Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘Milan Mandaric’ tag

1978 Oakland Stompers

leave a comment

Oakland StompersNorth American Soccer League (1978)

Born: September 1977 – The Connecticut Bicentennials move to Oakland.
Moved:
February 22, 1979 (Edmonton Drillers)

Stadium: Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (50,900)

Team Colors: Blue, Burgundy & Gold

Owner: Milan Mandaric and Bill Graham

Soccer Bowl Championships: None

 

The Oakland Stompers were a One-Year Wonder in the North American Soccer League during the a  spring and summer of 1978.  Club founder Milan Mandaric previously started up the NASL’s other Bay Area franchise, the popular San Jose Earthquakes, in 1974.  In late 1977 he divested himself of the Earthquakes and bought the league’s struggling Connecticut Bicentennials club and moved it across the country to the Oakland Coliseum.  It was bold move considering that many at the time wondered if the Bay Area could even support its two Major League Baseball franchises.  But the NASL was riding at a peak of investor enthusiasm in 1978 amidst the belief that pro soccer would be the Sport of the 80’s.

The Stompers identity derived from Northern California’s burgeoning wine industry.  The club’s cheerleading squad was called the “Corkpoppers”.  And the team distributed a free match day supplement called Grapevine to supplement the NASL’s KICK Magazine game programs.

The Stompers, who were ultimately unsuccessful in competition, were best known for signing iconoclast goalkeeper Shep Messing to a $100,000 contract for the 1978 season, which was then the largest contract ever offered to an American-born soccer player.

Messing was the primary goalkeeper on the New York Cosmos’ Soccer Bowl championship team in 1977.  The Harvard-educated goalkeeper was an aggressive self-promoter – he infamously posed nude for Viva magazine in 1974 – but in New York he was overshadowed by the Cosmos’ menagerie of international superstars.  Messing was also a laggard in training and seemed to view leadership as synonymous with antagonizing his head coaches early in his career.  By his own later admission, Messing struggled with technical aspects of the outdoor game, such as dealing with crosses into the box, despite his tremendous reflexes and athleticism.  The Cosmos were willing to let him go (and indeed would repeat as league champions without him in 1978).

Shep Messing SkoalIn Oakland, finally, Messing was the face of the franchise and the subject of most of the club’s national media attention. This included a lengthy profile by J.D. Reed in the July 10th, 1978 issue of Sports Illustrated  But Stompers’ General Manager Dick Berg ripped Messing in the article, noting that his star’s appetite for publicity rare extended to team functions.

“Shep is only interested in his own promotion,” Berg told Reed.  “Every time we have a ticket-selling banquet or a shopping-center promotion set up for him, he threatens to put himself on the injured list.  Chewing tobacco on network television doesn’t put fans in the seats.”

The Stompers made their debut at Oakland Coliseum on April 2, 1978 to an impressive crowd of 32,104.  Messing reportedly rejected Berg’s request to enter the stadium riding atop an elephant.  The big crowd was somewhat misleading as the Stompers were playing their Bay Area rivals, the San Jose Earthquakes.  The Associated Press noted that half of the big crowd appeared to be rooting for San Jose.  The club would never see a home crowd anywhere near that size again.  Eight of the Stompers remaining fourteen home matches at the Coliseum drew fewer than 10,000 fans.

Messing was fantastic in the Stompers’ debut.  Late in the match he stopped a penalty kick from the ‘Quakes Ilija Mitic, the NASL’s all-time leading scorer at the time, to preserve a 0-0 tie.  The NASL didn’t have ties in 1978 though, so after an uneventful 15-minute overtime period, the game was decided by the “Shootout”, which featured five players from each club attempting to score during a timed, undefended breakaway.  Messing turned away four of five shooters from the Quakes.  Rookie Andy Atuegbu, a college standout from the University of San Francisco, and Polish import Franz Smuda found the net for the Stompers in the Shootout to give the hosts a 1-0 opening day triumph.

After a 9-9 start the Stompers wilted through the back end of the 1978 campaign, finishing 12-18 and out of playoff contention.  In late March 1979, on the eve of what would have been the Stompers’ sophomore season, owner Milan Mandaric sold the team to Peter Pocklington, the owner of the Edmonton Oilers hockey team.  Pocklington moved the club to Edmonton and renamed it the Edmonton Drillers.  The Drillers played four seasons before folding in 1982.  The NASL went out of business after the 1984 season.

Mandaric owned several other unsuccessful American soccer clubs in the 1980s’ and 1990’s, mostly in the indoor leagues.  In the 2000’s, he turned his attention to Europe, where he enjoyed much greater success in ownership stints with Portsmouth, Leicester City and Sheffield Wednesday in England.

