During the 1980′s Kansas City, Missouri was a hotspot for the growing sport of indoor soccer. The local Major Indoor Soccer League franchise, the Kansas City Comets, was so popular in the early part of the decade that they helped to drive the NBA’s Kansas City Kings out of town in 1985. The departure of the Kings and the lack of an NHL franchise made the Comets the only wintertime pro sports ticket in town starting in 1985, but the fortunes of the Major Indoor Soccer League started to fade by the late 1980′s. The MISL nearly folded in 1988 and by 1991 Comets attendance had fallen more than 50% from its peak of nearly 16,000 fans per game in 1984.
The Comets went out of business in July of 1991. Sensing an opportunity, a pair of novice sports investors from Rochester, New York, Chris Economides and Louis Gitsis, purchased the Atlanta Attack of the lower-budget National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) and quickly shifted the team to Kansas City in September 1991, two months after the collapse of the Comets. They retained the Attack name in Kansas City, but signed popular for Comets stars Gino Schiraldi and Jim Schwab to try and lure back disheartened Comets fans.
The Kansas City Attack spent their first season in the winter of 1991-92 at the smaller, cheaper Municipal Auditorium. The team was strong (26-14) and made it to the playoff semi-finals, but attendance languished at 3,050 fans per game, which was a far cry from the Comets days, and beneath the NPSL’s modest league-wide average of 3,600.
In 1992-93 the Attack returned to Kemper Arena and saw a 50% surge in attendance, but still nothing like the Comets’ days of the 80′s. Nevertheless, the team was terrific and advanced to 1993 NPSL Championship Series against the Cleveland Crunch. Fairweather Kansas City fans jumped on the bandwagon and a crowd of 12,134 turned out at Kemper Arena on April 30, 1993 to watch Kansas City claim its first indoor soccer title with a 19-7 victory over Cleveland in Game 5 of the 1993 NPSL Championship Series.
The Attack won a second championship following the 1996-97 NPSL season.
In the summer of 2001, the National Professional Soccer League disbanded and the surviving teams re-organized under the nostalgic Major Indoor Soccer League brand name. Attack owner Don Kincaid chose to play the 1980′s nostalgia card as well, dropping the Attack identity in favor of a revived Kansas City Comets name. The former Attack franchise played four more seasons under the Comets name before folding in September 2005. Kincaid lost a reported $15 million on the franchise between 1993 and 2005 according to The Kansas City Star.
The Georgia Generals were a One-Year Wonder in the 2nd Division American Soccer League, playing just one season in the summer of 1982. The Generals played in the Atlanta suburb of DeKalb. Prior to arriving in Georgia, the franchise operated in Ohio as the Cleveland Cobras (1974-1981).
The Generals were a decidedly minor league operation which sought to fill the pro soccer void in the market after the big budget, Ted Turner-owned Atlanta Chiefs (1979-1981) of the North American Soccer League went out of business in September 1981. Former Chiefs manager David Chadwick hired on as head coach of the Generals and the roster featured several other Chiefs’ refugees, including starting goalkeeper Graham Tutt.
Brazilian minor league warhorse Jose Neto was the club’s leading scorer with 15 goals.
The Generals finished with a respectable 12-9-4 record, good for third place in the seven-team ASL. They received a bye in the first round of the playoffs when their schedule opponents, the Pennsylvania Stoners, were too financially unstable to take part in the postseason. In the semi-finals, the eventual champion Detroit Express eliminated the Generals in a two-game series.
Owner Walt Russell ran out of money near the end of the season, making the Generals continued existence a week-to-week proposition. The club folded quietly after the 1982 season.
This is yet another pull from the huge collection of Los Angeles Lazers indoor soccer programs we picked up from a California sports museum earlier this month. The third and final match of a best-of-five Major Indoor Soccer League quarterfinal playoff series between the Lazers and the defending champion Baltimore Blast at the Fabulous Forum.
Dave MacWilliams of the Blast was pictured on the cover of the Missile Magazine game program for this game and the choice was prophetic. MacWilliams was the MISL’s leading American-born scorer during the 194-85 season and he netted a hat trick against the Lazers here in Game 3 to spark Baltimore to 5-4 win and a sweep of the best-of-five series.
