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.
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.
Born: 1979 – ASL expansion franchise. Died: Postseason 1980 – The Gales cease operations.
The Golden Gate Gales were an ultra-obscure 2nd Division pro soccer club, which existed for only one season in the American Soccer League (1933-1983). A bare bones Wikipedia entry claims the Gales played “most” of their home matches at Tak Fudenna Stadium, a high school facility in Fremont, California.
Other than that, virtually no information about this club is available on the internet and I’ve never unearthed any memorabilia from the team, except for the low-budget ticket pamphlet shown at right.
The Gales best player was English forward and University of San Francisco grad Mal Roche, who scored 17 goals for Golden Gate to lead the American Soccer League in scoring in 1980. The rest of the team wasn’t so good, and the Gales finished their only season with the worst record in the league at 8-14-5. The club went out of business sometime during the fall/winter of 1980-81.
If you can provide any further information on the Gales (Roster, stadium, owner, etc.), please email email@example.com
The Detroit Express were the finest club in the shaky 2nd Division American Soccer League (1933-1983) in the summer of 1982. The ASL was on the verge of collapse in 1982, with just seven clubs scattered around the country, including two poorly organized Deep South expansion teams in Nashville and suburban Atlanta.
The Express were kind of an anomaly in the league – a club whose ownership had split into two groups, one of which more or less self-relegated from the higher cost, equally troubled North American Soccer League in the spring of 1981. But in a league where many teams played at high school and small college football stadiums, the ASL Express still retained a few trappings of the club’s late 1970′s 1st Division glory days in the NASL. Most notably, playing home games in the gigantic 80,000 seat Pontiac Silverdome, which hosted America’s greatest sporting spectacle, Super Bowl XVI, just seven months before this match was played.
The Express had the best record in the ASL in 1982, with a 19-5-4 record. Goalkeeper Tad Delorm, a mainstay for the Express from 1981 to 1983, was the top goalkeeper in the league, playing 27 of 28 matches and posting a league-best 1.24 goals against average. Delorm is pictured on the cover of the evening’s tabloid newspaper-style match program (above right).
At the end of the season, the Express won the league championship over the Oklahoma City Slickers. More than 30,000 fans showed up for the deciding match, fueled by a ticket giveaway at local auto dealers.
The New Jersey Americans were a professional soccer club that played for four seasons in the 2nd Division American Soccer League (1933-1983) during the late 1970′s. They are not to be confused with the short-lived New Jersey Americans (1967-1968) basketball team from the ABA, who eventually became the New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets of the NBA.
The Americans started out in 1976 at Wall Stadium, a 9,000-seater which was part of an auto racing track near Asbury Park. In 1977, the team moved to Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway. The Americans gained some minor (very minor) attention in the late 1970′s for signing a pair of aging former Benfica / Portuguese National Team legends of the 1960′s in Tony Simoes (1978) and Eusebio (1979).
The Americans’ finest season was in 1977, when the team posted a 16-7-1 record to top the ASL’s East Division. Minor league legend Jose Neto led the ASL in scoring with 17 goals despite missing a third of the games. New Jersey hosted the ASL Championship Game at Rutgers Stadium on September 4, 1977 and dominated the Sacramento Spirits 3-0 on goals by RingoCantillo, Telmo Pires and Juan Cano. A reported crowd of 6,493 turned out for the match. After the season, Cantillo was named the league’s MVP for 1977.
ASL Commissioner Bob Cousy, the former Boston Celtics star, challenged the North American Soccer League champion New York Cosmos to face the Americans to ”really determine the soccer professional championship of the United States”. This was sort of like the Rochester Red Wings proposing to play the New York Yankees to resolve any lingering doubts about the meaning of the World Series. The Cosmos, busy selling out stadiums in the Caribbean and South America for Pele’s farewell tour, declined to respond.
In early 1980 the Americans ownership sold the club to new investors who relocated the franchise to Miami, Florida. The Miami Americans lasted one season before running out of money and folding. The ASL itself went out of business in early 1984.
New York Apollo were a 2nd Division pro soccer club in the American Soccer League that languished in the shadow of the far more popular New York Cosmos of the NASL during the mid-to-late 1970′s. Apollo played at Hofstra Stadium on Long Island, where the Cosmos had their own modest beginnings earlier in the decade, before signing Pele and moving on to grander venues like Yankee Stadium and Giants Stadium.
Apollo was a powerhouse within the obscure ranks of the 2nd division. The club appeared in five American Soccer League championship games between 1973 and 1979. They won league titles outright in 1973 and 1978 and were declared co-champions with the Boston/Worcester Astros in 1975, after their championship match remained unresolved through nine overtime periods.
Prior to the 1980 season, the club re-branded itself as New York United and tried to go big time, moving to Shea Stadium in Queens and signing English star Rodney Marsh as Head Coach. The move failed, with crowds at Shea often numbering less than 1,000 spectators and the club formerly known as New York Apollo folded for good after the 1981 season.
