National Professional Soccer League (1996-1997)
Born: 1996 – The Canton Invaders relocate to Columbus, OH.
Died: 1997 – The Invaders cease operations.
Arena: Battelle Hall
Owner: Moh Hassan
The one-year existence of the Columbus Invaders of the indoor National Professional Soccer League was a sad coda to the story of the Canton Invaders, a minor league soccer dynasty of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
The Canton Invaders began play in the winter of 1984-85 as one of the original franchises in the American Indoor Soccer Association. In the beginning, the AISA was an Upper Midwestern bus league, with a handful of clubs knocking about in minor league hockey rinks and agricultural exposition centers in places like Kalamazoo, Columbus and Toledo. Canton, Ohio and its tiny 4,200-seat Civic Center fit right in. The Invaders dominated on the carpet, appearing in each of the AISA’s first six championship finals and winning five of them.
By the end of the 1980’s, the AISA grew more ambitious and became an air travel league with an expanded footprint across the United States. In 1990, the league re-branded itself as the National Professional Soccer League and began playing in big city arenas like Atlanta’s Omni and Denver’s McNichols Arena, among others. Canton became a small market anomaly within the league and crowds – never great to begin with – began to dwindle as the Invaders’ championship-contending form receded sharply after 1992.
In the summer of 1996, Moh Hassan purchased the Invaders and moved the club 125 miles south to Columbus. The Columbus Invaders proved to be a shadow of what the Canton Invaders once were. The team was inexperienced and overmatched in the NPSL, relying heavily on young players from a local 3rd division outdoor team called (absurdly) the Ohio Xoggz. After a 4-18 start, Hassan fired original coach Drago Jaha and replaced him with player-coach Solomon Hilton, who was one of the few experienced indoor veterans on the team. That hardly improved matters, as the team fumbled away 17 of its remaining 18 matches to finish with a league worst 5-35 record.
The Invaders’ humiliations included a March 1997 home loss to the Cleveland Crunch by a score of 52-18. (The NPSL had a wacky scoring system consisting largely of 2-point and 3-point goals). It was the most vicious beating in the 17-year history of the league.
Owner Moh Hassan barely promoted the club and the Columbus soccer diehards who might have sought the Invaders out on their own already had the brand new Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer to get excited about in 1996. The Invaders’ proclaimed averaged attendance of 1,588 per at Battelle Hall, a sterile downtown convention center, was also the worst of the NPSL’s 15 clubs. To no one’s surprise, the Invaders folded in the summer of 1996.