Soccer

Purely Speculation: A Non-Existent League

It’s become a recurring joke, bordering on meme territory, that the weird world of American soccer relies heavily on rumor, anonymous sources, and outright speculation. So much is said, maybe not publicly, but far more than is actually done. Not that it’s a bad thing, it’s in line with routine punditry found among any sport. However, the jokes of “60-90 days” or “sources say” or “announcement for an announcement” have increasingly permeated soccer culture.

Maybe that’s why Asbury Park FC is a thing. If you’re unfamiliar, Asbury Park FC is a fake team, an anti-team, a parody of modern soccer and modern professional sports. There’s a website where jerseys and scarves are sold, and occasional news updates of fake player transfers. But there’s a heavy joke-y nature to the whole thing. It’s very punk rock satire.

This has me thinking about rumor and speculation and the disconnect from reality. Asbury Park FC isn’t a thing, but it’s definitely a thing. And there are dozens of teams around the country that were announced, named, and never signed a player. What if that were the entire game? What if the entire point of a league was to not actually exist? No players are signed, no tickets are sold, no balls are kicked, but that doesn’t prevent the existence of statistics tracking goals scored, game day attendance, and team standings.

This is something of a thought experiment, and I’ve yet to fully convince myself that this idea isn’t completely stupid. It’s at least somewhat amusing to me, and gives me complete creative freedom, but at the same time, it’s inherently pointless.

And maybe that’s the point.

So. What the hell, let’s see where this train of thought goes.

For this, I feel the need to establish some sort of basic rules for myself to remain consistent for whatever this ends up being. The league needs to have a name and branding, for certain. There needs to be a process for team announcements. Everything is going to be as real as a fake endeavor can possibly be. Even if it’s parody, or fan fiction, or the logical extension of “Whose Line?” scoring, it’s not anarchy. And where would American soccer be without the existence of and reliance on arbitrary regulations?

First up: the name. Hypothetical Soccer League, known as the H-League for short. This is as straightforward as something this arbitrary can be. The logo is a combination of a question mark, a lightbulb, and a key hole. As per industry standard, all of these elements represent some flavor of obligatory nonsense. The question mark represents the speculation and quasi-rhetorical questions found everywhere in soccer media, the lightbulb represents the idea of creating a new league or team, and the key hole represents the secrecy and anonymity maintained by the media. The “H” in the center is indicative of a dead filament, representing failed plans, and it also stands for “Hypothetical”. Poetry.

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Of course, there will be teams, and those are sure to be announced in the coming days/weeks/months, and I’ll let you know when those announcements are coming, but for now, this is all.

Requiem for a Team: Rayo OKC

This is the start of a new series I’ve been working on called “Requiem for a Team”. These pieces will be historical accounts of the teams that have failed, folded, self-relegated, or otherwise run into trouble.


I first started reporting on the situation in Oklahoma City in the spring of 2014 for Reckless Challenge. At the time, we were hearing reports of a possible war for OKC between the USL and NASL, but things go back even further, and I’m taking this opportunity to tell the whole story.

For a number of years, the only major soccer game in Oklahoma City was the women’s Oklahoma City FC in the WPSL. Founded in 2007, this team began play in 2008 and in 2009 was taken over by local businessman Sean Jones and sports marketing firm Sold Out Strategies, run by local businessman Brad Lund. On Valentines Day 2013, this group, along with a new entity OKC Pro Soccer LLC run by another local businessman, Tim McLaughlin, announced a team in the Premier Development League, sharing the OKCFC branding of the WPSL club. They would play at the 5,000 seat soccer stadium on the Oklahoma City University campus in uptown OKC.

This was the highest level of men’s soccer in Oklahoma City in nearly fifteen years, with the market having previously been served by the Slickers, Stampede, Warriors, Spirit, and Alliance at various levels of indoor and outdoor soccer. The most recent outdoor team in the market, the Oklahoma City Slickers, folded in 1996.

