This is yet another pull from the huge collection of Los Angeles Lazers indoor soccer programs we picked up from a California sports museum earlier this month. The third and final match of a best-of-five Major Indoor Soccer League quarterfinal playoff series between the Lazers and the defending champion Baltimore Blast at the Fabulous Forum.
Dave MacWilliams of the Blast was pictured on the cover of the Missile Magazine game program for this game and the choice was prophetic. MacWilliams was the MISL’s leading American-born scorer during the 194-85 season and he netted a hat trick against the Lazers here in Game 3 to spark Baltimore to 5-4 win and a sweep of the best-of-five series.
Another notable player in this game was ,the Lazers’ 23-year old rookie goalkeeper Tim Harris, who drew the start for this win-or-go-home elimination match. Harris was born in nearby Torrance and played collegiately at UCLA. He earned one cap for the U.S. National Team in 1985, but he had the misfortune to come into pro soccer during a particularly grim period for the American game, just as the outdoor North American Soccer League was drawing its final breaths. Harris played for five seasons, including three with the Lazers from 1984 to 1987. During that time there was no national outdoor league and American players were not in demand overseas. Indoor soccer was basically the only professional option for American players born in the early 1960′s like Harris.
The Lazers went out of business in 1989. Several years later the club’s former owner, the late Dr. Jerry Buss, hired Harris to work in the front office for his NBA team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Today Harris is the Chief Operating Officer of the Lakers.
This 1983 MISSILE Magazine match program showed up in a large archive of pro soccer material we acquired last week from a down-sizing Los Angeles museum. Right around the same time a woman named Elizabeth posted a fond reminiscence of the late Argentinean forward Carlos Salguero (1955-2006) on our Calgary Boomers home page.
Salguero played for Boca Juniors in the late 1970′s and then for a string of North American indoor and outdoor clubs from 1981 to 1992. His greatest success came with the Buffalo Stallions of the Major Indoor Soccer League, where he scored 101 goals from 1981 to 1984. He was the club’s all-time leading scorer.
In the late 1990′s Salguero returned to coach the Buffalo Blizzard of the indoor National Professional Soccer League for a single season. He passed away from cancer at age 51 in December 2006.
The four-year old Major Indoor Soccer League debuted in Los Angeles on this night in early November 1982. Dr. Jerry Buss’ expansion Los Angeles Lazers club shared the familiar Purple & Gold color scheme of his L.A. NBA and NHL franchises. Unfortunately, the Lazers acquitted themselves much more like the Kings than the Showtime Lakers during their seven season run.
The Lazers raced out to a 4-0 lead over the visiting Phoenix Inferno on goals by Poli Garcia, Don Tobin and a brace from Emilio Romero. Garcia went on to become the Lazers’ all-time leading scorer. Tobin went on to have the most remarkable hair in the league. It was a thrilling introduction to the fast-paced sport of indoor soccer for the 6,836 on hand at the Forum.
The Lazers’ early scoring flurry was also a dose of false advertising by a team that would turn out to be the MISL’s worst. The Lazers went on to lose their first nine matches 1982 and finished their inaugural season with a grim 8-40 record. Buss’ club would place last in its division four times in seven years of existence.
In typical Lazers fashion, the team gave away the lead in the second half. Down 5-4, Phoenix pulled goalkeeper Blagoje Tamindzic for an extra attacker with 1:38 remaining in regulation. (One of many strategies that indoor soccer lifted from ice hockey). 30 seconds later Damir Sutevski pumped a shot past the Lazers’ Gary Allison to knot the score at 5-5. Eight minutes into sudden death overtime, Sutevski struck again to hand the Inferno a 6-5 victory.
The Long Island-based club was loaded with over-the-hill former New York Cosmos outdoor soccer stars such as Shep Messing (also club President and part-owner), Mark Liveric, Rick Davis and Hubert Birkenmeier. The Express sputtered into L.A. with a record of 2-23 – the worst winning percentage in league history. The team’s dubious business plan was even worse – it depended largely on the outcome a public stock offering. The Express couldn’t interest people in buying tickets, let alone stock shares.
Three days before this match, the Los Angeles Lazers hosted the league All-Star Game at the Forum. During the All-Star Break the Express revealed that they were on the verge of collapse and tapping emergency credit lines to make the player payroll. The team’s staff weren’t so lucky - those that were left hadn’t been paid in a month. You can read the full account of the club’s collapse here.
But on the carpet, this Valentine’s Day match has to be considered the Express’ finest hour. They at least had a fighting chance against the Los Angeles Lazers. At 6-18 and riding an eight-game losing skid, the Lazers were nearly as inept as the visiting New Yorkers. The Angelenos were working under the direction of a new Head Coach, Keith Tozer, who replaced the fired Peter Wall a week earlier. Tozer was early in his coaching career on this night, but he would go on to become the winningest coach in the history of the indoor game.
The hosts got out to a 4-1 lead, courtesy of a pair of goals from Zizinho and Stuart Lee. But they blew it in the second half. 33-year old war horse Mark Liveric, playing for his 11th team in a vagabond career that included three separate stints with the Cosmos, scored two goals to spark the comeback. Alex Tarnoczi got the late equalizer for New York to knot the score at 5-5 and send the match to overtime. One minute into the sudden death period, Liveric beat another former Cosmos – Lazers goalkeeper David Brcic – to complete his hat trick and win the game for the Express. It was the third (and last) win in franchise history and the only road victory.
The following day the Express drove three hours south to play their final match against the powerhouse San Diego Sockers. You can watch it here. They lost and dropped to 3-23. It was the last game of Liveric’s pro career. Two days later the league pulled the plug on the Express and the club folded without completing its debut season.
This rare MISSILE Magazine program comes from the heyday of the old Major Indoor Soccer League (1978-1992). Indoor soccer reigned supreme on the U.S. soccer scene in 1985. There was no outdoor professional league in the entire country at the time. And the greatest indoor player of them all was Steve Zungul, the “Lord of All Indoors”, pictured on the cover of the evening’s game program.
Zungul was the all-time leading scorer in the sport in 1985, and winner of the league’s MVP in five of the six seasons he had competed in. Zungul was also the straw that stirred the drink for two different indoor dynasties. The New York Arrows won four consecutive MISL titles with Zungul as their leader from 1978 to 1982. When the cash-starved Arrows dealt Zungul away for financial relief in 1983, their hegemony came to an immediate end.
The San Diego Sockers had already captured three indoor titles in the MISL and its defunct rival the North American Soccer League when Zungul arrived in 1984. He made the team even more dominant (a team-best 37-11 record in the 1984-85 campaign) and led them to a fourth title in 1985, picking up his 5th MISL MVP award along the way.
The Wichita Wings hosted Zungul and the Sockers for this early season clash in November 1985. A near-sellout crowd of 9,051 packed the Kansas Coliseum for the Wings’ second home game of the year. The Wings had never beaten San Diego in eight previous tries, which included losing a three-game sweep in the 1983 MISL playoffs. That didn’t seem likely to change, as the Sockers jumped out to an early 4-0 lead.
But the Wings defense managed to contain Zungul, holding him to just one goal on the night. Wichita’s Danish striker Erik Rasmussen led the comeback, tying a team record with 5 goals and adding two more assists. The two clubs combined for 20 goals – the most in a Wichita game all season – but the Wings got the best of it, beating the Sockers for the very first time 11-9.
Two months later, Sockers owner Bob Bell sold Zungul to the Tacoma Stars for $200,000 in midseason. Zungul finished the 1985-86 season in Tacoma as the league leader in both assists (60) and total points (115) and won his sixth Most Valuable Player Award. Erik Rasmussen of Wichita led the MISL in goals with 67.
Unlike the Arrows dynasty, however, the Sockers did not collapse after selling off the greatest player in the sport. The Sockers won their fourth straight indoor title in 1986 and would add another in 1988 before Zungul rejoined San Diego for the 1988-89 season.
The Dallas Sidekicks seemed perpetually on the edge of death during their 20-year run in North Texas, but they were revived on the operating table numerous times. For a brief period from 2001 to 2004, the Sidekicks were actually the longest continually operating professional soccer franchise in the United States. The team survived the implosion of four different leagues before finally meeting its maker once and for all in 2004 after nineteen seasons.
The club was founded in June 1983 by Dallas Mavericks owner Donald Carter, who bought the dormant MISL membership of the New Jersey Rockets (1981-1982) out of bankruptcy court. The team drew poorly during Carter’s first turn at the helm and the Mavs’ owner lost $5 million running the Sidekicks for two seasons from 1984 to 1986. The club’s demise was announced in June 1986, but angel investors stepped in the next day and rescued the team. This would become something of a tradition and Donald Carter himself would return in the early 1990′s to rescue the team during another financial crisis.
The Sidekicks greatest season was their third campaign during the winter of 1986-87. After nearly folding a few months earlier, the team went 28-24 under Head Coach Gordon Jago and made it to the best-of-seven MISL Championship Series against the favored Tacoma Stars. The series was absolutely thrilling and witnessed by huge crowds in both Dallas and Tacoma.
Tacoma held a 3-2 series lead as the series headed to Dallas for Game 6. 16,824 fans packed a sold-out Reunion Arena and exploded when Dallas’ Mark Karpun scored in the 21 minutes in double-overtime to send the series back to Tacoma for a decisive Game 7. 21,728 fans packed the Tacoma Dome for the finale. To this day, it is still the largest crowd ever to witness an indoor soccer game in the United States. Once again, the game went to sudden death overtime. And again it was Mark Karpun who scored the clincher, giving the Sidekicks a 4-3 victory and their first league title.
Many great indoor players suited up for the Sidekicks over the years, including Karpun, David Doyle, Godfrey Ingram and Krys Sobieski. But the figure who became indistinguishable from the franchise itself was the 5′ 6″ Brazilian striker known simply as Tatu. Tatu arrived in Dallas at age 22 for the Sidekicks first season in 1984-85 and stayed for the next 19 seasons. He previously played for Sidekicks coach Gordon Jago with the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League. He became one of the most prolific scorers of all-time in the indoor game, scoring 857 goals in 21 seasons.
Tatu was a great showman as much as a thrilling attacker. He became the league’s most recognizable star, thanks to his tradition of stripping off his jersey and firing it into the Reunion Arena stands after each goal he scored at home. Growing up in Boston in the 1980′s, there wasn’t an indoor soccer team for hundreds of miles. But I knew about Tatu thanks to tape delayed broadcasts of MISL games on ESPN and SportsChannel America. He was the face (and torso, I suppose) of the league. In 1989, despite never having seen a pro soccer game in person, I mailed Tatu a copy of Soccer Digest magazine and asked for an autograph. He mailed a whole package of Sidekicks goodies, including the autographed picture at right.
Tatu retired as a player from the Sidekicks after the 2002-03 season, but returned the next season as the team’s Head Coach. However, with the face of the franchise now confined to the bench, Sidekicks attendance plummeted by nearly 30% to the club’s lowest figure since the first season nearly 20 years earlier. At the end of the 2003-04 season, the Sidekicks were again on their deathbed. This time, at last, there was no savior and the club folded in September 2004.
In 2012, Tatu led a revival of the Sidekicks name, helping to launch a club in the Professional Arena Soccer League. Tatu coaches the new Sidekicks, who play at the Allen Event Center in the suburbs of Dallas.
Goalkeeper Antonio Cortes (1997) was short to death in his office in Puebla, Mexico on New Year’s Eve, 2001. According to Alan Balthrop of the Dallas Sidekicks Historical Archive, his murdered has never been apprehended.
Forward Kyle Owen died in car accident on April 11, 2003 at age 29.
Assistant Coach Keith Weller succumbed to cancer on November 13, 2004.
The Memphis Americans… they arrived from Hell and they left for Sin City, but for a few years in between they were God’s soccer team…
During the late 1970′s, Memphis, Tennessee had a mediocre outdoor soccer club known as the Memphis Rogues. The Rogues weren’t especially good, nor were they particularly popular. Their summertime matches at the city’s 50,000-seat Liberty Bowl typically attracted fewer than 10,000 customers.
But in the winter of 1979-80, something funny happened. The Rogues took part in the North American Soccer League’s first indoor soccer season. The campaign was something of an experiment – only 10 of the league’s 24 clubs elected to take part. To everyone’s surprise, indoor soccer proved to be a big hit in Memphis. The Rogues nearly sold out the 9,500-seat Mid-South Coliseum and six dates. They were also good, advancing to the NASL indoor championship series. And then they were gone, packed up and sold off to Calgary, Alberta a few months later. The Rogues wouldn’t be back for another season of indoor human pinball, but their flash-in-the-pan popularity put Memphis, Tennessee on the map for investors looking to get in on the indoor soccer boomlet of the early 1980′s.
After the Rogues left town in September 1980, Mid-South Coliseum went back to its traditional role as a pro wrestling hub. There were no team sports in the building in the winter of 1980-81. Then in May 1981 retired Arizona businessman Ray Kuns and Dave Hannah, the founder of the evangelical Christian sports ministry Athletes In Action teamed up to purchase the bankrupt Hartford Hellions of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) and move the team to Memphis. Within six months, Kuns turned the team over to local owners Charles Kelley and Robert Ryan and returned to Arizona. Kelley and Ryan followed in the avowedly Christian identity of the Americans management team.
Unsurprisingly, the Athletes In Action folks weren’t big on the “Hellions” identity and the team was given a patriotic new identity and color scheme: the Memphis Americans.
Patriotism aside, the Americans best players were all foreigners. Memphis’ finest player was Stan Stamenkovic, a chain-smoking Yugoslav who scored 101 goals in 77 games during the Americans’ first two years. But Stamenkovic left Memphis after two seasons for the rival Baltimore Blast in 1983-84 and promptly led Baltimore to the MISL championship that season, while winning league MVP honors.
Other notables were German All-Star defender Helmut Dudek and Argentinean midfielder Toni Carbognani, a former Rogue who played for just about every iteration of pro soccer in Memphis in the 1980′s (and there were many).
The team’s biggest name was an American, but he didn’t play. When the team arrived in 1981, the owners hired recently retired 31-year old soccer star Kyle Rote Jr. as Vice President of Marketing & Public Relations. Rote was the best known American player of the 1970′s, thanks to his famous father (a former NFL All-Pro) and his three victories in ABC Sports’ popular Superstars competition. Rote was also a prominent Christian athlete, which tied in well with the team’s original ownership. By the team’s third and final season in 1983-84, Rote assumed the dual role of Head Coach and General Manager.
Attendance at Americans’ games never quite matched the high expectations set by that handful of Rogues’ indoor games a few years earlier. Part of that was due to the MISL’s schedule. While the Rogues had the benefit of novelty and played only six home matches in the winter of 1979-80, the Americans played 22 to 24 dates a winter at Mid-South Coliseum, which was an awful lot of soccer for a Southern football city to absorb. Crowds were middling by MISL standards and the club was sold and relocated to Las Vegas in April of 1984. The team played one final season as the Las Vegas Americans and then went out of business in July 1985.
In 1986 a third indoor soccer team arrived in town. The Memphis Storm belonged to the lower-budget American Indoor Soccer Association, but they failed to spark much interest. After two seasons, the club dropped the Storm nickname and revived the old “Rogues” identity in a last-ditch effort to dredge up some nostalgia, but that didn’t help and the Storm/Rogues franchise folded in 1989.
When the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) debuted in December 1978, the sport of indoor soccer was basically a new invention. A few previous leagues had tried and failed to get off the ground. The outdoor North American Soccer League (NASL) had experimented with a few weekend tournaments and one-off exhibitions over the years. But no one had truly tried to market the game to American sports fans until MISL founders Earl Foreman and Ed Teppergot their league off the ground in the winter of 1978-79.
By 1981 - just three years later – an indoor soccer glut had descended on the metropolitan NYC market. The Brendan Byrne Arena opened that July in the Meadowlands Sports Complex in north Jersey. With the MISL heading into its fourth season and firmly in expansion mode, co-founder Ed Tepper took the opportunity to finally launch his own franchise, bringing the New Jersey Rockets to the brand new 19,000-seat arena. Tepper wasn’t the only soccer investor with his eyes on the new building. The NASL launched its own wintertime indoor league in 1979. But for two years the NASL’s most famous club looked down their nose at the indoor game and declined to participate. In 1981, with Byrne Arena opening right next to their outdoor home at Giants Stadium, the New York Cosmos finally got off the sidelines and fielded a indoor side. Between the Rockets and the Cosmos, there were 31 indoor soccer dates at the Byrne in just five months. The Cosmos fielded a half-hearted last place team but the added competition still drove Tepper’s Rockets into bankruptcy and oblivion by the end of the season.