Former Stompers defender Franz Smuda later became manager of the Polish National Team from 2009 to 2012.

 

Oakland Stompers Memorabilia

 

Oakland Stompers Video

Shep Messing pimps Skoal Tobacco circa 1978:

 

Links

Support Your Local Keeper!” J.D. Reed, Sports Illustrated, July 10, 1978

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs

###

 

1998-1999 Florida Thundercats

one comment

Florida ThundercatsNational Professional Soccer League (1998-1999)

Born: May 19, 1998 – NPSL expansion franchise.
Died: Postseason 1999 – The Thundercats cease operations.

Arena: National Car Rental Center (19,200)

Team Colors: Blue, Black & Silver

Owner: Milan Mandaric

 

The Florida Thundercats were an indoor soccer team in Sunrise, Florida that resides on our One-Year Wonders file. The Thundercats failed despite a deeply experienced management team of pro soccer investors and operators.

Financial backer Milan Mandaric owned soccer clubs in both the United States and Europe dating back to the 1970’s. He also had previous experience in the indoor game as a club owner in the defunct Major Indoor Soccer League and the Continental Indoor Soccer League. Mandaric paid a reported $400,000 expansion fee to the NPSL for the rights to the Florida franchise in May 1998 (Sports Business Journal, 10/26/1998)

General Manager Dick Berg was an experienced promoter in the NFL and the NBA and previously managed Mandaric’s outdoor clubs in the North American Soccer League during the 1970’s, the San Jose Earthquakes and the Oakland Stompers.

Head Coach Fernando Clavijo was a long-time indoor star of the 1980’s and played in the 1994 World Cup for the United States. In 1997, Clavijo coached the Seattle Seadogs to the championship of the Continental Indoor Soccer League.

The Thundercats played in the brand new National Car Rental Center in the suburbs of Fort Lauderdale. They shared the 19,000-seat building with the NHL’s Florida Panthers and sold seats only in the 8,500-seat lower bowl. The arena opened with a Celine Dion concert in October 1998 and the Thundercats followed just over a month later with their home opener, an 11-5 win over the Kansas City Attack before 6,217 fans on November 13, 1998.

Attendance plummeted quickly from there. For the season, the Thundercats averaged fewer than 2,500 fans announced for a 20-game home slate. Coach Fernando Clavijo told GoalIndoor Magazine in 2006 that Mandaric soon recognized he had been sold a bill of goods by the NPSL and Clavijo himself advised the owner to shut the team down. Midway through the 1998-99 season, the Thundercats held a fire sale of the team’s best (and most expensive) players and finished out the season with journeymen players earning $50 a game.

The Thundercats disbanded at the end of the 1998-99 season. For Mandaric, it was his third and apparently final strike with indoor soccer. At the time of this writing in 2013, Mandaric is Chairman of Sheffield Wednesday football club in England.

 

==Links==

National Professional Soccer League Media Guides

National Professional Soccer League Programs

###

1989-1992 St. Louis Storm

one comment

St. Louis Storm MISLMajor Indoor Soccer League (1989-1990)
Major Soccer League (1990-1992)

Born: July 6, 1989 – MISL expansion franchise.
Died: July 10th, 1992 – The MSL ceases operations.

Arena: St. Louis Arena (17,931)

Team Colors: Blue, Yellow & Red

Owner: Milan Mandaric

 

St. Louis, Missouri was a hotbed of indoor soccer in the early 1980’s.  The city’s St. Louis Steamers of the Major Indoor Soccer League claimed higher average attendances than the NHL’s St. Louis Blues for five straight years from 1980 to 1984.  The club had local celebrity ownership in minority partner Stan Musial.  At their third season peak in the winter of 1981-82, the Steamers averaged more than 17,000 fans per game and played for the MISL championship for the second straight year.

The Steamers began a sad decline in the mid-1980’s, accelerating when original owner Ben Kerner sold the club in July 1984.  By the spring of 1988, the club was insolvent – reportedly $1 million in debt and unable to meet payroll.   Just 4,839 turned out at St. Louis Arena to watch the Steamer’s final match on April 15th, 1988.  A white knight investor group led by San Jose, California businessman Milan Mandaric poked at the carcass, but ultimately passed.  The MISL formally terminated the rudderless Steamers on June 22nd, 1988.  Mandaric’s interest hadn’t entirely cooled, however.

From 1979 to 1984, the MISL engaged in aggressive expansion throughout the United States.  But the league’s fortunes peaked around the same time as the Steamers.  From 1985 to 1988, the league added just one expansion franchise and that club, the New York Express, imploded midway through its debut season, causing national embarassment for the league.  During the same period, the MISL lost eight franchises, including the Steamers and the profitable and popular Cleveland Force, whose owner Bert Wolstein pulled out of the league in July 1988 in sheer frustration.