This PDL team was the planned starting point for an eventual USL-Pro team, however, in the spring of 2013, a competing USL-Pro bid emerged from a rival ownership group, Prodigal LLC, run by Bob Funk Jr. Bob Funk and Prodigal are known locally for operating the American Hockey League’s Barons and for being the former owners of the AAA baseball RedHawks. The OKCFC group of Lund and McLaughlin, believing they would likely lose out in the USL PRO application process to the arguably more experienced Prodigal-backed group, began exploring options to receive rights to own and operate an NASL franchise in Oklahoma City. Both teams also wound up competing for rights to use the same downtown OKC stadium, Taft Stadium.

On June 17th, OKCFC scored a rare win, earning the right to use Taft Stadium as their home venue with whatever pro franchise they could get. However, with the change of plans to pursue an NASL team instead of a USL-Pro team, USL issued a cease and desist order, citing a noncompete clause for all clubs in the USL system. They argued that OKCFC are contractually forbidden to move from the USL-run PDL to NASL. OKCFC countered with a lawsuit against USL, claiming that the noncompete clause in the contract was unenforceable. USL announced an expansion team for Prodigal on July 2nd, and the NASL countered by awarding a team to OKCFC on July 25th.

Cut forward to November of 2013, when the Prodigal group announced their branding, Oklahoma City Energy FC, and their home venue of Pribil Stadium, on campus at local Bishop McGuiness High School. Shortly thereafter, the Energy announced an affiliation partnership with Sporting KC of MLS, along with head coach, recently retired Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen. The Energy FC planned a much more ambitious timeline than OKCFC, intending to take the field in the spring of 2014, while OKCFC intended to wait until the 2015 season.

This was the first serious blow to Sold Out Strategies and co, with the Energy possibly getting an entire year’s head start. Early into 2014, things began to fall apart for OKCFC, with Tim McLaughlin and his OKC Pro Soccer group leaving to join up with Prodigal and Energy FC. McLaughlin took with him the lease to Taft Stadium, giving the Energy yet another coup.

OKCFC responded by moving their semi-pro PDL team to the NPSL, avoiding working with USL any further, and put out statements claiming that Energy FC’s plans did not impact their own goals. Brad Lund and Sold Out Strategies returned to the picture, and despite claims that they were still pursuing their goals with NASL, no major news came out regarding OKCFC in 2014, save for their WPSL and NPSL sides.

The next major announcement came in August of 2015, when NASL commissioner Bill Peterson revealing in an interview that the league had moved on from both the Oklahoma City franchise, as well as the other stillborn 2014 expansion team, the Virginia Cavalry. However, only 11 days later, news broke on ESPN that a club in Spain’s top league was given permission to invest in OKCFC. This club was eventually revealed to be Rayo Vallecano, based in Madrid’s working class neighborhood of Vallecas. Rayo Chairman Raul Martin Presa took control of the franchise, and in November 2015, NASL announced that this joint venture, Rayo OKC, would begin play in 2016.

The Rayo OKC group consisted initially of Rayo Vallecano and their chairman Presa, former OKCFC owner Sean Jones, and Brad Lund’s Sold Out Strategies. The team hired former San Antonio Scorpions head coach Alen Marcina, a man with an NASL championship under his belt, and secured the rights to use Miller Stadium on the Yukon High School campus west of Oklahoma City.

Marcina began assembling a squad, combining a number of MLS, NASL, and USL veterans with the attention-grabbing signings of Derek Boateng, USA veteran Robbie Findlay, and Greek superstar Georgios Samaras. Rayo OKC started their NASL campaign with an impressive home crowd, drawing over 6,400, 800 more than the Energy managed the previous week. Despite only winning 3 games in the 10 game Spring season, Rayo averaged right under 5,000  for their first five home games, with Energy FC around 500  more across the same span of time. They finished a respectable, if unremarkable 8th out of 11 in the NASL Spring season, and seemed to be holding up heading into the summer break. But then, Rayo Vallecano was relegated from La Liga in May of 2016, leaving a lot of questions to be answered come July.

