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1978 Oakland Stompers

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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

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June 24, 1979 – New York Cosmos vs. New England Tea Men

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Shep Messing Rochester LancersNew York Cosmos vs. New England Tea Men
June 24, 1979
Giants Stadium
Attendance: 41,428

North American Soccer League Programs
130 pages

 

This June 1979 match marked the North American Soccer League debut of Dutch national team midfielder Johan Neeskens.  Neeskens, a key member of Holland’s World Cup final teams in 1974 and 1978, was arguably the last truly impactful European star signed by the New York Cosmos (1971-1985), a club that became world famous for importing foreign stars to America.  (Neeskens would also hang on longer than the others and was the last big name left when the Cosmos played their final season in 1984).

The Cosmos’ opponent on this Sunday afternoon were the New England Tea Men, and a national TV audience on ABC joined the 41,428 on hand at Giants Stadium.  The Tea Men were struggling through a wretched sophomore jinx season, but they always played the Cosmos tough.  During New England’s expansion season in 1978, the Tea Men were the only NASL club to beat the eventual champion Cosmos twice.  On July 12th, 1978 New England beat the Cosmos 3-1 in New Jersey, ending the Cosmos two-year, 23-match unbeaten streak at home.  Coming into this game 11 months later, the Cosmos had built up a new 12-game home winning streak.

Johan NeeskensJohan Neeskens was the story going into the match, and he was strong in midfield, nearly scoring on a volley just over the New England crossbar in the 55th minute.  But the story of the day – surprisingly – was a pair of young American stars who’d dropped out of college the previous year to play for the Cosmos.

21-year old David Brcic, who left soccer power St. Louis University in 1978 to sign with New York, got his first start of the season, after spending the first sixteen matches deep on the bench behind both Jack Brand and Erol Yasin.  Brcic was outstanding, making 10 saves and recording a clean sheet against the Tea Men.  It was a rare moment of outdoor glory for Brcic.  Though he stayed with the team until it’s demise in 1985, he never won the outdoor starting job, seeing most of his action during the Cosmos’ winter indoor seasons of the 1980’s, which the club never seemed to take especially seriously.

The other young standout was 20-year old midfielder Rick Davis, considered by many to be the finest American player in the game.  Playing in his 30th pro match, Davis had earned a reputation as a reliable distributor, earning 7 assists through the first 16 matches of the 1979 season.  But he had never scored a goal, until the 50th minute of this game, when he put a knuckling shot past Tea Men goalkeeper Kevin “Cat” Keelan.  Davis was too surprised to celebrate and walked calmly back to midfield while his teammates leaped and yelled around him.  It was the only goal of the match in the Cosmos 1-0 victory.

Prior to the 2:30 PM kickoff, there was a preliminary match between the New York Freedoms, champions of the amateur Cosmopolitan Soccer League’s Major Division, and a team of Cosmopolitan League All-Stars.  Over the years, more than a dozen Cosmopolitan League alumni made it up to the NASL and other American pro leagues.  You can check out the press notes and rosters from this match in the Downloads section below.  The All-Stars head coach was Dr. Gerry Klivecka, brother of Cosmos’ manager Ray Klivecka.

Former Cosmos star goalkeeper Shep Messing is pictured on the cover of the day’s KICK Magazine program, but by this time he was upstate New York, playing his final season of outdoor soccer with the anything-but-glamorous Rochester Lancers.

 

==Downloads==

June 11, 1979 – Dutch Star Johan Neeskens Signs With Cosmos Press Release

June 24, 1979 New England Tea Men Game Notes 

June 24, 1979 New York Cosmos Game Notes

June 24, 1979 New York Freedoms vs. Cosmopolitan All-Stars Game Notes

 

==Links==

New England Tea Men Home Page

New York Cosmos Home Page

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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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1986-87 New York Express

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New York Express MISLMajor Indoor Soccer League (1986-1987)

Born: May 15, 1986 – MISL expansion franchise
Folded: February 17, 1987

Arena: Nassau Coliseum (16,251)

Team Colors: Orange & Blue

Owners: Stan Henry, Ralph McNamara & Shep Messing

 

The New York Express, Shep Messing told Newsday in October 1986, will be “better run as a business than any team in the history of professional soccer.”  Bold words from the former New York Cosmos star, who brought a Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) expansion franchise to Long Island in the fall of 1986 with the help of two novice sports investors and an unlikely financing scheme.

The MISL granted a franchise to Messing and his partners Stan Henry and Ralph McNamara on May 15th, 1986.  Messing would play the role of local hero and front man.  At the age of 37, he also appointed himself the presumed starting goalkeeper for the Express.  Henry and McNamara were the money men – sort of.  They expected the bulk of the team’s operating capital to come from a sale of public stock.  Henry ran an empire of Pennysaver advertising circulars on Long Island, and served as Board Chairman of the Express.  McNamara was a managing principal at the Long Island brokerage firm of MacPeg, Ross, O’Connell and Goldaber.  He took the title of CFO of the Express and his firm marketed the financial scheme behind the enterprise – a $5.3 million public stock offering intended to finance operations of the club for its first three seasons.

As the broker of record, McNamara had a legal obligation to be more cautious in his forecast for the Express than Messing’s best-organization-in-the-history-of-soccer antics.  “Public offerings are calculated risks,” McNamara told Newsday, “We are going to make an effort to field a team and see what the community will bear.  We think it will work.”
In an effort to differentiate themselves from the MISL’s previous Long Island entry, the bankrupt & heavily Slavic New York Arrows, the Express came out of the gate with the slogan Soccer…American Style and a commitment to build around American players.  Tops on their list was the U.S. National Team captain and former Cosmos star, Ricky Davis, then a free agent after playing out his contract with the MISL’s St. Louis Steamers.

