Born: December 1977 – The Las Vegas Quicksilvers relocate to San Diego.
Died: Postseason 1996 – The Sockers cease operations.
Stadium: Jack Murphy Stadium (22,222)
Arena: San Diego Sports Arena (12,948)
- 1978-1987: Bob Bell
- 1987-1991: Ron Fowler
- 1991-1994: Oscar Ancira, Sr.
- 1994-1996: Arena Group 2000
The greatest indoor soccer dynasty of all time started out as an outdoor soccer team that couldn’t find a home. The franchise that became the San Diego Sockers formed in Baltimore in 1974 as an expansion club in the North American Soccer League. The Baltimore Comets (1974-1975) played two seasons before moving across the country to become the San Diego Jaws in 1976. After one season in San Diego, the team moved to Nevada and played a single season as the Las Vegas Quicksilvers in the summer of 1977.
The team finally acquired stability when Robert W. Bell bought the Quicksilvers and returned the team to San Diego to begin play as the San Diego Sockers in the spring of 1978. Under Bell’s ownership, the Sockers played seven seasons of outdoor soccer in the NASL at Jack Murphy Stadium from 1978 to 1984. The team peaked in the years 1979 to 1982, reaching the playoff semi-final for four consecutive seasons, but always falling one game short of the Soccer Bowl title game.
The Sockers’ outdoor popularity crested in 1981, when average crowds reached 14,802 for 16 home matches. But attendance crashed badly in the following seasons. In 1982, San Diego was chosen as the host of Soccer Bowl ’82, a risky choice given the Sockers modest attendance history. For the fourth consecutive year, the Sockers lost in the semis, further reducing ticket sales interest for the final between the New York Cosmos and the Seattle Sounders on September 18, 1982. The announced attendance of 22,634 was termed “a disaster” by NASL CEO Howard Samuels.
By 1983, Sockers average attendance was down to a league-worst 4,685, a crash of 70% in just two seasons. During the late 1970′s, the New York Cosmos occasionally drew single game crowds that were larger than the Sockers’ total annual attendance for the 1983 and 1984 outdoor seasons.
But Bell kept the Sockers going, in part because of the club’s terrific success in the indoor game. The NASL began experimenting with a winter-time indoor season in 1979-80 in response to a threat from the rival Major Indoor Soccer League, which began play in 1978. Only a few clubs participated at first – NASL teams were slow to embrace the indoor game due to philosophical issues and labor issues with the league’s player association. The Sockers played their first indoor season at the San Diego Sports Arena in the winter of 1980-81.
The Sockers won their first title in the winter of 1981-82, winning the NASL’s indoor season. That kicked off an amazing run of ten indoor titles in the next eleven years, as the Sockers became one of the all-time great American soccer dynasties. The financially troubled NASL opted not to put on an indoor season in 1982-83, so the Sockers temporarily joined the rival Major Indoor Soccer League that winter and won the 1983 MISL title. In 1983-84, they returned for the NASL’s final indoor campaign and won that too, marking their third straight championship.
The NASL went out of business after the 1984 outdoor season and the Sockers joined the MISL on a full-time basis in the winter of 1984-85. The Sockers continued their dominance, winning the MISL Championship every year from 1985 to 1992, with the lone exception of 1987, when they lost in the semi final series.
On the financial side, Bell continued to take a beating despite the team’s on-field success. The Sockers never turned an annual profit and Bell lost an estimated $9 million during his team’s seasons as the Sockers’ managing general partner. In 1980, Bell owned 95% of the team. In 1984, with big losses from the outdoor game, he started taking on limited partners and was diluted to less than 20% ownership in the club. In 1987, Bell left for good, handing the reigns to one of his limited partners, Ron Fowler.
Under Fowler, the team continued to dominate the MISL, but the club’s finances failed to improve. The Sockers filed for bankruptcy in April 1988, just as the MISL contracted from 11 to 7 clubs. Fowler re-purchased the team out of a contentious bankruptcy filing, which may also have saved the league itself. The Sockers went on to win another four titles after this brush with death. In June 1991, Fowler finally gave up, selling the club to a group led by Oscar Ancira, Sr., a frozen foods entrepreneur. Under Ancira, the team would win its tenth and final indoor championship in the spring of 1992.
