in August 1974, the Miami Toros and the Los Angeles Aztecs met in the NASL championship game. The Toros won the right to host the match at the Orange Bowl, but the uncertainty of who would advance through the playoffs to host the final left promoters scrambling to sell tickets. The Toros were never a strong draw to begin with and organizers pinned their hopes on a massive discount coupon effort which papered the city of Miami with hundreds of thousands of ticket vouchers. August in Miami isn’t a great time to be outdoors at 3:30 in the afternoon and the resulting crowd of 15,507 was considered a major disappointment.
NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam decided that the league needed a neutral site championship game, modeled on the NFL’s Super Bowl. With a host city selected months in advance there would be plenty of time to promote ticket sales. Thus the Soccer Bowl concept was born in 1975, with San Jose’s Spartan Stadium hosting the league title match between the Portland Timbers and the Tampa Bay Rowdies. By the late 1970’s, the Soccer Bowl was consistently drawing over 50,000 fans to first class venues such as Giants Stadium and RFK Stadium.
Then came 1982. The NASL was in major trouble, having shrunk from 24 active clubs to just 14 in two years with more departures on the horizon. Midway through the 1982 season, exasperated league owners effectively replaced Woosnam by hiring former industrialist and government official Howard J. Samuels as the new President and CEO of the League. One of Samuels first impressions of the NASL was the misfire of Soccer Bowl ’82, hosted by the San Diego Sockers organization at Jack Murphy Stadium. For the first time in three years, the Soccer Bowl was not carried on network television. And the live attendance was an embarrassment – only 22,634 showed up for the game, despite the fact that the hometown Sockers had advanced as far as the semi-final round which should (in theory) have goosed advance sales. It was by far the smallest Soccer Bowl crowd since the concept debuted in 1975.
Samuels drew the exact opposite conclusion as Woosnam had eight years earlier. Neutral site championships were a “disaster” for the league in 1981 and 1982, Samuels told The New York Times. Samuels envisioned a best-of-three series between the finalists, with matches in their respective home cities, drawing 50,000 fans per match. It would be two years before Samuels could implement the idea – Vancouver would get to host the 1983 Soccer Bowl before Samuels could toss the neutral site model onto the trash heap once and for all. (Naturally, Vancouver drew 53,000 for the 1983 match – 2nd highest in Soccer Bowl history – despite the fact that the local Whitecaps failed to reach the final).
Howard Samuels finally got his desired format in 1984. The Chicago Sting and the Toronto Blizzard met in a best-of-three championship, now re-branded as the “Soccer Bowl Series ’84”. Fan turnout was far below even the “disaster” levels of the 1981 and 1982 Soccer Bowls. Only 8,352 fans turned up at Chicago’s Comiskey Park for Game One. Strangely, the crowd was even smaller than Chicago’s modest regular season average of 8,376.
The game itself was exciting and somewhat strange. Blizzard defender Bruce Wilson opened the scoring in the 16th minute with an outlandish goal. Wilson collected the ball about 40 yards out from the Sting goal and chipped a high lob back into the penalty area. No one was in the vicinity except for Sting goalkeeper Victor Nogueira who waited calmly in front of the descending ball…and then shocked the Comiskey faithful by allowing it to nutmeg him and roll unmolested into the Sting net. Nogueira writhed on the ground in abject humiliation. But the Sting keeper dusted himself off and shutdown the dangerous Toronto trio of David Byrne, Roberto Bettega and Ace Ntsoelengoe for the rest of the evening.
The Blizzard carried the 1-0 lead into the locker room at halftime. But the second half was all Chicago. Pato Margetic even the game in the 51st minute, the first of three goals for the young Argentinean striker in the 1984 Soccer Bowl Series. Chilean midfielder Manny Rojas, a midseason acquisition who scored only one regular season goal for the Sting, notched the game winner in the 85th minute.
Two nights later, the Sting travelled to Toronto and put the series away with a 3-2 victory. That proved to be the last game the NASL ever played. The league folded in early 1985.
NASL President & CEO Howard Samuels didn’t live to see the bitter end. He died suddenly of a heart attack on October 26, 1984, three weeks after his preferred Soccer Bowl format got its first and only showing.
1st half of the 1984 Soccer Bowl Series Game One between the Sting and the Blizzard at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
…and the 2nd Half as well.