1986 New York Express Program“The whole plan for franchise success was built around Ricky Davis,” recalled Express PR Director Micah Buchdahl, “Not the greatest player at that point, but the one with the great American-born name, demeanor and name recognition.  A few days before the media event to introduce him, I was told he had changed his mind.  We had announced that we would introduce the top American-born player in soccer.  I remember <Express GM> Kent Russell and Shep asking me if it would be a problem if we just said we had meant Kevin Maher.  I told them we’d be totally screwed.

“What happened was the Steamers told Ricky that we had no money and would go bankrupt before the season was out (crazy, right?).  They had convinced him to stay in St. Louis.  At the same time, the Steamers had problems of their own.  They did not have a lease for their arena and there was a “secret memo” regarding an alternate arena and dates.  Someone contacted a writer at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and leaked the memo – which put the stability of that franchise into question.  Ricky came to New York.  The President of the Steamers called me at my aunt’s house and was none too pleased.”

After two road losses to open the season, the team debuted at home on November 21st, 1986.  An announced crowd of 10,570 watched them lose to the Kansas City Comets and drop to 0-3.  The match up for the debut on Long Island may have been a bad omen – Comets majority owner David Schoenstadt owned the New York Arrows in 1984 when the club plunged into bankruptcy.

Chris Whyte New York Express

Express All-Star Chris Whyte

The Express kept losing into December.  When the club reached 0-10, the axe fell on Head Coach Ray Klivecka.  Messing turned to his former Arrows coach, Don Popovic.  Popovic arrived in late December and began supervising training sessions, but seemed in no hurry to sign a contract.

“After being with two clubs in two years, I want to be sure this team will be here longer than one year,” Popovic told The Pittsburgh Press.

Unwilling to sign but also unwilling to leave, Popovic continued to run Express training sessions.  But by league rule, Popovic could not be in the team bench area unless he was under contract.  On one night, Popovic sat in the stands, attempting to orchestrate the match from the front row.

“<Popovic> sat behind the glass and relayed changes to one of the players and sometimes directly to me,” recalled interim Head Coach Mark Steffens.  “He didn’t change a lot of things, just a player switch or two.”

Eventually, Popovic descended to the bench for a single match, despite never signing a contract.  He resigned the same night.

Meanwhile, the stock sale was a bust.

“Let’s just say the money never really existed and the ‘game plan’ for selling stock was less than stellar,” says Buchdahl. “Before the season even started, I think many people knew there was a little smoke and mirrors happening with the financing.  But I also think Shep thought he could convince someone to give us the money we needed.”

In January, Express GM Kent Russell and Assistant GM Joel Finglass bolted for front office roles with the MISL’s Dallas Sidekicks.  24-year old Micah Buchdahl became acting General Manager, presiding over remnants of a staff that no longer received paychecks.  The Express missed their $75,000 player payroll on February 1st, 1987, forcing the league to draw down the club’s $250,000 letter of credit to cover it.

“<Sometime> in the middle of December or January the fella <Stan Henry> called me and asked me to come out on the Island to dinner,” recalled MISL Commissioner Bill Kentling.  “Mitch Burke, the deputy commissioner, and I drove out on a snowy night and had a lovely dinner.  We sort of kept waiting for the reason for the dinner and we got the check and we were paying and he said to us ‘Oh by the way, I’m not sure I can make payroll this week.’

I said “I’m sorry…perhaps we should sit at the bar for a moment and talk about this.” And he was just out of money or chose to be out of money, you’re never sure.”

1986-87 New York Express Pocket ScheduleMessing announced the immediate dissolution of the team and the initiation of Chapter XI bankruptcy proceedings on February 17, 1987 just days after the MISL All-Star Break.  Although the Express finished with a record of 3-23, they did manage to win their penultimate game, a 6-5 overtime victory against the Los Angeles Lazers at the Forum on Valentine’s Day 1987.  The Express drew an announced average of 5,212 fans to their 13 home dates at the Coliseum, numbers that Micah Buchdahl admits were routinely fudged.  For their three victories, the Express lost a reported $3 million during nine months of operation.

Buchdahl expropriated much of the club’s office equipment and held it hostage in his aunt’s garage in a failed effort to receive his final five weeks of missed paychecks.  Read his highly entertaining behind-the-scenes account of the Express here.

Express defender Andranik Eskandarian, the former Iranian World Cup and Cosmos star, delivered the final judgement to The Chicago Tribune: “This team should never have been let in.  I don’t think the league is going to last long if it’s going to be like this.”

##

Express co-owner Ralph McNamara’s firm closed in the wake of the October 1987 stock market crash.  His broker’s license was revoked in 1991.  In the late 1990’s he reappeared in Clearwater, Florida operating a fake venture capital scam under the alias Ralph Deluise.  McNamara was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison in 2007.

Shep Messing plead guilty and received probation in 1991 in the wake of a securities probe into an investment scam that targeted NBA players represented by agent Harvey Lakind, including Darryl Dawkins.  He remains a soccer icon in New York and has enjoyed a long career as a soccer commentator and broadcaster for ESPN, NBC and MLSNet.com among other outlets.

Rick Davis was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2001.

Former Express Assistant GM Joel Finglass married Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Kelli Finglass (nee McGonagill), who is now the Director of the cheerleaders and a star of the long-running CMT program Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making The Team.

The original Major Indoor Soccer League folded in July 1992.

 

New York Express Memorabilia

 

New York Express Video

Expresss at the Minnesota Strikers on February 8, 1987.

 

New York Express Interviews

2011 Interview with Express front office executive Micah Buchdahl

2011 Interview with Express interim Head Coach Mark Steffens

 

Downloads

1986 New York Express Stock Offering Circular (57MB – download only)

New York Express article sources

 

Links

Major Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs

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