The Fall season saw fortunes fluctuate wildly for Rayo. Losing only 1 of their first 7 fall games and sitting 3rd on the table wasn’t enough to keep the crowds coming in, with average attendance dropping down to 3,866, nor was it enough to keep things stable off the field. Rumors emerged of increased demands from Presa, and the changes he made were enough to motivate both head coach Alen Marcina, investment partners Sold Out Strategies, and a number of other front office staff to part ways with the team. Among his demands, the team would have to bus to every away game (even out to Edmonton and New York City) to save money, and the appointment of staff from Vallecano on tourist visas to take over operations.

A brief sidebar on the bus demands. The closest team to Rayo OKC is the Indy Eleven, and that’s a 12 hour bus ride under ideal circumstances. Minnesota United is slightly further still, Jacksonville and North Carolina are 18 hours away, the Rowdies nearly 20, Miami and Fort Lauderdale at around 22, the Cosmos and Fury almost a full day’s drive, Edmonton over 28 hours away. And most ridiculously, Puerto Rico, which is an island in the Caribbean, and there’s no way in hell you can drive a bus to Puerto Rico, no matter how demanding a Spanish businessman may be.

Further rumors painted a bleak picture, with most of the office staff leaving after paychecks bounced more than once, and only 5 people sticking around for gameday operations by August 7th. The appointment of Gerard Nus as the new head coach didn’t start well either, with the team losing four of his first five games.

And this isn’t even the most ridiculous thing that happened involving Rayo OKC that fall. Following the massive shakeup in early August, minor partner Sean Jones, a staple of OKCFC since 2009, departed the team, fearing that he would lose his investment, and under cover of darkness, took half of the artificial field Rayo used from storage. Jones had purchased the turf at the beginning of the year, and Rayo had failed to compensate him for the field, so he took fourty of the ninety-two pallets of turf and locked them in a warehouse. The team had allegedly failed to communicate with him regarding his investment or the team’s future, and he planned to sell the turf in an attempt to minimize his losses. He had learned from a third party that the team was planning to sell the turf, and it was in his best interests to keep it secure.

Negotiations followed, with the team actually communicating directly, and after a week and a half of discussion, a settlement was reached and the turf was returned. But the crowds never did. The first home game under Gerard Nus drew only 1,251, and the first game after the turf fiasco, a depressing 924. The average over the last six home games plummeted down to 1,284. This tanked their overall average attendance to 3,210, compared to the Energy’s 4,950. By now, the writing was on the wall.

Rayo OKC made the playoffs by finishing fourth in the combined standings, but went out 2-1 in the first round versus the eventual champion Cosmos. The last post made to Rayo’s website and social media concerned congratulating the Cosmos and discussing the end of the year best 11. Gerard Nus stepped down after that, and returned to Spain, and nothing more has come from the team.

We do know that at some point from late November to early December, all of the players and staff were released and the phones disconnected, and the team was not represented at the NASL’s board of directors meeting in Atlanta. The league confirmed in January that the team was gone.

As for Sold Out Strategies and the WPSL Oklahoma City FC team? They’ve hired new coaching staff and continue to play in the WPSL.


That’s all for this installment of “Requiem for a Team”. I’m aiming to get back into more written content, and finally get the next chapter of MLS Origins finished. Watch this space for more.

MLS Origins – Part 0 – The Four Drafts

MLS Origins – Building the rosters for the inaugural MLS season

I’ve decided to write this series to take a look at the decisions made by the league and teams ahead of the first MLS season, mainly the events surrounding the original roster creations. This is some of the league’s history that has yet to be covered in a way I found really satisfying, and I intend to take a more personal look at each player that was selected and how they fared both before, during, and after their time in MLS.