Another notable player in this game was ,the Lazers’ 23-year old rookie goalkeeper Tim Harris, who drew the start for this win-or-go-home elimination match. Harris was born in nearby Torrance and played collegiately at UCLA. He earned one cap for the U.S. National Team in 1985, but he had the misfortune to come into pro soccer during a particularly grim period for the American game, just as the outdoor North American Soccer League was drawing its final breaths. Harris played for five seasons, including three with the Lazers from 1984 to 1987. During that time there was no national outdoor league and American players were not in demand overseas. Indoor soccer was basically the only professional option for American players born in the early 1960′s like Harris.
The Lazers went out of business in 1989. Several years later the club’s former owner, the late Dr. Jerry Buss, hired Harris to work in the front office for his NBA team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Today Harris is the Chief Operating Officer of the Lakers.
This 1983 MISSILE Magazine match program showed up in a large archive of pro soccer material we acquired last week from a down-sizing Los Angeles museum. Right around the same time a woman named Elizabeth posted a fond reminiscence of the late Argentinean forward Carlos Salguero (1955-2006) on our Calgary Boomers home page.
Salguero played for Boca Juniors in the late 1970′s and then for a string of North American indoor and outdoor clubs from 1981 to 1992. His greatest success came with the Buffalo Stallions of the Major Indoor Soccer League, where he scored 101 goals from 1981 to 1984. He was the club’s all-time leading scorer.
In the late 1990′s Salguero returned to coach the Buffalo Blizzard of the indoor National Professional Soccer League for a single season. He passed away from cancer at age 51 in December 2006.
Stunning upset on the opening day of the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League competition at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. The host Los Angeles Galaxy had one of their finest sides in years in 2010 and had the best record in Major League Soccer. They were also one of two MLS clubs (along with D.C. United) to ever win the CONCACAF, the most important club competition in North America.
On paper, Puerto Rico Islanders (2004-2012), a now defunct 2nd Division club, were seemingly one of the weaker entrants in the 24-team competition. The Islanders got into the CONCACAF by virtue of winning the Caribbean Football Union Cup in 2010, but the Islanders sat in 11th place in the 12-team USSF D2 Pro League on the day they flew to Los Angeles for the first leg of the two-match preliminary round against the Galaxy.
A 4-1 result wouldn’t have surprised anyone, but certainly not in favor of the Islanders. The Puerto Ricans kept Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders under siege throughout the match. English forward David Foley opened the scoring for the visitors in the 26th minute. Jamaican Nicolas Adderly also pumped in two goals for the Islanders and Josh Hansen, a former Galaxy reservist, added the fourth. Puerto Rico gifted an own goal to the Galaxy in the 83rd minute, but the Galaxy still faced a 3-goal deficit heading into the second leg in Puerto Rico one week later.
The Galaxy won the 2nd leg in Bayamon on August 4th. But their 2-1 margin of victory wasn’t enough to make up for the blowout at Home Depot Center. The Galaxy were out and the Islanders advanced on aggregate goals 5-3.
The Islanders would bow out on CONCACAF in the Group Stage in October. But the team did make an unlikely late run in the 2nd Division, moving up to grab the 8th and final playoff seed. In succession, they knocked off the top-seeded Rochester Rhinos, the Vancouver Whitecaps and, finally, the 2nd-seed Carolina Railhawks to win the 2nd Division championship.
At the end of 2012 the Islanders went on hiatus due to financial difficulties. The club hoped to return to 2nd Division status, but as 2014 dawns, the club has now been dark for nearly two years with no return date set.
The four-year old Major Indoor Soccer League debuted in Los Angeles on this night in early November 1982. Dr. Jerry Buss’ expansion Los Angeles Lazers club shared the familiar Purple & Gold color scheme of his L.A. NBA and NHL franchises. Unfortunately, the Lazers acquitted themselves much more like the Kings than the Showtime Lakers during their seven season run.
The Lazers raced out to a 4-0 lead over the visiting Phoenix Inferno on goals by Poli Garcia, Don Tobin and a brace from Emilio Romero. Garcia went on to become the Lazers’ all-time leading scorer. Tobin went on to have the most remarkable hair in the league. It was a thrilling introduction to the fast-paced sport of indoor soccer for the 6,836 on hand at the Forum.
The Lazers’ early scoring flurry was also a dose of false advertising by a team that would turn out to be the MISL’s worst. The Lazers went on to lose their first nine matches 1982 and finished their inaugural season with a grim 8-40 record. Buss’ club would place last in its division four times in seven years of existence.
