Clash of Major League Soccer’s Eastern and Western Conference leaders at Giants Stadium in early August 2004.
It seemed like this might finally be the breakout year for the MetroStars, who had never won any type of hardware in MLS’ first decade. Some supporters of MLS’ hapless New York club even believed the team was the victim of “The Curse of Caricola“, dating back to a crushing own-goal defeat in the Metros’ inaugural match back in 1996.
But the 2004 team had talent and carried a four-game undefeated streak into the All-Star Break at the end of July. 17-year old Eddie Gaven, pictured on the day’s FREEKICK match program (above right) became the youngest All-Star Game starter in MLS history a week earlier. He was joined on the Eastern Conference squad by defender Eddie Pope and Honduran midfielder Amado Guevara. All three would later be named to MLS’ Best XI for the 2004 season and Guevara would be selected as league MVP. The Metros also owned the powerful Los Angeles Galaxy club that summer, outscoring the Angelenos 5-1 in two earlier victories in June.
Looking back, the Metros’ 2004 season crested on this match. It was a violent engagement, with five yellow cards and a red (to L.A.’s Chris Albright in the 68th) and another one-sided MetroStars victory. Guevara opened the scoring on a penalty in the 36th minute, and Gaven beat Galaxy keeper Kevin Hartman in the 61st to break the game open. The Metros went on to win 3-0.
After this afternoon, the Metros returned to form. They were winless for the remainder of August and 2-6-2 for the rest of the regular season en route to a 3rd place finish in the Eastern Conference. Eventual MLS Cup champion D.C. United routed the Metros 4-0 on aggregate in the first round of the 2004 playoffs.
The MetroStars brand lasted one more season (ill-fated, of course) before Red Bull purchased and re-branded the club in 2006. Gaven also stayed just one more season in New York. He was traded to Columbus before the 2006 season and enjoyed a long and solid career with the Crew (2006-2013), but never again was named to the MLS Best XI as he was in 2004 as a 17-year old teenager.
The Chicago Mustangs soccer club was a charter member of the United Soccer Association, a mid-1960’s effort to launch a first division professional league here in the States. There were 12 member franchises representing 10 U.S. cities, plus Toronto and Vancouver. Most of the clubs were backed by heavy-hitter investors from Major League Baseball, the NFL and the National Hockey League. The owner of the Mustangs was Chicago White Sox boss Arthur Allyn Jr. and the soccer club played in Allyn’s South Side baseball stadium, Comiskey Park.
The founders of the United Soccer Association intended to begin play in 1968, but they felt compelled to bump their plans up a year when a rival circuit, the National Professional Soccer League, signed a TV contract with CBS and decided to start play in 1967. With the accelerated timetable, the USA decided to import entire foreign clubs from Europe and South America to represent the league’s 12 cities in 1967. The Chicago Mustangs were actually Cagliari Calcio, from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. Cagliari was enjoying a run of success in the Italian Serie A at the time – they would win their only Scudetto in 1970. However, the Italians did not bring all of their stars to Chicago. Gigi Riva, the greatest player in club history and the all-time leading scorer for the Italian National Team, stayed home.
The Mustangs/Cagliari struggled through their only season in the United Soccer Association. The club finished out of the postseason hunt with a 3-7-2 record. Attendance was dismal too, with an announced match average of just 4,207 at Comiskey. A bright spot was 23-year old striker Roberto Boninsegna, who led the circuit in scoring with 10 goals in 9 appearances. Boninsegna would go on to score Italy’s only goal in the 1970 World Cup final against Brazil.
After the 1967 season concluded in financial ruin for both the USA and the NPSL, the former rivals merged to form the North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1968. That meant the contraction of one franchise in Chicago, as both leagues fielded a Windy City franchise in 1967. The NPSL’s Chicago Spurs, based out of Soldier Field, moved to Kansas City, so the Mustangs continued on for a second season in 1968. Cagliari and the other foreign ringer clubs would not return. In 1968, all of the NASL clubs built their own rosters.
The all-new, multi-ethnic Mustangs were much improved in 1968. Polish émigré Janusz Michalik led the NASL with 30 goals and 9 assists and won league MVP honors. The club improved to 13-10-9, but this wasn’t quite good enough for playoff spot. Attendance continued to be terrible though, dipping to under 2,500 fans per game at 45,000-seat Comiskey Park.
The NASL nearly folded after the 1968 season. Membership shrunk for 17 clubs in 1968 to just 5 survivors for 1969. The Mustangs were one of the casualties, withdrawing from the league in late 1968. A semi-pro version of the Mustangs reportedly continued to play into the 1970’s.