MLS used four different sorts of drafts to build the initial rosters, the Allocations where each team received four “marquee players”, the Player Draft which gave teams a chance to draft from the pool of 250 MLS-selected players, the College Draft for drafting college players and the Supplemental Draft for drafting other American professional players. The last two live on in a combined state as the MLS SuperDraft.

Before we dive into the ten teams and who they selected, we first need to explain the four drafts a bit more, as well as get some context for the state of professional American soccer in 1995.


In 1995, the professional soccer scene in the United States was mainly limited to the indoor National Professional Soccer league and Continental Soccer League, and the outdoor American Professional Soccer League , by then renamed to A-League, and the USISL Professional League. The APSL suffered from the fact that, with the demise of Canada’s CSL in 1992 (not to be confused with the current CSL based in Ontario), it had admitted three Canadian teams which ran afoul of FIFA regulations governing division 1 status. Leagues were not permitted to cross national borders at the time. Additionally, the league was struggling to retain teams. USISL was growing, reaching a ludicrous 55 teams in 1995, while that same year the A-League fielded only 6. While the A-League was considered the higher quality league, money and teams were flying out the door, and with FIFA refusing to sanction them, the United States were left without a true D1-quality league.

Until MLS, that is.

By now, I’m sure you all know a good amount about the origin of MLS, but if not, go read Beau Dure’s “Long Range Goals”, which does a better job of documenting the actual birth of the league better than I could. Long story short, people came together, contracts were signed, teams were created, and work was done.

So now, we jump to October of 1995. MLS is a go, we have ten teams around the country, and a number of USMNT and other notable American players have signed with the new league. Great! The next step: turn these teams into a reality by actually building the rosters. We introduce now the men tasked with such, the inaugural class of MLS managers.


First up, the Colorado Rapids. who chose journeyman Englishman Bob Houghton, who by then had managed 8 teams in 3 different countries and became notable for winning the Allsvenskan three times and the Svenska Cupen four times with Swedish side Malmö FK. He previously coached the Toronto Blizzard in the North American Soccer League during their final three seasons, losing the championship game the final two years.

Next, the Columbus Crew. Their initial manager was Finnish-born Timo Liekoski who by then had spent the bulk of his soccer career in the United States initially as a college player, later coaching a number of NASL teams from the mid seventies through the league’s demise. At one point, he was fired twice in less than 12 months for dismal starts to seasons. His most recent experience before MLS had been with the USA Olympic national team, preparing them for the 1996 Olympics. He again was fired from this post after two winless tournaments.

The Dallas Burn decided to look local, and settled on Dave Dir who had by then already been working for MLS in charge of scouting and creating the player pools I’ll be analyzing. He had achieved notable success at Regis University and with the APSL’s Colorado Foxes.

DC United had arguably the strangest choice of manager, a man who had achieved the bulk of his athletic success in lacrosse, even winning the 1974 World Lacrosse Championship with the American national team, before finishing second to Canada four years later. He later dedicated himself to coaching soccer, coaching at the University of Virginia for 18 seasons and winning five national championships, before working with the U-23 American national team. This man’s name? Bruce Arena.

Kansas City, still known as the Wiz, signed NASL-era veteran player-manager Ron Newman, also famous for the 10 championships in 11 years won by his indoor soccer San Diego Sockers. He hired his son Guy Newman to assist. By this point in time, Newman’s coaching legacy was already cemented with his 1992 induction to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

The Los Angeles Galaxy went with a familiar name in the state of California, German-American Lothar Osiander, best remembered for his brief stint in charge of the USMNT in the mid eighties. He had spent time with the Atlanta Ruckus immediately prior to the formation of MLS, winning A-League Coach of the Year after his only season.

New England went with a frankly inexperienced manager in Irishman Frank Stapleton, whose only managerial experience came as player-manager for Bradford City. He was sacked from both roles following three mediocre seasons in the English third tier league. As a player, though, he was known for successful times at Manchester United and Arsenal, and for captaining the Irish national team.

