Great KICK Magazine match day from 30 years ago today, when the Chicago Sting took on their North American Soccer League arch rivals in an indoor soccer matinee at the old Chicago Stadium downtown. The crowd of 11,722 was the Sting’s largest of the indoor season so far, thanks to the holiday and the box office appeal of the hated New York Cosmos.
Cosmos’ striker Steve Moyers graces the program cover, but it was New York’s Polish indoor specialist Stan Terlecki who carried the afternoon for the visitors, scoring all four of the Cosmos’ goals, including the game winner with under three minutes to play. The Cosmos won 4-3. Charlie Fajkus (2 goals) and Ingo Peter scored for the Sting in a losing effort.
This was the second-to-last match ever played in the old North American Soccer League (1968-1984) and the last outdoor pro soccer match in Chicago until the arrival of Major League Soccer and the Chicago Fire in 1998.
A little more than a decade earlier, back in August 1974, the Miami Toros and the Los Angeles Aztecs met in the NASL championship game. The Toros won the right to host the match at the Orange Bowl, but the uncertainty of who would advance through the playoffs to host the final left promoters scrambling to sell tickets. The Toros were never a strong draw to begin with and organizers pinned their hopes on a massive discount coupon effort which papered the city of Miami with hundreds of thousands of ticket vouchers. August in Miami isn’t a great time to be outdoors at 3:30 in the afternoon and the resulting crowd of 15,507 was considered a major disappointment.
NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam decided that the league needed a neutral site championship game, modeled on the NFL’s Super Bowl. With a host city selected months in advance there would be plenty of time to promote ticket sales. Thus the Soccer Bowl concept was born in 1975, with San Jose’s Spartan Stadium hosting the league title match between the Portland Timbers and the Tampa Bay Rowdies. By the late 1970′s, the Soccer Bowl was consistently drawing over 50,000 fans to first class venues such as Giants Stadium and RFK Stadium.
Then came 1982. The NASL was in major trouble, having shrunk from 24 active clubs to just 14 in two years with more departures on the horizon. Midway through the 1982 season, exasperated league owners effectively replaced Woosnam by hiring former industrialist and government official Howard J. Samuels as the new President and CEO of the League. One of Samuels first impressions of the NASL was the misfire of Soccer Bowl ’82, hosted by the San Diego Sockers organization at Jack Murphy Stadium. For the first time in three years, the Soccer Bowl was not carried on network television. And the live attendance was an embarrassment – only 22,634 showed up for the game, despite the fact that the hometown Sockers had advanced as far as the semi-final round which should (in theory) have goosed advance sales. It was by far the smallest Soccer Bowl crowd since the concept debuted in 1975.
Samuels drew the exact opposite conclusion as Woosnam had eight years earlier. Neutral site championships were a “disaster” for the league in 1981 and 1982, Samuels told The New York Times. Samuels envisioned a best-of-three series between the finalists, with matches in their respective home cities, drawing 50,000 fans per match. It would be two years before Samuels could implement the idea – Vancouver would get to host the 1983 Soccer Bowl before Samuels could toss the neutral site model onto the trash heap once and for all. (Naturally, Vancouver drew 53,000 for the 1983 match – 2nd highest in Soccer Bowl history - despite the fact that the local Whitecaps failed to reach the final).
Howard Samuels finally got his desired format in 1984. The Chicago Sting and the Toronto Blizzard met in a best-of-three championship, now re-branded as the “Soccer Bowl Series ’84″. Fan turnout was far below even the “disaster” levels of the 1981 and 1982 Soccer Bowls. Only 8,352 fans turned up at Chicago’s Comiskey Park for Game One. Strangely, the crowd was even smaller than Chicago’s modest regular season average of 8,376.
The game itself was exciting and somewhat strange. Blizzard defender Bruce Wilson opened the scoring in the 16th minute with an outlandish goal. Wilson collected the ball about 40 yards out from the Sting goal and chipped a high lob back into the penalty area. No one was in the vicinity except for Sting goalkeeper Victor Nogueira who waited calmly in front of the descending ball…and then shocked the Comiskey faithful by allowing it to nutmeg him and roll unmolested into the Sting net. Nogueira writhed on the ground in abject humiliation. But the Sting keeper dusted himself off and shutdown the dangerous Toronto trio of David Byrne, Roberto Bettega and Ace Ntsoelengoe for the rest of the evening.
