This 1982 North American Soccer League match pitted the early season front runners in the NASL’s Eastern and Western Divisions. San Diegans and NASL officials could only hope the game would be a preview of Soccer Bowl ’82: the hometown San Diego Sockers, already tabbed to host the league’s title game in late September, and the New York Cosmos, the league’s sexiest box office attraction and biggest media market.
San Diego was a risky choice to host the league’s signature event. The Sockers were a mediocre draw at best, despite fielding a competitive club most years. For the past three seasons in a row, the Sockers had been eliminated in the playoff semi-finals, one step short of the Soccer Bowl. The NASL’s best bet for a sold out Soccer Bowl at 50,000-seat Jack Murphy Stadium would be for the Sockers to finally take the next step in 1982.
The Cosmos defeated the Sockers in both of the clubs’ previous matches, including a 5-0 shellacking at Giants Stadium in 1980. That streak wouldn’t change on this evening. New York got first half goals from Steve Moyers and Giorgio Chinaglia which was enough to hold off the Sockers 2-1. Polish World Cup veteran Kaz Deyna scored for San Diego in the second half.
New York and San Diego would meet again in the postseason, but the clash came in the semi-finals rather than the Soccer Bowl. The Cosmos pulled off a two-game sweep and the Sockers went home one round too early for the fourth consecutive year. With the Sockers on the golf course, ticket sales for Soccer Bowl ’82 suffered accordingly and the final between the Cosmos and the Seattle Sounders on September 18, 1982 was played before an embarrassing crowd of 22,634.
This match was broadcast nationally on the USA cable network and locally back in New York on WOR-TV.
American goalkeeper Arnie Mausser of the Jacksonville Tea Men is pictured on the front of the evening’s KICK Magazine game program. It was the only time the middling Jacksonville club earned a cover story during the club’s brief (1981-1982) existence in Florida.
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 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. By 1987 Bell was gone, 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 Veeeand 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.
San Diego Sockers Memorabilia
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.
Keith Weller served as an assistant to Head Coach Ron Newman during the Sockers’ 1988-89 MISL season, before getting the Tacoma Stars head job the following year. Weller died of cancer at age 58 on November 13, 2004.
Haitian striker Manu Sanon, who played for the Sockers from 1980 to 1983, passed away on February 21, 2008 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
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.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies arrived in San Diego in mid-August 1983 as just a shell of the great club that appeared in three Soccer Bowl finals during the 1970’s. Under new Head Coach Al Miller, the Rowdies carried a 7-17 record into this match with the San Diego Sockers. They would go on to lose their final six matches to finish the year 7-23 – the worst won-loss record in the NASL. One of their lone bright spots was the play of rookie defender Gregg Thompson – seen pictured on the cover of the evening’s game program. Thompson was the #1 overall pick in the NASL college draft out of the University of Indiana in 1983 and would go on to win league Rookie-of-the-Year honors.
In a long, trying season for the Rowdies, this match was the indisputable low point. The Sockers laid a 9-1 shellacking on their visitors from Florida. It was the worst loss in the history of the 10-year old Rowdies franchise.
Much of the damage was done by Kaz Deyna. Deyna was a hero in his native Poland, one of the finest players ever produced by that nation. He helped lift Poland to Olympic gold at Munich in 1972 and captained Poland’s World Cup team in Argentina in 1978. On this night, the 36-year old midfielder scored four goals and assisted on all five others to set an NASL regular season record with 13 points in a single match. Unfortunately, the Sockers never drew well for outdoor soccer. The team was much more popular during the winter indoor season at the San Diego Sports Arena. Only 3,844 were on hand at cavernous Jack Murphy Stadium to witness Deyna’s big night.
Deyna’s final years were sad. He feuded openly with Sockers head coach Ron Newman and his role on the team was gradually reduced. He played his final pro match – an indoor game – for the Sockers in the spring of 1987. The Polish player agent who brought him to America, Ted Miondonski, defrauded him of his modest career earnings. Between 1984 and 1987, Deyna was arrested three times for DUI in San Diego. On September 1st, 1989 he died in a single car accident in San Diego with a blood alcohol limit twice the legal level.