The New York/New Jersey MetroStars made what seemed to be one of the more astute managerial decisions, hiring South African-born Italian international Eddie Firmani, who had spent years playing in Italy and had coached in England, the NASL, and the middle east. Most notably, he coached some of the peak New York Cosmos teams, and won a total of four NASL titles.

For San Jose, the managerial choice seemed logical to any long-time Bay Area Soccer fans. After bouncing around England for years, Laurie Calloway had played for and later managed the original Earthquakes, and had been at the helm of the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks during their CONCACAF Champions’ Cup run, making it all the way to the finals against Club America. His team was at that point the most successful American team yet in CONCACAF competition.

And finally, we come to the Tampa Bay Mutiny, who signed the colorful Dutchman Thomas Rongen away from the recently defunct second incarnation of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Rongen played a number of games both outdoor and indoor through the eighties in the United States, and by 1995 had spent over a decade coaching teams at various levels throughout Florida. With the Strikers, from 1989 through 1994, Rongen was manager, coach, player AND captain simultaneously, and led his team to the 1989 ASL title and national championship win.


With our manager class introduced, we move now to the first of our four player drafts, the 1996 MLS Inaugural Allocations.

Starting in January of 1995, MLS began signing notable US internationals and other notable American professionals to league-level contracts, designating these players as “marquee players”, eventually totaling 40 such players. With the intention of parity, the league planned on allocating four marquee players each to the ten inaugural franchises. The first player to sign such a contract was Tab Ramos, veteran of two World Cups for the USMNT and then on loan to Mexican side Tigres UANL. 39 players followed Ramos, representing a total of eleven countries from four continents.

Rather than allowing each team to select their players, the league did the actual decision-making, sending each team their four players although Dave Dir, soon to be manager of the Dallas Burn, had a hand in the decision process. The allocation process occurred shortly before the actual drafts took place, in early 1996. Each team was guaranteed at least one USA international and one foreign international.

The Colorado Rapids received three USMNT players in Marcelo Balboa, Dominic Kinnear, and Roy Wegerle, as well as South African international Shaun Bartlet.

Columbus got two American internationals named Brian, Brians Maisonneuve and Bliss. They also received Uruguayan international Adrian Paz and on loan received South Africa’s Doctor Khumalo from the Kaizer Chiefs.

Following MLS’s early strategy of marketing to Hispanic fans, the Dallas Burn were sent three players of Latino background along with their obligatory USMNT man in Mark Santel. The other three were Mexican legend Hugo Sanchez, Colombian veteran Leonel Alvarez, and Uruguayan youth international Washington Rodriguez.

DC United received two American internationals, Jeff Agoos and John Harkes, and two Bolivian internationals, Berthy Suarez and Marco Etcheverry, widely considered one of Bolivia’s best ever.

Kansas City got three American internationals; Missouri native Mike Sorber, Greek-born Frank Klopas, and Yugoslavian-American Predrag Radosavljević, better known as Preki from his indoor soccer days. Rounding out their allocation was Zimbabwean international Vitalis Takawira.

The Galaxy were given the same “Market to Hispanic Fans” treatment as Dallas, receiving three Latino players along with American Dan Calichman. Joining him were the flamboyantly eccentric Mexican international Jorge Campos, Salvadorean international Mauricio Cienfuegos, and journeyman Ecuadorean international Eduardo Hurtado.

The Metrostars were sent Italian international Roberto Donadoni along with a trio of Americans; Tab Ramos, the first to sign with MLS, Tony Meola, and Damian Silvera.

New England, like NYNJ, received the other allocated Italian international Giuseppe Galderisi, along with three Americans; Mike Burns, Jim St. Andre, and 1994 World Cup standout Alexi Lalas.