The Blizzard carried the 1-0 lead into the locker room at halftime. But the second half was all Chicago. Pato Margetic even the game in the 51st minute, the first of three goals for the young Argentinean striker in the 1984 Soccer Bowl Series. Chilean midfielder Manny Rojas, a midseason acquisition who scored only one regular season goal for the Sting, notched the game winner in the 85th minute.
Two nights later, the Sting travelled to Toronto and put the series away with a 3-2 victory. That proved to be the last game the NASL ever played. The league folded in early 1985.
NASL President & CEO Howard Samuels didn’t live to see the bitter end. He died suddenly of a heart attack on October 26, 1984, three weeks after his preferred Soccer Bowl format got its first and only showing.
1st half of the 1984 Soccer Bowl Series Game One between the Sting and the Blizzard at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
The Chicago Sting were an accomplished pro soccer club that enjoyed success both outdoors and indoors during a thirteen-year run from 1975 through 1988. The Sting were formed on Halloween day 1974 as an expansion franchise in the North American Soccer League.
During the Sting’s early seasons under the direction of former Manchester United defender Bill Foulkes (1975-1977), the roster had a dominant British presence. The Sting were not a factor in the NASL championship hunt during this era (despite a division title in 1976) and drew very poorly as the team shuffled games between Comiskey Park, Soldier Field and Wrigley Field each summer. As late as 1978, the Sting had the worst attendance in the entire 24-team NASL, pulling just 4,188 fans per game.
It’s somewhat remarkable that Sting owner Lee Stern, a Chicago commodities broker, hung in during such a long stretch of lean years. In fact, Stern would prove to be one of the most steadfast owners in American soccer, backing the money-losing club for its entire 13-year existence. And as the 1980′s approached, the Sting’s fortunes began to improve.
The 1978 season started disastrously. Under new Head Coach Malcolm Musgrove (another British import), the Sting set a league record losing their first ten games of the season. Musgrove would be fired without ever registering a win for the Sting. But the English-heavy complexion of the club had already begun to shift under Musgrove. 1978 marked the arrival of West German striker Karl-Heinz Granitza, who would become the club’s greatest star, along with fellow German Arno Steffenhagen, another key contributor, and Danish winger Jorgen Kristensen. German assistant coach Willy Roy took over the coaching reigns from Musgrove and improbably led the 0-10 Sting into the 1978 playoffs (thanks to the NASL’s very generous playoff system).
In 1980 the Sting won a division title with the 3rd best record in the league (21-11). Granitza established himself as one of the NASL’s mostly consistently productive scorers. In 1981, the Sting were even better – division champs again with a 23-9 record, tied for the best mark in the league with the defending champion New York Cosmos. Pato Margetic, a dynamic 21-year old Argentinean arrived to team with Granitza up top and spark the most potent offense in the NASL. Margetic became an immediate fan favorite. Sting crowds had tripled since the low water mark of 1978, up to nearly 13,000 per match in 1981.
The team’s growing popularity in Chicago was due in part to the Sting’s rivalry with and uncanny mastery of the New York Cosmos. The Cosmos were an international super club before such a concept really existed, featuring a collection of world all-stars such as Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia. By 1981, the New Yorkers had won three of the past four NASL championships. And the Sting absolutely owned them. Cosmos derbies became a big draw in Chicago. A June 1981 regular season match against New York drew a franchise record 30,501 to Wrigley field for a thrilling 6-5 Sting victory. (The Cosmos PR department later produced a short highlight reel of this match calledThe Greatest Game in NASL History.)
In September 1981, a new record crowd of 39,623 came out to Comiskey Park on a cold Monday night to watch the Sting eliminate the San Diego Sockers in Game Three of the playoff semi-finals to earn a trip to Soccer Bowl ’81, the NASL’s championship match. They would play their arch rivals, the Cosmos, at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium on September 26, 1981. Improbably, the NASL’s two highest scoring teams played a scoreless regulation and overtime period. That sent the game into the NASL’s unusual “shootout” format to determine a league champion…
The Sting’s victory in Soccer Bowl ’81 gave the Windy City its first major professional sports since the Bears won the NFL championship in 1963. And if you think calling the Sting and the NASL “major” seems like a stretch, consider this: nearly 10,000 fans greeted the Sting at O’Hare Airport on their return home from Toronto and over 100,000 more lined LaSalle Avenue for a ticker tape parade a few days later.
As the Sting were developing into one of the NASL’s best outdoor clubs at the dawn of the 1980′s, the league also began to experiment with indoor soccer. The Sting played their first indoor season in the winter of 1980-81 at the old Chicago Stadium downtown. They reached the indoor finals that first season, losing in a two-game sweep at the hands of the Edmonton Drillers.