In typical Lazers fashion, the team gave away the lead in the second half. Down 5-4, Phoenix pulled goalkeeper Blagoje Tamindzic for an extra attacker with 1:38 remaining in regulation. (One of many strategies that indoor soccer lifted from ice hockey). 30 seconds later Damir Sutevski pumped a shot past the Lazers’ Gary Allison to knot the score at 5-5. Eight minutes into sudden death overtime, Sutevski struck again to hand the Inferno a 6-5 victory.
The Carolina Lightnin’ were a popular 2nd division soccer club that played three seasons in Charlotte during the early 1980′s. They were the first pro soccer franchise ever established in the Carolinas.
Founded as an American Soccer League expansion club in December 1979, the club debuted a year-and-a-half later in April 1981. In the interim, the Lightnin’ made a key acquisition, signing recently retired English soccer star Rodney Marsh as Head Coach in September 1980. Marsh, a long-time star for Queens Park Rangers and Manchester City, came to the United States in 1976 to play for the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League. The Rowdies were a big draw at the time and Marsh’s shaggy hair and magnetic personality made him a media star, by the modest standards of American pro soccer at the time. Marsh even had his own Miller Lite TV spot in 1980:
Marsh retired as a player in September 1979 following the Rowdies loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps in Soccer Bowl ’79. He decided to stay in the States and become a coach, hooking on with New York United of the American Soccer League in 1980. United were attempting an ambitious move in to Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets, that summer. It was an odd venue for an anonymous minor league soccer team and United played to acres of empty grandstands. Marsh separated from the team at mid-season, but latched on with Carolina a few months later and found a much happier circumstance.
The Lightnin’ took advantage of the American Soccer League’s annual disarray and financial distress to pilfer other clubs for many of the 2nd division’s top players. Carolina landed Mal Roche, the league’s top scorer in 1980 whose previous club had disbanded. Playmaking midfielder Don Tobin was a league All-Star but, like Roche, he was available when his former club folded. Goalkeeper Scott Manning was the best netminder in the ASL in 1980, but Carolina snatched him away from the Pennsylvania Stoners franchise nonetheless.
The club’s most remarkable find was Tony Suarez,a Cuban who moved to Charlotte at age 16. Suarez came to the team on a tryout with no previous pro experience. He failed to make the team but as a consolation was offered a job as the team’s bus driver and gofer. Injuries eventually open a roster spot for Suarez, who promptly scored 9 goals in his first 12 pro matches. He ultimately led the Lightnin’ in scoring in 1981 (and finished 5th in the league) with 15 goals and 4 assists. He was named the ASL’s 1981 Rookie-of-the-Year.
The Lightnin’ won their division with a 16-9-3 record and made it through the playoffs to earn a date with Marsh’s former team, New York United, in the 1981 ASL Championship Game. United should have hosted by virtue of having the league’s best record at 19-5-4. But their attendance continued to be dismal in New York, while expansion Carolina led the ASL with average crowds over 4,000 per match and a couple of late season gates in excess of 8,000. The league voted to move the September 18, 1981 championship match to Charlotte’s Memorial Stadium.
A strong crowd was expected, but Carolina shocked the American soccer scene when a league record 20,163 fans packed the stadium for the match. The game was deadlocked until the 64th minute when United’s Solomon Hilton beat Manning to give the visitors a 1-0 advantage. But Don Tobin tied the match on a header in the 69th minute to rally Carolina and send the game into overtime. Hugh O’Neill scored the game winner for Carolina in the second overtime period and Carolina had the league title.
In 1982, the Lightnin’ loaded up to defend their title. The club added 34-year Derek Smethurst, a deadly striker who scored 57 goals for Tampa Bay in the NASL, mostly while paired up top with Rodney Marsh. Smethurst’s skills were in decline at age 34 though and he only stuck around Carolina for a handful of games. The other big acquisition was English striker Paul Child. Like Smethurst, Child was one of the NASL’s all-time leading scorers, but was without an employer as America’s top pro league began a severe contraction at the beginning of the 1980′s.
One player who was missing was 1981 hero Tony Suarez. Suarez injured his leg playing indoor soccer with Cleveland Force and missed the entire 1982 outdoor season. His career never recovered and he was finished playing by 1984. Suarez died young at age 51 in 2007.
In 1982, the Lightnin’ could recapture the magic of their debut season. They finished 11-13-4 and their season ended with a semi-final series defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma City Slickers.