“(The MISL) was on a roller coaster downhill,” Wolstein told The Los Angeles Times in November 1988.  “I don’t think it will survive, No.1, and if it does survive, I don’t think it will be of any quality.”

St. Louis Storm MSLThe MISL, beset by union bickering, declining fan & broadcast interest and red ink, had little going for it by the end of the 1980’s.  But it did have the siren song of nostalgia in cities like St. Louis and Cleveland, tempting investors to try and recapture the brief moments when the Steamers and the Force had been the hottest ticket in town.  Re-enter Milan Mandaric.

The Serbian-born Mandaric built separate fortunes in socialist Yugoslavia (auto parts) and later as a naturalized citizen in Silicon Valley, California (circuit boards).  Always a soccer lover, he first invested in the outdoor North American Soccer League, as owner of two Bay Area clubs in the 1970’s – the San Jose Earthquakes (1974-1978) and the Oakland Stompers (1978), both of which he later sold.  Mandaric quickly lost interest in the Steamers’ mess in 1988, but soon turned his attention to an expansion team in the city.  A clean slate.  On July 6th, 1989 the MISL approved Mandaric’s expansion bid and indoor soccer returned to the Gateway City after a one-year absence in the form of the St. Louis Storm.

Mandaric hired Don Popovic as the Storm’s Head Coach.  Popovic, a fellow Serb, had built the MISL’s first dynasty as Head Coach of the New York Arrows from 1978 to 1983.  Popovic’s Arrows were built around a core of fellow Yugoslav and Hungarian emigres such as Steve Zungul, Branko Segota, Fred Grgurev, Juli Veee and Zoltan Toth.  The Arrows won the MISL’s first four titles from 1979-1982, defeating the Steamers in the championship series in both 1981 and 1982.  The years since had been leaner for Popovic.  Gigs with the MISL’s Las Vegas Americans (1984-85) and Pittsburgh Spirit (1985-86) ended after a single season when those clubs folded.  He lasted only a single game as Head Coach of the New York Express in 1987.

The 1989-90 Storm team, assembled on three month’s notice, was short on Slavs by Popovic standards (only three).  The core of the team was built on players from the former Los Angeles Lazers franchise, which folded two weeks before St. Louis joined the league.  To stock the team, the Storm were awarded the first five picks in the Lazers dispersal draft.  Daryl Doran, a long-time Steamer favorite (1982-1988), returned to St. Louis by way of the Lazers draft.  Also returning from the Steamers’ glory years was poopular goalkeeper Slobodan Ilijevski, known to local fans simply as “Slobo”, who played eight seasons with the Steamers from 1980-1988.

The Storm finished 24-28 in their debut season, posting the weakest record of any postseason qualifier.  The eventual champion San Diego Sockers eliminated the Storm in the first round of playoffs.  Off the field, the Storm lost a reported $1.5 million during the 1989-90 season, which Mandaric had to absorb himself as the sole owner.  This led Mandaric to publicly speculate about folding the club after a single season.  But in July 1990, Mandaric secured ten local limited partners and agreed to continue, possibly saving the MISL as a whole, as the Sockers had threatened to follow suit if the Storm shut down.  The league lived on for a thirteenth season under a new name – the Major Soccer League (MSL).

With the team’s future settled for now, Popovic added some Slavic firepower, signing the 1989 MISL MVP Preki (Predrag Radosavljevic) in August 1990.  The Yugoslav midfielder was in his prime at the age of 27, having led the league in cumulative scoring over the past five years.  He became available to the Storm as a free agent due to a salary dump by his former team, the perenially low budget Tacoma Stars.

“Preki is the Michael Jordan of the MISL, he’s that good,” said Storm VP & General Manager Dan Counce announced at the time.

St. Louis StormDuring the 1990-91 season, the Storm surged ahead on the field, posting a 32-20 record, second best in eight-team MSL.  Preki lived up to the hype, scoring 68 goals and adding 53 assists, many of those dished out to Thompson Usiyan who added 64 goals.  Hungarian Zoltan Toth – a Popovic holdover from the New York Arrows dynasty of the early 80’s – handled the bulk of the goalkeeping duties, posting a 25-10 record.

During the season, the Storm travelled to Switzerland and won the FIFA-sanctioned Zurich International indoor soccer tournament.  In the spring, St. Louis defeated the Tacoma Stars in the playoff quarterfinals before falling again to the arch-rival Sockers in the MSL semis.

In the front office, the news was even better.  Announced attendance rose from 6,400 to a league-high 7,772 fans per game.  Running on a $2.5 million annual expense budget, the Storm projected to lose $350,000 for the year, a 70% reduction from the staggering first year loss.  For the first (and only) summer in Storm history, Mandaric did not threaten to fold the team.