The original Boston Breakers soccer club was a founding member of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) from 2001 to 2003. The WUSA was the first professional soccer league for women in North America, backed by a consortium of cable television companies and executives who were intrigued by the groundbreaking success of the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, hosted by the United States. The Breakers franchise was backed by Amos Hostetter, the billionaire co-founder of Continental Cablevision.
The provenance of the team’s name was somewhat odd. Like many fledgling sports teams, the soon-to-be-Boston Breakers instituted a Name-The-Team contest. The winning entry was attributed to a 15-year old teenage girl from suburban Easton, Massachusetts. What was strange about the choice was that Boston already had a high profile pro sports flop that had used the same identity in the recent past. The Boston Breakers of the United States Football League had even used a similar blue/white color scheme and played in the very same stadium (Boston University’s Nickerson Field) as the new women’s soccer team. The football Breakers came and went in a single season in 1983 – very much in the living memory of countless local sports fans and Boston’s sporting press.
But “Breakers” it was to be. In May of 2000, each of the eight WUSA franchises received three players from the United States Women’s National Team tha captivated the nation during the World Cup ten months earlier. The U.S. National Teamers – known as “Founders” since they also had a small equity stake in the league – were meant to form both the talent nucleus and the marketing tent poles for each franchise. The Breakers received All-Universe midfielder Kristine Lilly and stalwart defender Kate Sobrero. The team’s third allocation, however, was a bust. Tracy Ducar, the USWNT’s reserve goalkeeper, suffered an eye-injury late in the WUSA’s 2001 debut season and was thereafter unseated by less-heralded Canadian National Team goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc for the Breakers starting job.
The burden of scoring goals fell to the Breakers’ international signings. Boston received German National Team stars Maren Meinert and Bettina Wiegmann along with the Norwegian duo of Ragnhild Gulbrandsen (who would join in 2002) and Dagny Mellgren. Though Gulbrandsen would disappoint and Wiegmann retired after two seasons, Meinert and Mellgren quickly emerged as premier scoring threats, with Lilly often setting the table with deft assists.
Despite fine individual performances from the likes of Lilly, Meinert, Mellgren and a previously unheralded University of Virginia midfielder named Angela Hucles, the Breakers disappointed as a team during the first two seasons of the WUSA. Under Head Coach Jay Hoffman, the team finished 6th place and out of the playoffs in both campaigns. The Breakers were also something of a Jekyll & Hyde club – virtually unbeatable at home, where they had established one of the most loyal followings in the WUSA, but unable to perform consistently on the road.
The club’s fortunes turned in 2003 with the hiring of Swedish manager Pia Sundhage to take over for Hoffman. The Breakers finally became a tough road team, equaling their success at home. Meinert was phenomenal at the top of the attack, winning league Most Valuable Player honors. At 10-4-7, the Breakers finished top of the table in the WUSA’s regular season. However, Boston was bounced on penalty kicks in the playoff semi-final by the eventual league champion Washington Freedom.
One month later, the WUSA abruptly closed its doors on September 15, 2003. There were inklings that the league was in trouble. The league cut roster sizes from 18 to 16 following the 2002 season and dropped the salary cap from $834,500 to $595,750. The “Founders” (mostly) accepted large pay cuts. But it wasn’t enough. While attendance was not far off from expectations, corporate sponsorship for the league never hit critical mass. Still, the timing of the shutdown shocked many outside observers, coming just five days before the start of the 2003 Women’s World Cup – which would be held in the United States once again, thanks to the SARS outbreak creating havoc in China, the original host of the tournament.
A lackluster effort to revive corporate support for the WUSA through a series of neutral-site “festivals” in the summer of 2004 flopped. From 2008 through 2008, there was no top-flight women’s pro soccer league in North America. When a new league – Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) – began play in 2009, a franchise was quickly awarded to Boston, based upon the warm reception to the WUSA-era Breakers club. The WPS franchise revived the Breakers name and logo. The “New” Breakers of 2009 included three veterans of the original 2001-2003 Breakers club – Angela Hucles, Kristine Lilly and seldom-used Mary-Frances Monroe. The team also featured several front office holdovers who returned to work for the new club, including Team President Joe Cummings, who launched both editions of the team.
The new/2009 edition of the Breakers remains active today in 2014 as a member of the National Women’s Soccer League.