The Sting quickly became a box office hit indoors. Their league-leading average indoor crowd of 13,322 at Chicago Stadium for the 1981-82 season was better than the average for any outdoor season the Sting ever played. The team’s popularity was due in part to their near invincibility at home. Going into the 1981-82 indoor playoffs, the Sting had an incredible 18-game winning streak at Chicago Stadium. On Valentine’s Day 1982, the Sting beat the Tampa Bay Rowdies 10-9 in an overtime thriller at Chicago Stadium. The standing room crowd of 19,398 was the largest ever to see an indoor soccer game in the United States at the time. As the NASL began to wither – shrinking from 24 clubs in 1980 to just 9 by the beginning of the 1984 season, many began to assert that the Sting were better off simply playing indoors.
By 1984, the NASL was on its last legs. The Sting defeated the Toronto Blizzard to win the NASL’s final championship in October of that year, but the buzz around Chicago was nothing like when the Sting won the Soccer Bowl in 1981. There would be no massive parade with 100,000 fans lining the streets of downtown Chicago. The Cubs were in the playoffs with a chance to win the pennant for the first time in decades, for one thing. For another, Sting owner Lee Stern had already formally pulled his club out of the dying NASL by the time the final whistle blew on the team’s championship victory. The Sting were accepted into the Major Indoor Soccer League in August of 1984. The club’s future was now exclusively as an indoor team.
By the time the Sting moved permanently indoors in the fall of 1984, the club’s moment was already in eclipse. The team finished with a strong 28-20 record and averaged over 10,000 fans for the final time. But a pair of 1st round home playoff losses to the Cleveland Force drew small crowds. The following season the Sting finished with a losing record and the team fired Willy Roy after eight years and two championships. Attendance crashed by 30%. After the 1985-86 season, the Sting left Chicago Stadium for the suburban Rosemont Horizon, citing the deteriorating neighborhood around the Stadium and their belief that the team’s core audience lived in the suburbs. Attendance dropped a further 20% during the Sting’s first season at the Horizon in 1986-87. Karl-Heinz Granitza was suspended for insubordination in early 1987, ending his nine-year run with the Sting.
The Sting mounted one last big counter offensive against the indifference swallowing the club in the summer of 1987. Lee Stern brought on advertising executive Lou Weisbach as an investment partner and hired Chicago Bulls VP of Marketing David Rosenberg to re-energize the fan base. Weisbach and Rosenberg boosted the front office staff to an all-time high of 21 employees and created a marketing campaign around “The New Chicago Sting”. The center piece of the campaign was a reported $1 million investment in post-game concerts for two-thirds of the Sting’s home dates at the Rosemont Horizon. In July 1987, Rosenberg unveiled the line-up of schlocky soft rock and oldies acts and cornball comedians, including the likes of Marie Osmond, Buddy Hackett, Fabian, Susan Anton and Jeffrey Osborne.
Whether the marriage of indoor soccer and live pop music was doomed from inception or whether it was the desperately unhip line-up of acts that the Sting procured, the campaign was a flop. One month into the season, attendance was flat at under 6,000 per game and the Sting began lopping the concerts of the schedule. A Granitza-less last place club under the direction of Roy’s successor Erich Geyer didn’t help matters.
By the end of the season, the Sting were done in Chicago. A possible sale and relocation to Denver was explored and abandoned. The Sting officially folded on July 8, 1988.
This 1980 North American Soccer League match had it all. A collision of the league’s greatest international superstars: Carlos Alberto, Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia of the New York Cosmos versus Dutch legend Johan Cruyff and his Washington Diplomats. A national television audience on ABC Sports with Jim McKay handling the play-by-play and Verne Lundquist on the sidelines. A showcase of the league’s unique “Shootout” tiebreaker procedure. Physical assaults on match officials. And a rabid crowd of 53,351 fans, which The Washington Post’sDave Kindred claimed was the 2nd largest American soccer crowd of all time outside of New York City and its environs.
The Dips took a 1-0 lead in the first half courtesy of a Bob Iarusci penalty kick. They looked to have a two-goal margin later in the half when Cruyff headed in a corner for his first goal in a Dips uniform, but the goal was disallowed for a foul. Cruyff would leave at halftime with a muscle strain (though that wouldn’t keep the Dutchman from getting ejected in the second half, after arguing the Dips’ second nullified goal of the match).
