The Pittsburgh Miners were a 2nd Division soccer club that competed in the American Soccer League in the summer of 1975. The club had a miserable season, winning just one of 20 matches (1-16-3). Coal executive William Renton of Cleveland owned the Miners.
The Miners’ roster was composed entirely of American players. Among the best was Pennsylvania native and Pitt grad Joe Luxbacher, the Miners’ leading scorer with six goals. He would later play for the Pittsburgh Spirit of the Major Indoor Soccer League, before becoming head coach at his alma mater in 1984. As of 2014, Luxbacher has coached the University of Pittsburgh soccer team for 31 seasons.
Miners home games were originally scheduled at Martorelli Stadium at North Hills High School. Midway through the season, the club shifted to a field in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The team folded quietly at the end of the 1975 season.
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.
==Carolina Lightnin’ Programs on Fun While It Lasted==
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.
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.