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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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March 30, 1968 – Dallas Tornado vs. Houston Stars

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Odd Lindberg Dallas TornadoDallas Tornado vs. Houston Stars
March 30, 1968
Turnpike Stadium
Attendance: 1,472

North American Soccer League Programs

 

Season opener for the 1968 North American Soccer League schedule, featuring the circuit two Texas-based clubs.  Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Tornado was just back from one of the looniest foreign tours in history, a preposterous six-month trek that took the club from Morocco to Vietnam (!) to New Zealand to Fiji among more than a dozen other locales.

All the travelling and international scouting didn’t help.  The Tornado were historically awful in 1968 (or maybe just exhausted).  Head Coach Bob Kap’s club won only 2 NASL regular season matches against 26 losses and 4 draws.  The 1968 Tornado were outscored 109-28.

The ass-kickings commenced straight away with the home opener.  The visiting Houston Stars trounced the Tornado 6-0, fueled by a hat trick from Brazilian striker Luiz Juracy.  (Juracy would go on to play five season for the Tornado from 1969-1974 after the Stars folded).  The teams met again three weeks later at the Houston Astrodome.  The Stars stomped Dallas again 5-0 in the rematch.

Dallas’ shell-shocked goalkeeper was the delightfully named Odd Lindberg, a 19-year old Norwegian playing his lone season in America.  That’s him on the front cover of the season-opening match program, making a rare save.

 

==Links==

Dallas Tornado Home Page

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Written by andycrossley

August 8th, 2014 at 2:16 am

1967-1969 Baltimore Bays

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Baltimore Bays SoccerNational Professional Soccer League (1967)
North American Soccer League (1968-1969)

Born: 1967 – NPSL founding franchise.
Died: September 24, 1969 – The Bays cease operations.

Stadiums:

Team Colors:

Owner: Jerold Hoffberger

 

The original Baltimore Bays were a short-lived pro soccer team that was owned and operated by the Baltimore Orioles of Major League Baseball.  Orioles owner Jerold Hoffberger was one of ten founding members of the National Professional Soccer League in 1967.  The NPSL was an effort to capitalize on moderate American interest in the 1966 World Cup, which was broadcast on U.S. television for the first time.  The league featured a number of heavy hitter owners from Major League Baseball and the NFL, including the Hoffberger, the Rooney family in Pittsburgh, Bill Bartholomay in Atlanta and Los Angeles Rams’ owner Dan Reeves.

The Bays won the NPSL’s Eastern Division with a 14-9-9 record.  Defender Badu DaCruz, midfielder Juan Santisteban and forward Art Welch were named to the All-NPSL 1st Team.  The Bays advanced to the two-leg NPSL championship series against the Western Division champion Oakland Clippers.  The Bays won the first match 1-0 at home before 16,619 fans at Memorial Stadium on September 3, 1967.  But they were stomped 4-1 in the second leg in Oakland on September 9th and lost the series 4-2 on aggregate.

Baltimore Bays NPSLFollowing the 1967 season, the NPSL merged with the rival United Soccer Association to form the 17-club North American Soccer League (NASL).  The Bays dipped to 13-16-3 and missed the playoffs in their second season.

The NASL collapsed in late 1968 as investors lost hope in soccer’s potential with the American audience.  The 17-team membership shrank to just five clubs for the 1969 campaign.  The Bays were one of the five survivors, but they gave up on 50,000-seat Memorial Stadium, where the club averaged only around 5,000 fans for its first two seasons.  The Bays would play their final season at Kirk Field, a high school football oval in Northeast Baltimore.

With the league in disarray, the 1969 season was split into two sections.  The first section – dubbed the “International Cup” – saw the NASL import five top shelf English clubs to represent the five remaining NASL cities.  During the International Cup, the “Baltimore Bays” were actually West Ham United, featuring Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore, two of the great stars of England’s 1966 World Cup championship team.  West Ham went 5-2-1 masquerading as the Bays in the round robin tournament and finished 2nd to the “Kansas City Spurs” (who were actually Wolverhampton Wanderers).

For the second half of the 1969 season, the Brits went home and the NASL clubs re-grouped with actual rosters of their own players.  The real1 record.  The club folded shortly after the 1969 season ended, having lost over a million dollars in three years for the Baltimore Orioles.

A lower-budget reboot of the Bays appeared for one season in the 2nd division American Soccer League in 1973, hosted a couple of international exhibitions against British and Mexican opponents, and then quietly vanished after one season.

 

==Baltimore Bays Matches on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1967 5/24/1967 @ New York Generals T 0-0 Program
1967 9/9/1967 @ Oakland Clippers L 4-1 Program
1968 4/21/1968 vs. Oakland Clippers T 0-0 Program
1968 5/1/1968 @ New York Generals L 2-1 Program
1968 5/29/1968 vs. Washington Whips Rained Out Program
1968 7/20/1968 vs. Detroit Cougars W 3-1 Program
1968 8/13/1968 @ Washington Whips L 2-1 Program

 

==Links==

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

August 5th, 2014 at 12:43 am

1978-1980 Houston Hurricane

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Houston HurricaneNorth American Soccer League (1978-1980)

Born: January 5, 1978 - NASL expansion franchise.
Died: November 24, 1980 – The Hurricane ceases operations.

Stadium: Houston Astrodome

Team Colors:

Owners: Bayly Corp. (Hans Von Mende), Nat Davis, Fred GundmeyerGerald Hines, Dieter Scherfenberg, Kenneth Schnitzer & Ben Woodson.

 

Unloved pro soccer franchise that languished in a nearly empty Houston Astrodome for three summers before being euthanized in the autumn of 1980.  The Houston Hurricane were the sixth and final new club added to the North American Soccer League during a euphoric expansion orgy during the winter of 1977-78.  The addition of Houston brought the NASL membership to an all-time peak of 24 clubs.  However, none of the six expansion cities added in 1978 (Denver,  Detroit, Houston, Memphis, New England and Philadelphia) would last beyond 1980.  The expansion misfires of 1978 would later be cited by many observers and league insiders as a factor in the NASL’s downward spiral in the early 1980′s and eventual closure in 1985.

The 1978 Hurricane finished in the cellar of the NASL’s American Conference Central Division with a 10-20 record.  Fan support was abysmal as the Hurricane pulled an average of only 5,806 fans for 15 home matches at the Astrodome.

The club rallied in 1979.  In October 1978, the team shelled out a $250,000 transfer fee to acquire Kyle Rote Jr. from the NASL’s Dallas Tornado.  Rote was a native Texan and one of the sport’s few American-born stars with any name recognition to casual sports fans, thanks to his success in ABC’s Superstars competition and to his football star father, former New York giants halfback Kyle Rote Sr.  Arguably the more impactful acquisition though was 23-year old Finnish midfielder Kai Haaskivi, who also came over from the Tornado in 1979.

With Haaskivi and Argentine striker Eduardo Marasco sparking the offense (12 goals each) and English goalkeeper Paul Hammond earning 2nd Team All-NASL honors, the Hurricane improved from last place in 1978 to a division title with a 22-8 record in 1979.  Manager Timo Liekoski was named the NASL’s Coach-of-the-Year for the turnaround. Incredibly, the Hurricane went 15-0 at the Astrodome in 1979.  The club’s remarkable home field advantage wasn’t due to any sort of surge in fan support though.  Attendance barely budged to 6,211 per game – still among the worst figures in the league.

Worst yet, the Hurricane were bounced in the 1st Round of the 1979 NASL playoffs by the lowly Philadelphia Fury, who snuck into the postseason with a 10-20 record.  In a shocking upset, the Fury swept Houston in two matches, including the Hurricane’s only home loss of the year.

The 1980 Hurricane looked much different.  Liekoski left for (slightly) greener pastures and became Head Coach of the NASL’s Edmonton Drillers.  Kyle Rote Jr. retired to do Christian missionary work in Cambodia.  The club fell back to a 14-18 record.  That mark was still good enough for a playoff appearance thanks to the NASL’s forgiving playoff format.  There the club fell to old friend Timo Liekoski’s Edmonton club in the first round of the 1980 playoffs.

In November 1980, NASL officials announced that the Hurricane were closing their doors after three seasons of play.

A footnote – the Hurricane also played indoor soccer under an alter ego. After the club’s debut season in 1978, the Major Indoor Soccer League opened the doors on its first season in the winter of 1978-79.  Houston’s MISL club – named the Houston Summit after the arena where its games were held – struck a deal with the Hurricane to lease coach Timo Liekoski and 15 Hurricane players during the NASL offseason.  The Houston Summit was a strong entry in the indoor league, earning a playoff spot plus MISL Coach-of-the-Year honors for Liekoski and the Goalkeeper-of-the-Year award for Paul Hammond in 1979.  The relationship between the two organizations soured afterwards and the arrangement was not renewed in the winter of 1979-80.

 

==Houston Hurricane Matches on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1979 5/6/1979 @ New York Cosmos L 3-0 Program Game Notes
1979 7/18/1979 @ San Jose Earthquakes W 2-1 Program
1980 5/21/1980 @ California Surf  L 1-0 (OT) Program
1980 6/18/1980 @ Seattle Sounders L 3-2 Program Roster

 

==Key Players==

 

 ==Links==

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs

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