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1978-1984 New York Arrows

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New York ArrowsMajor Indoor Soccer League (1978-1984)

Born: 1978 – MISL founding franchise
Folded: July 1984

Arena: Nassau Coliseum (15,026)

Team Colors: Bordeaux Red, Blue & White

Owners:

MISL Champions: 1979, 1980, 1981 & 1982

 

The New York Arrows were the original dynasty franchise in the sport of indoor soccer in the United States.  One of six founding franchises in the Major Indoor Soccer League in 1978, the Arrows won the first four MISL championships from 1979 to 1982.  The team was virtually unbeatable during this stretch, posting a regular season record of 114-26 under Head Coach Don Popovic.

Arrows owner John Luciani was also an investor in the Rochester Lancers of the outdoor North American Soccer League during the late 1970’s.  Luciani was only involved with the Lancers for a short time and would ultimately ended up embroiled in contentious lawsuits with other members of the Lancers’ sprawling and unwieldy ownership consortium.  But Luciani was involved with Rochester when the MISL formed in the fall of 1978 and this allowed him to essentially make the Arrows into a sister club of the Lancers and stock the team with talent from the outdoor club.  Don Popovic came over from the Lancers, as did the teenage scoring prodigy Branko Segota and goalkeeper Shep Messing, who was one of the few recognizable American-born stars of the era, thanks to his years with the glamorous New York Cosmos of the NASL (and perhaps also his nude photo shoot for VIVA magazine in 1974).

The biggest find for the Arrows was the Yugoslavian striker Steve Zungul.  A budding superstar for Hajduk Split in the Yugoslav First League, Zungul became embroiled in a dispute with club management. He was concerned they would send him off to compulsory military service.  In December 1978 – the same month the MISL kicked off its inaugural season – Zungul defected to the United States and signed with the Arrows.  He hoped to eventually sign with an NASL club and play outdoor soccer. But Yugoslavia successfully petitioned FIFA to ban Zungul from all FIFA-sanctioned leagues until his 28th birthday in 1982, citing a Yugoslavian rule that players could not play overseas prior to age 28.  The NASL was sanctioned by FIFA, but the upstart Major Indoor Soccer League was not.  Thus through a quirk of Cold War politics, the Arrows found themselves in sole possession of the indoor game’s first great star – the man who became known as “The Lord of All Indoors”.

Zungul would win the MISL’s Most Valuable Player award in each season from 1979 to 1982, matching the years that the Arrows won the league title.

The Arrows played at the Nassau Coliseum out on Long Island.  Despite their dominance, local interest in the team never match the enthusiasm for indoor soccer in Midwest hotbeds like Cleveland, St. Louis and Kansas City.  Announced attendance peaked for the Arrows during their third season at 8,083 fans per game and then dropped steadily through the early 1980’s.

John Luciani sold the Arrows for an undisclosed amount in November 1982 just as the Arrows fifth season got underway.  He cited $10 million in losses during the Arrows’ first four season.  The new owner was Dr. David Schoenstadt, who also happened to be the owner of the MISL’s tremendously popular Kansas City Comets club.  The purchase created a competitive conflict of interest within the MISL, but allowed the young league to maintain a foothold in the vital New York media market.  Carl Berg, owner of the Golden Bay Earthquakes, who played in the MISL that season, was also part of the new investment group.

New York ArrowsSchoenstadt and his management team were not able to replicate the success they had in Kansas City.  The ownership transition of 1982 marked the end of the Arrows dynasty and the beginning of the club’s rapid decline.  The Arrows early dominance was fueled largely by foreign – particularly Slavic – stars (with the exception of Shep Messing).  The new management promoted a process of “Americanization”, believing that American players would be more relatable and better suited to the club’s aggressive grass roots marketing strategy of promoting the Arrows through clinics and community appearances.

Other observers believed “Americanization” was a rhetorical cover for cost-cutting. They pointed in particular to the departure of Steve Zungul as Exhibit A.  The Arrows traded Zungul, who earned a reported $150,000/year at his Arrows peak, to the Golden Bay Earthquakes in the middle of the 1982-83 season for Gary Etherington and Gordon Hill. The deal effectively ended the Arrows run as an elite team.

The Arrows final season came during the winter of 1983-84.  Schoenstadt complained about the lease terms at Nassau Coliseum while attendance declined to 5,478 per match.  Efforts to sell and relocate the team to either Charlotte or Cincinnati fell through.  In July 1984 the Arrows folded and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In early 1986, former Arrows goalkeeper Shep Messing assembled an investor group and successfully applied for an MISL expansion club to replace the Arrows on Long Island.  The New York Express joined the MISL for the 1986-87 season, but lasted only until the All-Star Break before folding with a record of 3-23.  The original MISL folded in July 1992.

 

New York Arrows Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Arrows owner David Schoenstadt died of cancer in December 1991.

Arrows forward Paul Kitson died of a heart attack on August 25, 2005 while coaching a soccer clinic in Toronto.  He was 49.

 

New York Arrows Video

The Arrows host the Baltimore Blast at Nassau Coliseum.  April 2, 1982.

Downloads

1979-80 New York Arrows Season Ticket Brochure

November 20, 1981 New York Arrows vs. New Jersey Rockets Game Notes

 

Links

Major Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs

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