San Jose got a pair of Nigerian internationals in Benedict Iroha and Michael Emenalo, along with a pair of American World Cup veterans in John Doyle and Eric Wynalda.

And finally, the Tampa Bay Mutiny, yet another market where MLS employed its Latino marketing ploy, received Mexican international Martin Vasquez, who soon switched to the USMNT, along with Colombian legend Carlos Valderrama. Joining them was another pair of American internationals in Cle Kooiman and Roy Lassiter.


The next step in building the rosters was the Inaugural Player Draft, which took place over two days in early February 1996. This gave every team 16 picks to choose from a pool of 250 players MLS had invited to tryouts, ranging from indoor soccer players to Americans playing abroad to standout professionals from the various leagues across North America. Unlike in the following two drafts, there was no trading of picks nor any passing. Each team used all their picks, for a total of 160 selected players.

Following that was the College Draft, which took place on March 4th, in which teams had three rounds to select any amateur players from the NCAA soccer system. This round saw picks traded along with, and in some cases for, players taken in the previous draft.

The final draft, the Supplemental Draft, took place immediately following the College Draft. Once again, this draft encompassed three rounds with each team receiving a pick in each round, although trading and one pass, Colorado with the penultimate pick, meant that not every team left with three players.


With all the explanation out of the way, what follows will be team-by-team breakdowns of each of the 26 picks, and the careers of every chosen player. I’ll be looking at teach player’s career before MLS, their time spent in Major League Soccer, and their careers afterward, along with a bit of history of how the 1996 season unfolded. Stay tuned!

Small Fish, Big Pond 4 – Keep on Knockin’

1989 brought with it a new competition for the Caribbean Football Union, and the Antiguans, fresh off their OECS win the year prior, were eager to keep winning. The CFU Championship was no more, replaced by the Caribbean Cup: a bigger, more prestigious competition that gave the winner a berth for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. That tournament, then, offered the top two finishers qualification to the World Cup!

This gave the island nations of CONCACAF a much easier route to the international stage.

Sponsored by Shell, the final tournament was to be held in Barbados; the title sponsor was based there and the island had an international airport. The tournament consisted of a qualification group stage and a finals group stage, with the winners of both finals groups meeting in the championship final. Qualifications consisted of three groups, and the Benna Boys were placed in Group C.

The group stage was formatted where the winners of each group, plus the best two runners up, plus the hosting Barbuda, would qualify for the finals.

The tournament began for the Antiguans on April 23, 1989, with a fixture against regional powerhouse Jamaica. Luckily, Antigua was to play host, with the home field advantage St. Johns provided. Details are sparce, but we do know this: after only 22 minutes of play, Antigua led Jamaica 1-0, thanks to a goal by the legendary Everton Gonsalves. The Benna Boys kept the Jamaican side score less up to the final whistle. Yes, you read that right, Antigua managed to beat a team who had finished as high as 6th in CONCACAF play.

The Benna Boys kept the momentum going for their second fixture, to be played away in Dominica on May 13th. Again, not much is known, but again the Antiguans triumphed! 1-0 after 90 minutes! Antigua was leading the group!

Antigua and Barbuda had two remaining fixtures in group play: home against St. Lucia on May 21st, and away against Guadaloupe at some point that June. Unfortunately, records from Caribbean soccer are sparce, and not only do we not have scores for these two events, but we don’t even know when the second one was played. We do know that Guadaloupe won the group with 3 wins and a loss, and Antigua finished second with the same record. It came down to the unknown goal differential.

Grenada took Group A with 3 wins and 1 draw, while Saint Vincent and the Grenadines took group B with the same record.

The second placed teams consisted of three teams with identical 3 win, 1 loss records, with the two advancing decided on goal differential. Trinidad and Tobago finished second in Group A with a +14 goal differential, while Netherlands Antilles finished second in Group B with a +6 goal differential. Antigua’s goal differential isn’t known, but it was the lowest of the three, meaning that despite winning 3 of their matches, the Benna Boys would fail to qualify for the finals. Eventually, Trinidad and Tobago beat Grenada 2-1 to win it, but that’s not what we’re here for.