Long-time NBC, USA Network and MSG Network broadcaster Al Trautwig got his start calling Apollo games on the radio on WBAU 640 AM.
Thank you to former Apollo broadcaster and PR manager Howard Freshman for contributing the memorabilia and images for this entry.
The New England Sharks were an obscure American Soccer League (1933-1983) club that folded midway through their only season of existence in the summer of 1981. The Sharks started out in New Bedford, Massachusetts but moved to Pawtucket, Rhode Island in midseason in a cost-saving move.
Sharks co-owner George Patrick Duffy was a long-time youth sports organized in Pawtucket and was previously involved in the ASL as operator of the Rhode Island Oceaneers franchise in the mid-1970′s. Co-owner Charles Tapalian was a Providence-area property developer.
The Sharks ran out of money and shutdown after seventeen matches at the beginning of August. The club’s record was 4-13 at the time. The ASL decided to award 1-0 forfeit victories to the remaining seven opponents on the Sharks’ schedule, so their final record appears as 4-24 in the league’s final standings for the 1981 season.
The Sharks averaged 1,440 fans per match during their abbreviated season, according toThe Associated Press.
This 2nd Division soccer team from the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania is something of a cult classic. Consider:
There’s the Pennsylvania Stoners name, of course – reputedly a nod to the “Keystone State” rather than an endorsement of other recreational pursuits
The Stoners were visionaries in the field of corporate sponsorships. In 1980, while other American Soccer League clubs attempted to fill their program books with quarter-page ads, the Stoners sold one of the first Jersey Sponsorship in American pro soccer. The sponsor logo splashed across the players’ chests? ALPO dog food.
The 1979 Stoners featured not one but two future NFL placekickers on their roster, Matt Bahr and Florian Kempf.
The Stoners had their roots in amateur clubs organized by Hungarian émigré Willie Ehrlich in the Lehigh Valley region in the 1970′s. Ehrlich organized a group of investors and secured an American Soccer League (ASL) expansion franchise for Allentown in 1979. Ehrlich served as President, Head Coach, recruiter and front man.
The ASL had a long and obscure history dating back to the early 1930′s. For most of its existence, the ASL was a shifting alliance of ethnic clubs in Northeastern industrial cities. During the 1970′s proto soccer boom, the ASL got ambitious, banned the ethnic identities (sorry, Newark Ukrainian-Sitch) and became an air travel league, expanding to the West Coast in 1976. The Stoners would play opponents as far away as Las Vegas and Southern California.
During the club’s early years in Allentown, the Stoners occasionally played to crowds of 6,000 to 8,000 in the school district’s 20,000-seat stadium. This despite having just 400 season tickets sold for their inaugural season in 1979. The peak came in the summer of 1980, when the Stoners dominated the ASL with a 19-5-4 record and defeated defending champion Sacramento 2-1 in the league championship game in front of 7,237 fans in Allentown. Rookie George Gorleku was named ASL MVP, Ehrlich won Coach-of-the-Year Honors for the second straight season, and Scott Manning was the league’s Goalkeeper-of-the-Year.
The club was a money loser though. By the end of the 1981 season, Ehrlich’s investor group was out nearly a million dollars after three years of operation. Ehrlich resigned in September 1981 to focus on his growing bicycle manufacturing business. With their spiritual leader and chief promoter gone, the Stoners quickly fell on hard(er) times.
The Stoners moved to nearby Bethlehem for the 1982 season and attendance plummeted. The team nearly went bankrupt during the 1982 season and withdrew from the playoffs despite qualifying due to their financial distress. Allentown dentist Dr. William Burfeind rescued the ailing club in the winter of 1982, ensuring the Stoners would return for a fifth season. By 1983, the ASL had dwindled to only six teams. Despite a losing record, the Stoners made it to a best-of-three championship series where they lost to the Jacksonville Tea Men.
The Stoners pulled out of the American Soccer League in January 1984 and the league folded at more or less the same time. Strangely, the ASL was replaced by a successor organization called the United Soccer League in February 1984, which was headquartered in Lehigh Valley with ex-Stoners owner Dr. William Burfeind as Commissioner. Three former ASL clubs joined the USL, but despite Burfeind’s leadership in creating the new league, the Stoners were not among them. The team was dead and gone after five seasons.
Roman Urbanczuk, a product of Allentown’s Louis E. Dieruff High School, scored the franchise’s first goal when the club debuted at ASD Stadium on April 14, 1979. He was also the only original Stoner still on the team five years later when the club played its final match in the 1983 ASL championship series.
At the end of the 1979 North American Soccer League (NASL) season, Fort Lauderdale Strikers owner Elizabeth Robbie fired Head Coach Ron Newman. Newman had led the Strikers to three consecutive playoff appearances and was the NASL’s all-time winningest coach. But the Robbie family invested big dollars to bring international stars Gerd Muller and Teofilo Cubillas to South Florida and they weren’t satisfied with a first round playoff exit.