==Boston Breakers Matches on Fun While It Lasted==
Chivas USA was Major League Soccer’s second Los Angeles franchise, sharing the Home Depot Center in Carson with the Los Angeles Galaxy. The club started out as an expansion franchise in 2005. Billionaire investor-operator Jorge Vergara also owned the popular Mexican club C.D. Guadalajara (colloquially known as “Chivas” or Goats). The concept was that the Chivas USA would be a sister team to C.D. Guadalajara and might create appeal for a Latino fan base that had thus far shown only tepid support of the Galaxy in L.A. and Major League Soccer more broadly. One of Guadalajara’s claims to fame in Mexico was its nationalism – the club exclusively employs Mexican players. This policy would draw notice in Chivas USA’s final seaons, after Vergara and his wife acquired sole control of the franchise and allegedly began to harass and dismiss non-Spanish speaking employees.
Chivas USA’s early years seemed promising. Future U.S. National Team head coach Bob Bradley guided Chivas to a playoff berth in its second season in MLS in 1996 before departing take over the U.S. Men. Replacement Predrag Radosavljevic (better known as “Preki“) took over as manager in 2007 and led Chivas to a 1st place finish in MLS’ Western Conference. This turned out to be the franchise’s high water mark. They were bounced in the first round of the 2007 playoffs and would never win a playoff series.
Beginning in 2010, Chivas USA began a downward spiral that saw the club fail to ever again finish higher than 7th in MLS’ Western Conference. The franchise also became something of an embarrassment to MLS. Home attendance plummeted more than 50% between 2011 and 2014, bottoming out at 7,063 per match in 2014. In 2013 two former MLS players who had coached in Chivas USA’s youth academy, Dan Calichman and Ted Chronopoulos, filed a discrimination suit against the team, claiming they were dismissed from the team because they were not of Latino descent. Separately, an African-American former HR manager of the team filed a discrimination suit against Chivas USA a few months after Calichman and Chronopoulos.
In February 2014, Major League Soccer purchased Chivas USA back from Jorge Vergara and his wife, Angelica Fuentes. The sale price was not officially disclosed, but both Sports Illustrated and The Los Angeles Times reported the figure to be in the neighborhood of $70 million. MLS operated Chivas USA through a lame duck final season before shuttering the franchise one day after the club’s final game on October 26, 2014. Also in October 2014, MLS sold the former Chivas franchise – now effectively a new L.A. expansion team – to a large investeor group led by venture capitalist Henry Nguyen and Mandalay Entertainment CEO Peter Guber. The group intends to launch a re-branded MLS club in L.A. in 2017, eventually playing in its own soccer-specific stadium.
During Chivas USA’s 10-year run, it was part of the only European-style local derby in Major League Soccer. Chivas and the Los Angeles Galaxy met 34 times in those ten seasons, with the Galaxy enjoying a wildly lopsided advantage of 22 wins, 8 draws and just 4 losses in the so-called “SuperClasico” derby.
We’ve already got a ton of Chicago Sting programs posted on FWIL, but I’ll throw another one on here just as an excuse to add a new George Best game day mag to the archive. Best, playing his final season in U.S. in 1981, is pictured on the cover of the afternoon’s match program as a member of the San Jose Earthquakes, the last of the three NASL clubs he played for during his five-year American adventure.
Best and the rest of the ‘Quakes were hundreds of miles from Chicago’s Wrigley Field on this Mother’s Day afternoon and that was to their immense good fortune. Wind, rain and temperatures in the 30’s left Sting officials eager to re-schedule the match, despite the opportunity to curb stomp what was easily the worst side in the NASL in 1981: Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Tornado. The Tornado were the last remaining active club from the NASL’s first season back in 1968, but were suffering through a miserable 5-27 campaign that would ultimately end with the club’s closure in September 1981.
The shivering assembly of 1,861 souls at Wrigley may have been smallest NASL crowd of the post-Pele era. (Anybody know for sure? Comment below). On the plus side, no one had to rush the gates early to claim one of the 1,000 daisies set aside for Mother’s Day or the 5,000 t-shirts sponsored by R.C. Cola. The weather was so nasty (and the pre-sale presumably so grim) that Sting executive Charles Evranian called Tornado General Manager Kent Kramer three hours before kickoff to suggest postponing the match until the next day. Kramer dismissed the proposal, but his players seemed to feel differently. Although the match went off as scheduled, the Tornado never seemed to get off the bus.
Rudy Glenn, the second-year American midfielder from Indiana University, was the offensive hero for Chicago. Glenn scored the first and last goals for Chicago in a 5-0 blowout. It was the first multi-goal performance of Glenn’s outdoor career. It’s not clear if he ever did it again – the Oklahoma native scored just 13 more goals in his 130-game NASL career. Glenn would, however, score the decisive penalty kick to win Soccer Bowl ’81 for the Sting over the New York Cosmos four months later in September 1981.