In July 1992 the MISL, known by this time as the “Major Soccer League”, folded after fourteen seasons. The Sockers accepted an invitation to join the new Continental Indoor Soccer League, set to begin play in June 1993. The big change from the MISL was that the CISL would play in the summer time. Many CISL franchises were owned and operated by arena management companies and NBA/NHL ownership groups who were looking to fill empty building dates during the summer months. The move to the CISL meant that the Sockers had to take a full year off between May 1992 and the debut of the new league in June 1993.
The Sockers made one last run at a championship in 1993. In the CISL championship series they faced the Dallas Sidekicks, a long-time rival from the MISL days who had also made the jump to the new league. (The Sidekicks were also the only team to interrupt the Sockers decade-long dominance in the 1980′s, winning the MISL championship in 1987.) The Sidekicks won the best-of-three series two games to one.
By 1994, the charismatic foreign stars like Steve Zungul, Kaz Deyna, Juli Veee and Branko Segota who fueled the Sockers’ dynasty during the 1980′s were all gone. So was Head Coach Ron Newman, the architect of all ten of San Diego’s titles during his tenure from 1980 to 1993. Newman left after the first CISL season. San Diegans showed little interest for indoor soccer in the summer time. Attendance at the Sports Arena for all four Sockers season in the CISL was less than 6,000 per match, the worst figures since the team’s first season of indoor soccer back in the winter of 1980-81.
In December 1994, the Ancira family offloaded the Sockers to Arena Group 2000, the management corporation for the San Diego Sports Arena. The arena operated the Sockers for two more unremarkable seasons in the CISL in 1995 and 1996. The team quietly folded following the 1996 season after nineteen years in business. At the time, that made the Sockers the oldest continuously operating soccer franchise in the United States.
The Sockers brand name has been revived in San Diego on two occasions. Both low-budget reincarnations have been pale imitations of the original Sockers and have attracted minimal fan or media interest.
==Sockers Matches on Fun While It Lasted==
|1978||6/14/1978||@ Seattle Sounders||L 3-2||Program|
|1979||8/25/1979||@ Chicago Sting||W 1-0||Program|
|1979||8/30/1979||vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies||W 2-1||Program|
|1980||7/23/1980||@ New York Cosmos||L 5-0||Program||Game Notes|
|1981||4/25/1981||vs. Los Angeles Aztecs||W 2-0||Program|
|1981||5/2/1981||vs. San Jose Earthquakes||W 4-2||Program|
|1981||6/7/1981||vs. Chicago Sting||L 1-0||Program|
|1981||7/11/1981||vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies||W 4-3 (OT)||Program|
|1981||8/26/1981||vs. Portland Timbers||W 5-1||Program|
|1981||9/6/1981||vs. Jacksonville Tea Men||W 2-1||Program|
|1981||9/21/1981||@ Chicago Sting||L 1-0 (SO)||Program|
|1982||5/9/1982||@ Chicago Sting||W 2-1||Program|
|1982||9/5/1982||@ New York Cosmos||L 2-1||Program||Game Notes|
|1982||9/8/1982||vs. New York Cosmos||L 2-1||Program|
|1983||8/12/1983||vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies||W 9-1||Program|
|1983||8/31/1983||vs. Seattle Sounders||W 4-1||Program|
|1983-84||3/2/1984||@ Chicago Sting||L 6-1||Program|
|1983-84||4/5/1984||vs. New York Cosmos||W 5-2||Program|
|1984||8/12/1984||vs. Tampa Bay Rowdies||W 5-1||Program||Game Notes|
|1984-85||3/22/1985||vs. Chicago Sting||W 5-4 (OT)||Program|
|1985-86||10/27/1985||@ Cleveland Force||W 8-6||Program|
|1985-86||12/26/1985||@ Wichita Wings||W 5-3||Program|
|1985-86||3/9/1986||@ Wichita Wings||L 5-4||Program|
|1990-91||5/17/1991||@ Cleveland Crunch||W 6-5||Program|
|1996||7/5/1996||@ Anaheim Splash||??||Program|
Kaz Deyna, a former Polish Olympic gold medalist who was part of five indoor championship with the Sockers between 1981 and 1987, died in a single-car DUI accident in San Diego on September 1, 1989. He was 41.
Sockers vs. New York Cosmos at Jack Murphy Stadium. NASL playoff semi-finals, September 13, 1982.
Sockers vs. Cleveland Force in MISL action at San Diego Sports Arena. December 11, 1987.