Heading into the 1991-92 campaign, Popovic added another high-scoring Yugoslav to his stable.  Like Toth, Branko Segota was a key member of Popovic’s early 80’s championship teams in New York.  To pry him away from the San Diego Sockers, the Storm had to part ways Thompson Usiyan and his 64 goals.

It turned out to be a poor trade.  Viewed as a top contender, the 1991-92 season quickly went sideways for St. Louis.  Beset by injuries, goalkeeper Toth unexpectedly retired two games in to the season.  In early March, with the club mired in last place at 12-20, management fired Don Popovic. Defender Fernando Clavijo finished out the season as player-coach.  In April 1992, the Storm’s third season, which had begun with sky high expectations, ended in a 7th place (dead last) finish with a 17-23 record.  Remarkably, despite the on-field disaster and lame duck ownership, the Storm led the MSL in attendance with an announced average of 10,748 at St. Louis Arena, up 25% from 1990-91.

By early 1992, Mandaric was reportedly more interested in the $162 million new arena planned for his adopted home city of San Jose than in continuing with the Storm in St. Louis.  He placed his 80% stake in the team up for sale early in the 1991-92 season.  Throughout the season’s second half, negotiations lurched along for a group led by limited partner Dr. Abraham Hamatweh to purchase the Storm.  Hamatweh, a former Steamers and Storm season ticket holder, acquired a minority stake in the club in the summer of 1990, when Mandaric first considered folding the team.  The negotiations stalled throughout the spring as Hamatweh’s group continually failed to generate enough capital to conclude the transaction.

The St. Louis negotations took on more urgency once the eternally shaky Tacoma Stars gasped their death wheeze on June 5th, 1992. Two weeks later, a potential savior expansion franchise in Buffalo declined to join the MSL in favor of its lower-cost, non-union rival, the National Professional Soccer League.  That left the Storm as the MSL’s sixth franchise and several owners went on record saying they wouldn’t continue with only five teams.

The five remaining franchises of the MSL voted unanimously to fold on July 10th, 1992 after Hawatmeh’s group gave up trying to raise the necessary funds to continute as the league’s sixth franchise.  The group reportedly raised $850,000 – more than enough to post the league’s required $350,000 letter of credit for the 1992-93 season – but felt it didn’t have enough to continue in the MSL, despite the league’s continual cost cutting over the previous four years.

##

One month after the MSL folded in July 1992, Storm minority owner Dr. Abraham Hawatmeh and his group purchased the Tulsa Ambush of the lower-budget National Professional Soccer League.  The NPSL’s lower cost model allowed Hawatmeh’s group to move forward with the financial commitment they deemed insufficient for the MSL just a few weeks earlier.  The St. Louis Ambush played at St. Louis Arena for eight more seasons before folding in 2000.

Milan Mandaric took two more cracks at indoor soccer.  In 1994 and 1995, Mandaric operated the San Jose Grizzlies of the Continental Indoor Soccer League in his adopted hometown.  In San Jose, Mandaric reunited with Preki, who earned CISL MVP honors for the Grizzlies in 1995.  The Grizzlies folded in 1995 after two seasons.   Mandaric entered the expansion Florida Thundercats in the National Professional Soccer League in the fall of 1998.  Former Storm defender Fernando Clavijo coached the Thundercats.  The club folded after one season of dismal attendance at the National Car Rental Center in Sunrise, Florida.  Mandaric has sinced turned his attention back to Europe, where he has owned Portsmouth, Leicester City and Sheffield Wednesday in England.

Preki became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1996.  He debuted for the U.S. National Team the same year, earning 28 caps between 1996 and 2001 and representing his adopted country in the 1998 World Cup.  Preki also played for the Kansas City Wizards and Miami Fusion of Major League Soccer from 1996 to 2005, winning MVP honors in 1997 and 2003.  He retired at age 42 in 2005 and later served as Head Coach of both Chivas USA (2007-2009) and Toronto FC (2010) of MLS.

 

==St. Louis Storm Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other

1989-90

1989-90 10/27/1989 vs. Kansas City Comets L 3-2 Program
1989-90 11/10/1989 vs. Wichita Wings L 5-2 Program

1991-92

1991-92 12/14/1991 @ Wichita Wings L 7-4 Program

 

==In Memoriam==

Long-time St. Louis Steamers & Storm goalkeeper Slobo Ilijevski passed away on July 14th, 2008 at age 58.

 

=YouTube==

Storm vs. the San Diego Sockers at St. Louis Arena.  November 22, 1991.

==Downloads==

St. Louis Storm Sources

 

==Links==

Major Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs

###

Follow

Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: