North American Soccer League (1978-1980)
Born: January 5, 1978 - NASL expansion franchise.
Died: November 24, 1980 – The Hurricane ceases operations.
Stadium: Houston Astrodome
Owners: Bayly Corp. (Hans Von Mende), Nat Davis, Fred Gundmeyer, Gerald Hines, Dieter Scherfenberg, Kenneth Schnitzer & Ben Woodson.
Unloved pro soccer franchise that languished in a nearly empty Houston Astrodome for three summers before being euthanized in the autumn of 1980. The Houston Hurricane were the sixth and final new club added to the North American Soccer League during a euphoric expansion orgy during the winter of 1977-78. The addition of Houston brought the NASL membership to an all-time peak of 24 clubs. However, none of the six expansion cities added in 1978 (Denver, Detroit, Houston, Memphis, New England and Philadelphia) would last beyond 1980. The expansion misfires of 1978 would later be cited by many observers and league insiders as a factor in the NASL’s downward spiral in the early 1980′s and eventual closure in 1985.
The 1978 Hurricane finished in the cellar of the NASL’s American Conference Central Division with a 10-20 record. Fan support was abysmal as the Hurricane pulled an average of only 5,806 fans for 15 home matches at the Astrodome.
The club rallied in 1979. In October 1978, the team shelled out a $250,000 transfer fee to acquire Kyle Rote Jr. from the NASL’s Dallas Tornado. Rote was a native Texan and one of the sport’s few American-born stars with any name recognition to casual sports fans, thanks to his success in ABC’s Superstars competition and to his football star father, former New York giants halfback Kyle Rote Sr. Arguably the more impactful acquisition though was 23-year old Finnish midfielder Kai Haaskivi, who also came over from the Tornado in 1979.
With Haaskivi and Argentine striker Eduardo Marasco sparking the offense (12 goals each) and English goalkeeper Paul Hammond earning 2nd Team All-NASL honors, the Hurricane improved from last place in 1978 to a division title with a 22-8 record in 1979. Manager Timo Liekoski was named the NASL’s Coach-of-the-Year for the turnaround. Incredibly, the Hurricane went 15-0 at the Astrodome in 1979. The club’s remarkable home field advantage wasn’t due to any sort of surge in fan support though. Attendance barely budged to 6,211 per game – still among the worst figures in the league.
Worst yet, the Hurricane were bounced in the 1st Round of the 1979 NASL playoffs by the lowly Philadelphia Fury, who snuck into the postseason with a 10-20 record. In a shocking upset, the Fury swept Houston in two matches, including the Hurricane’s only home loss of the year.
The 1980 Hurricane looked much different. Liekoski left for (slightly) greener pastures and became Head Coach of the NASL’s Edmonton Drillers. Kyle Rote Jr. retired to do Christian missionary work in Cambodia. The club fell back to a 14-18 record. That mark was still good enough for a playoff appearance thanks to the NASL’s forgiving playoff format. There the club fell to old friend Timo Liekoski’s Edmonton club in the first round of the 1980 playoffs.
In November 1980, NASL officials announced that the Hurricane were closing their doors after three seasons of play.
A footnote – the Hurricane also played indoor soccer under an alter ego. After the club’s debut season in 1978, the Major Indoor Soccer League opened the doors on its first season in the winter of 1978-79. Houston’s MISL club – named the Houston Summit after the arena where its games were held – struck a deal with the Hurricane to lease coach Timo Liekoski and 15 Hurricane players during the NASL offseason. The Houston Summit was a strong entry in the indoor league, earning a playoff spot plus MISL Coach-of-the-Year honors for Liekoski and the Goalkeeper-of-the-Year award for Paul Hammond in 1979. The relationship between the two organizations soured afterwards and the arrangement was not renewed in the winter of 1979-80.
==Houston Hurricane Matches on Fun While It Lasted==
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