One of these days I really want to go to the CFU archives and dig through and see if I can’t find some of this missing data. It’s been an unfortunately recurring theme. I don’t know if it’s poor record keeping or a lack of tournament prestige or what, but there’s quite a lot of information missing that I’d love to have.

Anyway, with the disappointing loss on tiebreakers, the Antiguans were done for 1989. But, 1990 brought with it a new decade and another edition of the Caribbean Cup.

For the 1990 tournament, Antigua and Barbuda were placed in Zone C for qualification, one of four groups consisting of four teams each. The winner of each group would advance; no more second place tiebreaker nonsense.

Their competition began on April 14th, playing away on the island of Bermuda.

Six minutes in, the local boys went up 1-0 over the Benna Boys off a Sheridan Ming goal. Two minutes later, Antigua equalized, courtesy of Dion Greenaway. The half ended level at one goal a piece.

Two minutes into the second half, the one and only Everton Gonsalves worked his magic once again to give his country the lead for the first time. For thirty long minutes, the scoreline remained 2-1 in favor of the visitors, but in the 77th minute, Bermudan Corey Hill equalized. Antigua were unable to capitalize on the remaining 13 minutes, and the match ended, 2-2. Still, not a bad result at all.

Their second match was played away in Barbados, on April 29th. The first half saw no score, but 9 minutes into the second half, Adrian Hall put Barbados into the lead, one which they preserved. Antigua lost, 1-0.

Their final match was played at home a month later, hosting St. Lucia on May 27th. Earl Jean put the Lucians ahead in the 22nd minute, and added another in the 54th, to shut down Antigua and eliminate them from the tournament. For the second year in a row, Antigua finished second in it’s group.

Consistent as it may be, it meant for another year, no finals appearance. Fortunately for the Antiguans, though, they managed to make it to the OECS final in their smaller regional tournament, and on November 9th, they narrowly edged out Dominica at home, winning the tournament for the second time with a final score 2-1.

That was it for the Benna Boys until 1992. But more on that later.

 

State of Arena Soccer – Part 1 – 2013-2014 MISL Season

It was recently reported that the USL operated Major Indoor Soccer League is no more, due to 6 of the 7 teams departing to join the rival Professional Arena Soccer League, with the remaining league changing it’s name to Major Arena Soccer League, or MASL. With that, came the information that the 2014-2015 season will be contested by 24 teams, 6 from MISL, 16 returning PASL teams, one revived team in the Tacoma Stars, and one expansion club, the Brownsville Barracudas. Four PASL teams and one MISL team are presumed to have folded.

To set the stage for the first season of unified arena soccer, I’ll be documenting the history of the uniquely North American spin on the beautiful game, and the revolving door of leagues and teams. Today, here’s a brief summary of the 2013-2014 MISL season.

For older leagues, numbers will be used to describe which generation used that particular name. MISL1 will refer to the original, while MISL will refer to the current league.


 

Seven teams contested the season, featuring two new clubs. Two teams failed to return.

FOLDED:

The Chicago Soul had a short history, playing only one season. They made the playoffs, but their early exit combined with only 1,565 average attendance and other financial woes meant that the Chicago market would be without MISL soccer for the 2013-2014 season.

The Wichita Wings were an attempted rebirth of the original Wings who played 22 years before folding in 2001. This team fared worse, managing only two seasons before declining attendance and a lack of playoff soccerm among other things, led to a swift demise.

RETURNING:

The Baltimore Blast were founded in 1992 as the Baltimore Spirit. They were a constant presence in the old NPSL2, and after joining the MISL2 in 2001 won 4 championships in 6 years. They entered the season as reigning champions, having slaughtered the Missouri Comets 21-12 and 8-6 in the two game championship series. Coach Danny Kelly returned for yet another year. The team had an insane regular season, winning 17 of 20 games, scoring 309 points and allowing only 101, good for 1st overall and playoffs.