Chinaglia tied things up at the 55:41 mark, scoring the 500th goal of his club career. Washington’s Alan Green appeared to have the game winner with less than five minutes remaining, a but a controversial foul on Ken Mokgojoa wiped this goal out too. A shirtless man charged onto the field and knocked down linesman Gordon Arrowsmith. Some observers assumed it was a fan, but no, it was Washington’s Joe Horvath who’d subbed out just a few minutes earlier. Just as Arrowsmith got back to his feet, a rock from the RFK stands clonked him above the eye and send him back to the turf, and then on to the medical tent. Horvath was later suspended two games.
After a scoreless 15-minute overtime period, the match went to a Shootout (see the second YouTube clip below). Cosmos goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier was heroic, saving four shots despite a useless left arm that he’d injured during overtime. The Cosmos, meanwhile, couldn’t pull the ball on frame, missing three shots, while Dips ‘keeper Bill Irwin saved a fourth. Finally, Cosmos midfielder Vladislav Bogicevic sank the game winner on New York’s fifth and final attempt. Birkenmeier then stonewalled Iarusci on Washington’s final attempt to close out the victory.
The Dips took advantage of the historic crowd to promote ticket sales for Soccer Bowl ’80. The NASL’s championship game was scheduled for RFK Stadium on September 21st. That match drew another big crowd – 50,768 – despite the fact that the Dips didn’t make it to the final.
For the 1980 season, the Dips attendance increased 61% to a franchise-record 19,205 spectators per match, which was 6th best in the 24-team NASL. The presence of Johan Cruyff was a huge boost. But the growth wasn’t enough for Madison Square Garden Corp. and its Chairman Sonny Werblin who bought the team just two years earlier in October 1978. MSG lost a rumored $5 million on the Dips in 1979 and 1980 and folded the club in November 1980. The Dips were a revived a few months later when the NASL’s Detroit Express moved to the nation’s capital and took on the old Dips identity, but the Express owners didn’t have anything close to the resources of Madison Square Garden to bring in top talent or promote the team. The “new” Dips lasted just one season and folded in the fall of 1981.
Two video clips from the match, including the decisive shootout…
A franchise record crowd of 30,501 came out to Wrigley Field on sunny, 89-degree afternoon to see the Sting (11-7) face the NASL’s defending champions from New York (15-5). The Sting had the Cosmos’ number in these years, winning five of their six previous meetings. And they got off to a fast start here, with Ingo Peter and Dave Huson staking Chicago to a 2-0 lead after 25 minutes.
But the Cosmos fought back to tie later in the first half on goals from Giorgio Chinaglia and Julio Cesar Romero. It was the first of two times the Cosmos would claw back from two goals down that afternoon. Charlie Fajkus scored in the 43rd minute to give the Sting a 3-2 lead at the half.
The blistering pace continued in the second half. Arno Steffenhagen gave Chicago a 4-2 margin in the 50th minute. Once again it was Chinaglia (71st minute) and Romero (75th) that brought the Cosmos back to even. Ingo Peter scored his second of the match to put the Sting up 5-4 in the 77th minute, but the Cosmos’ recently signed Yugoslav defender Ivan Buljan, playing his fourth game with the club, volleyed home the equalizer with 41 seconds left in regulation.
The first 10,000 fans received a hideous Chicago Sting Styrofoam visor courtesy of Ovaltine
After scoring 10 goals in regulation time, neither team could put one in the back of the net during two overtime periods. The NASL was allergic to draws, so the match went to the league’s controversial “Shootout” tiebreaker. In the shootout, six attackers from each side took turns dribbling in on goal from 35 yards out. They had five seconds to get off a shot. Seninho put the Cosmos in front, beating Chicago keeper Dieter Ferner, but none of New York’s other shooters could convert. Huson and Rudy Glenn beat New York’s Hubert Birkenmeier to give Chicago a rousing 6-5 victory.
“It was a 5-5 game. Everybody is going home happy but the Cosmos,” Chinaglia told Newark Star-Ledger beat writer Ike Kuhns afterwards. “This was the most exciting soccer game they have seen in Chicago in a long time. This was a pulpit and if this doesn’t sell soccer here I don’t know what will.”
The two clubs met again six months later for Soccer Bowl ’81 in Toronto. During the festivities in the days before the match, the New York Cosmos PR department screened a short documentary on this June 28th match entitled The Greatest Game in NASL History.
The Sting would need the Shootout to defeat the Cosmos once again in Soccer Bowl ’81. It was the only time the Cosmos ever lost a Soccer Bowl appearance in five appearances.
Thanks to Kenn Tomasch for passing along the YouTube link on this one…