Newman’s peculiar response was to recruit investors and drop a 2nd Division American Soccer League (ASL) franchise right in the Strikers back yard at Miami’s Tropical Park for the 1980 season. Newman’s partners were Barry Leighton-Jones, an ex-pat English artist who carved out a niche painting clowns, and Stanley Worshore, a Ft. Lauderdale businessman. The trio purchased the ASL’s New Jersey Americans (1976-1979) in early 1980 and moved the franchise south, sans most of its players and staff. Newman was signed as President/Head Coach for a record-setting $200,000 per year, which was an outlandish amount for the eternally wobbly ASL, where most teams were thrilled to draw 3,000 fans for a match.
The Miami Americans‘ big signing was 28-year old Haitian striker Manu Sanon. Sanon starred for Haiti in the 1974 World Cup, scoring against both Argentina and Italy. The Americans agreed to a $100,000 transfer fee to import him from Beerschot of the Belgian first division and handed him the fattest contract in the ASL, variously reported as $400,000 for the 1980 campaign or $500,000 over three seasons.
The season went sideways immediately. Compared to the Strikers, the Americans were invisible in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale region. The Strikers averaged 14,729 fans at Lockhart Stadium that summer. The Americans struggled to get 2,000 at Tropical Park. Ron Newman, the franchise front man, quit the club on June 19th after only matches, apparently sensing a sinking ship. Newman soon hooked on with the San Diego Sockers of the NASL, taking over their vacant Head Coach position in mid-season.
Six days later, the cash-strapped Americans owners prematurely announced the sale of the team to a pair of shady Rhodesians, Stan Noahand Archie Oliver. But the deal collapsed over who would be responsible for the club’s existing debt, and the Rhodesians began poking around two other financially distressed ASL clubs – the Columbus Magic and the Sacramento Gold. In the end, Noah and Oliver turned out to be tire-kickers and all three teams folded before the year was out.
Manu Sanon soon followed Newman to San Diego of the NASL, walking out the door in July. The Americans, who couldn’t afford the installment payments on the transfer fee owed to his former Belgian club, were relieved to be out from under his monster contract. The team limped along in financial distress, unable to effectively replace injured or departed players and occasionally playing with as few as two bench players. The Americans managed to make it to the finish line in September, finishing the 1980 season with a 10-15-3 record. They folded quietly shortly thereafter.
Meanwhile, Ron Newman’s odd rivalry with his former club continued. After taking over the San Diego Sockers in midseason, he led the team deep into the 1980 NASL playoffs until they reached the semi-final series against none other than the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The Strikers defeated Newman’s Sockers to advance to Soccer Bowl ’80. But Newman would go on to turn the Sockers into an indoor soccer dynasty, winning eight indoor soccer championships between 1983 and 1992.
The California Sunshine were an Orange County-based club that played in the chaotic American Soccer League (1933-1983), the de facto 2nd division of American pro soccer in the latter half of the 1970′s. Southern California was an early hotbed of the youth soccer boom in the late 1970′s and the market was eagerly exploited by both the ASL and the more ambitious, bigger budgeted North American Soccer League (1968-1984). In 1978, the two leagues had five franchises active in Orange County and neighboring Los Angeles County.
The Sunshine were particularly strong on the field in 1978 and 1979. The 1979 club was a league-best 22-3-3, but crashed out of the playoffs in disappointing fashion, upset in the semis by the eventual champion Sacramento Gold. The club developed several players who would go on to long and successful careers in the indoor soccer in the 1980′s, including English striker Andy Chapman and American forwards Joey Fink and Poli Garcia. Garcia scored 15 goals for the Sunshine in 1979 and won the ASL’s Most Valuable Player award.
As with most ASL clubs, the Sunshine’s financial condition was always touch-and-go. During, the club’s first season in the summer of 1977, the Sunshine cycled through three team Presidents, as two owners walked away from the club. At one point, players went unpaid for six weeks. By the end of that summer, a limited partner named Dr. Robert Everakes would emerge as the club’s primary owner. Dr. Everakes and his wife Alexandra would run the Sunshine as a mom-and-pop operation for the remainder of the team’s existence. The Sunshine were kicked out of the league for a few hours in 1979 when the Everakes couldn’t come up with the money to pay their annual dues. After a dominant 22-3-3 season in 1979, the team was dismantled early in the 1980 season when the cash-strapped Everakes cut loose top performers like Andy Chapman andAlan Kelley and imposed 50% pay cuts on those who remained. Head Coach Derek Lawther would also resign over financial frustrations before the season was through.
After the 1980 season, the Golden Gate Gales and the Sacramento Gold folded, leaving the Sunshine as the only American Soccer League club still standing on the West Coast. The Everakes claimed they were ready to move forward with another hand-to-mouth season, but in March 1981 ASL Commissioner Mario Machado announced that the team was being placed into a “forced dormancy” due to the league’s geographic contraction. The Sunshine were never heard from again and the ASL itself went out of business in early 1984.