But the oldest and most successful of the New York indoor teams was the New York Arrows, who played out on Long Island at the Nassau Coliseum. The Arrows were a dynasty and they’d won the first three championships of the MISL. They had the league’s best player in Yugoslavian scoring wizard Steve Zungul, who was to indoor soccer in the early 80′s what Wayne Gretzky was to ice hockey. Branko Segota wasn’t far behind Zungul and the Arrows also had one of the few well-known American stars in soccer, former Cosmos goalkeeper Shep Messing. As good as they were, the Arrows were something short of a sensation out on Long Island, never ranking among the league’s top draws despite their virtual invincibility.
This match was the Arrows fourth season opener against the expansion Rockets. Their dominance was on full display for the large crowd at Nassau Coliseum, as the Arrows raced out to a 9-0 lead before easing off the gas pedal late. As usual, Zungul led the way with four goals. Argentinean forward Luis Alberto added a hat trick as well. The Rockets picked up two garbage goals late for a 9-2 final.
At the end of this 1981-82 season, the Arrows won their fourth straight MISL crown, which would also be their final hurrah. The following season, Zungul was shipped out in a midseason budget-cutting move and by the summer of 1984 of the Arrows were no more.
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.
Cleveland vs. St. Louis. Two of the great hotbeds of indoor soccer in the early 1980′s squared off in this January 1984 match at Cleveland’s Richfield Coliseum. The Cleveland Force and the St. Louis Steamers ought to have been a great rivalry. Both teams were Midwestern clubs, both were wildly popular in their moment, and both clubs were among the league’s best at the time. But Cleveland was in the Major Indoor Soccer League’s Eastern Division and St. Louis was in the Western group and as a result they rarely met in the regular season (and never faced each other in the playoffs). This Friday night match was the Steamers’ only visit to Cleveland during the 48-game 1983-84 season.
The Force came into this match as the MISL’s hottest team. They were 13-2, thanks to an early season 11-game winning streak. Clevelanders leapt onto the band wagon. This was the sixth season of Force soccer and all of the sudden crowds more than doubled over their previous highs. A huge crowd of 14,173 turned out for this match and for the season the Force claimed an average of 13,692 for their 24 home dates. By contrast, the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers pulled only 5,075 per game in the same building that winter.
The Steamers were off to a slower start at 8-8, but their headline-making October signing of U.S. National Team midfielder Ricky Davis was starting to pay dividends. Davis was arguably the best American soccer player of the early 1980′s. At a minimum he carried that perception thanks to the Warner Communications marketing machine behind his former club, the New York Cosmos of the outdoor North American Soccer League. The October 1983 defection of Ricky Davis from the Cosmos to the MISL was as sure a sign as any of the shifting fortunes of pro soccer in the U.S. in the early 1980′s, as the outdoor game foundered and indoor soccer enjoyed its moment. Warner was cutting way back on the Cosmos in the fall of 1983 (they would unload the club altogether the following summer). Davis reached the end of his contract on September 30th and balked at the Cosmos’ request for a pay cut. That opened the door for the Steamers, a club whose commitment to fielding a championship-caliber team with American players was central to its brand. They signed Davis to a three-year deal worth a reported $117,000 per year, which made the 24-year old one of the highest paid players in the MISL.
Davis came into the Force match hot with 10 goals in his previous five games. He added a hat trick on this night to lead the Steamers to a 5-2 victory. The result bumped the Steamers over .500 (9-8) and dropped Cleveland to 13-3. St. Louis would go on to win the Western Division and appear in the MISL Championship Series, losing to the Baltimore Blast. The Force never quite regained their invincible form of the season’s first two months. They finished with a respectable 31-17 record, but were swept by the Blast in the semis, 3 games to none.