In 1983 the Lightnin’ hired 42-year old Bobby Moore, the captain of England’s 1966 World Cup championship side, as an assistant coach. He later ended up appearing in some games as a player as well. Houston Dynamo and ESPN broadcaster Glenn Davis was a rookie that summer with the ASL’s Pennsylvania Stoners and recalled his shock at finding Moore in the American Soccer League in a 2012 FWIL interview:
“<Carolina> had so many injuries they activated Bobby Moore to play that night against us. Bobby was probably 43 years old and he obviously can’t move. He’s kicking everything and everybody that he can get close to. And we’re just going “Oh my God – it’s Bobby Moore.”
I remember we had a 2-0 lead and we absolutely crumbled in the final ten minutes with their fans going nuts. They had probably about 7,000 or 8,000 fans in this cool little stadium in Charlotte. I think it was called the Memorial Stadium. We totally collapsed as a team and lost 3-2. I remember our owner on the bus back to the hotel and screaming at one of our players. I think a lot of us were just still in shock that Bobby Moore was playing that night.”
The Lightnin’ posted a losing record again in 1983. In early 1984, the entire American Soccer League folded after more than fifty years of operation and Robert Benson withdrew his support for the team. Several ASL teams formed a new league called the United Soccer League and Charlotte did get a get a USL franchise, under new ownership and with a new name – the Charlotte Gold – for the 1984 season. Many former staff members and players from the Lightnin’ continued on with the Gold, who played one season and then went out of business in late 1984.
The Long Island-based club was loaded with over-the-hill former New York Cosmos outdoor soccer stars such as Shep Messing (also club President and part-owner), Mark Liveric, Rick Davis and Hubert Birkenmeier. The Express sputtered into L.A. with a record of 2-23 – the worst winning percentage in league history. The team’s dubious business plan was even worse – it depended largely on the outcome a public stock offering. The Express couldn’t interest people in buying tickets, let alone stock shares.
Three days before this match, the Los Angeles Lazers hosted the league All-Star Game at the Forum. During the All-Star Break the Express revealed that they were on the verge of collapse and tapping emergency credit lines to make the player payroll. The team’s staff weren’t so lucky - those that were left hadn’t been paid in a month. You can read the full account of the club’s collapse here.
But on the carpet, this Valentine’s Day match has to be considered the Express’ finest hour. They at least had a fighting chance against the Los Angeles Lazers. At 6-18 and riding an eight-game losing skid, the Lazers were nearly as inept as the visiting New Yorkers. The Angelenos were working under the direction of a new Head Coach, Keith Tozer, who replaced the fired Peter Wall a week earlier. Tozer was early in his coaching career on this night, but he would go on to become the winningest coach in the history of the indoor game.
The hosts got out to a 4-1 lead, courtesy of a pair of goals from Zizinho and Stuart Lee. But they blew it in the second half. 33-year old war horse Mark Liveric, playing for his 11th team in a vagabond career that included three separate stints with the Cosmos, scored two goals to spark the comeback. Alex Tarnoczi got the late equalizer for New York to knot the score at 5-5 and send the match to overtime. One minute into the sudden death period, Liveric beat another former Cosmos – Lazers goalkeeper David Brcic – to complete his hat trick and win the game for the Express. It was the third (and last) win in franchise history and the only road victory.
The following day the Express drove three hours south to play their final match against the powerhouse San Diego Sockers. You can watch it here. They lost and dropped to 3-23. It was the last game of Liveric’s pro career. Two days later the league pulled the plug on the Express and the club folded without completing its debut season.
The Whitecaps looked poised to make another strong Soccer Bowl run in 1981. They had a prolific and democratic offense. Vancouver ranked 3rd in the 21-team NASL in goals scored with 74 (trailing only eventual Soccer Bowl finalists Chicago & New York) despite the fact that their leading scorer Carl Valentine ranked just 20th in the league. The defense, keyed by 2nd Team All-Star Pierce O’Leary, was even better. The Whitecaps allowed a NASL-low 43 goals in 32 regular season matches. Englishman Barry Siddall was among the league’s stingiest goalkeepers with a 1.30 goals against average and 6 clean sheets in 24 appearances.
So it was a shock when the Rowdies blitzed Vancouver for a 4-1 victory in Game 1 at Tampa Bay on August 23rd. Vancouver actually got on the board first, courtesy of a volley from Valentine. But the Rowdies tied the match late in the first half and stunned the visiting ‘Caps with a three goal barrage in the second. The best-of-three series now headed back to Vancouver’s Empire Stadium for Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3.
“We’re a great team,” Siddall told The St. Petersburg Times resolutely after the Game 1 debacle. “And I guarantee you, things will be different at our place.”
Siddall was right. The Whitecaps couldn’t score at all three nights later in front of a near sellout at Empire Stadium. Vancouver organized their defense and controlled the tempo in the first half, but it was the Rowdies that scored against he run of play. English winger David Moss, playing his only season in America on a loan from Luton Town, beat the Vancouver defensive wall and Barry Siddall from 23 yards out on a free kick in the 28th minute. Moss had also scored for Tampa in the Game 1 rout.
The Rowdies defense and goalkeeper Kevin “Cat” Keelan blanked Vancouver the rest of the way and Moss’ goal held up in the 1-0 victory. The stunned Whitecaps went home in the first round for the second straight year. Tampa’s lack of talent caught up with them in the next round, and they lost to the NASL’s top regular season team, the New York Cosmos in the quarterfinals.
Collector’s note: Angelo DiBernardo of the Cosmos was pictured on the cover of the evening’s KICK Magazine match program (above right). This was the cover used for all NASL 1st round playoff matches in 1981.
Toronto Metros-Croatia was an anomaly within the North American Soccer League during the NASL’s boom years of the mid-to-late 1970′s. The club formed in 1975 through the merger of the NASL’s Toronto Metros (1971-1974) and Toronto Croatia of Canada’s small-time National Soccer League.
To the chagrin of league executives and observers, the merged club played up its ethnic identity, coming up with the awkward “Metros-Croatia” moniker and filling its management (entirely) and roster (largely) with ethnic Croats. In 1977, Tampa Bay Rowdies beat writer Ken Blankenship from The St. Petersburg Times published a long screed against the Metros-Croatia organization (and, by extension, the NASL for tolerating the club). Blankenship’s hackles were raised by a miserable experience trying to cover a Rowdies road game in Toronto. The writer described the Metros-Croatia as essentially an insular “neighborhood soccer team” lacking the most basic professional standards of operation and promotion, and existing solely for the amusement of a tiny bad of expatriate supporters: owner “Sam <Paric> and his Yugoslavian pals”.
Blankenship wasn’t a lone voice in the wilderness either. League officials purportedly directed broadcasters of the 1976 Soccer Bowl to refer to the club only as “Toronto”. At 1976 NASL meetings held during the Soccer Bowl championship in Seattle, influential New York Cosmos President Clive Toye introduced a motion to ban “ethnic names” from the 20-team league - a pointed jab at Toronto. The Croatians who backed the team pointed out that their name (and their money) was good enough for the NASL when they stepped in to bail out the failing Metros franchise in 1975.
But whatever Metros-Croatia lacked in professionalism off the field, they were a competitive club. Despite a chaotic 1976 season that featured a seven-game scoreless streak, the mid-season sacking of autocratic coach Ivan Markovic, and constant financial problems, Metros-Croatia got hot at the right time and actually won the 1976 Soccer Bowl championship of the NASL, defeating the Minnesota Kicks 3-0 at the Seattle Kingdome on August 28, 1976.
Although the club was typically categorized as a “Croatian” or “Yugoslav” club, Metros-Croatia’s 1976 Soccer Bowl run was helped by the acquisition of Portuguese legend Eusebio and German midfielder Wolfgang Sunholz from the NASL’s financially distressed Boston Minutemen franchise. Eusebio led Metros-Croatia in scoring and placed eighth overall in the NASL in 1976, but was left off the league’s All-Star team, as were all other members of the championship Toronto side. Eusebio also scored the decisive first goal in the Soccer Bowl ’76 final against Minnesota.
After the 1976 season, cash-strapped Metros-Croatia couldn’t afford to re-sign Eusebio or Sunholz. Clive Toye’s move to ban ethnic names went nowhere and the rest of the NASL had to deal with the odd little Croatian club from Ontario for two more season. Finally in January 1979 the club’s backers sold out to Global Television Network, who re-branded the team as the Toronto Blizzard a month later. Under Global, the Blizzard also left Metros-Croatia’s humble home at the University of Toronto and moved into new giant modern Exhibition Stadium for the 1979 season. Toronto Croatia re-joined the semi-pro National Soccer League.
Fans of modern day Major League Soccer may see many parallels between the Toronto Metros-Croatia story and the controversial ethnic identity and employment practices of MLS’ Chivas USA club in Los Angeles.