The Milwaukee Wave are, and have been, the oldest continuously operating pro soccer team in North America, having been founded in 1984. Across their long history spreading several leagues, they’ve managed to win 6 championships, having lost another 4 in the finals. Head coach Keith Tozer returned for his 22nd consecutive season at the reigns, leading the Wave to an impressive 16-4 record, good for 2nd overall and playoffs thanks to 324 points for, 203 against.

The Missouri Comets, founded in 2010, are named for the former Kansas City Comets of MISL1 fame. Coach Kim Røntved was fired to start the season after losing in the championship series, with Vlatko Andonovski hired as replacement. Missouri finished 14-6, in 3rd place with a league leading 329 points for, and 217 against.

The Rochester Lancers, also founded in 2010, hired Josh Rife as coach, after previous coach Jim Hesch led the team to a 10-16 record. Rife suffered an even worse first season, as the team went 6 and 14, with 216 points for and 280 against. They finished 5th, just out of the playoffs.

The Syracuse Silver Knights, founded in 2011, are the youngest of the returning teams. They kept original coach Tommy Tanner, who took them to their first playoff berth with a 12-8 record. That’s good for 4th overall, the final playoff berth.

NEW TEAMS:

The Pennsylvania Roar brought the indoor game to the town of Reading, but coach Eric Puls and his new team only managed to win 1 game. They only scored 105 points, while allowing a league high 375, and cemented their place at the bottom of the table early.

Fellow expansion side St. Louis Ambush didn’t fare much better, only winning 4 games. Player Odaine Sinclair did win rookie of the year, but with 186 points for and 348 against, could only manage 6th, just above the Roar.


 

Attendance wise, Rochester were top, despite no playoffs, with an average of 7,347.

Almost-undefeated Baltimore were second with 6,123 average.

St. Louis fans managed to look past their team’s on the field woes to the tune of 5,636 on average.

Milwaukee dipped slightly from the previous year, but still posted a respectable 4,906.

Missouri followed closely with another slight drop, managing 4,180.

Syracuse, despite their success on the field, could only average 2,869.

But poor Roar. Not only did they only win one game, but they had barely half of Syracuse’s attendance, with a dismal average of only 1,549.4 unanswered in the 2nd quarter


 

The playoffs began with Baltimore leveling Syracuse 20 to 7, and the Comets flattening the Wave 20 to 6.

Fortunes changed for the second game in both series, with Milwaukee winning 12 to 9 over Missouri, and Baltimore losing 6 to 9 against the Silver Knights.

That meant a 15 minute mini-game in both semifinal brackets.

In the first tie breaker, Missouri won 6 to 2, advancing over the Wave.

The second saw Baltimore win 4 to 3 despite a late game 3 point goal for Syracuse.

This meant Baltimore would face Missouri in the championship series.

Game 1 saw the Comets start and finish strong, scoring 6 unanswered points in the 3rd quarter.

Baltimore responded at home with a dominant 19 to 4 win, with 11 unanswered in the first half. This forced another 15 minute tiebreaker, with Missouri winning both the minigame and the championship 6 to 4, off a 14th minute goal.

It was Missouri’s first championship in the current team’s four year history.


 

State of Arena Soccer – Part 0 – Playing Indoors

It was recently reported that the USL operated Major Indoor Soccer League is no more, due to 6 of the 7 teams departing to join the rival Professional Arena Soccer League, with the remaining league changing it’s name to Major Arena Soccer League, or MASL. With that, came the information that the 2014-2015 season will be contested by 24 teams, 6 from MISL, 16 returning PASL teams, one revived team in the Tacoma Stars, and one expansion club, the Brownsville Barracudas. Four PASL teams and one MISL team are presumed to have folded.

To set the stage for the first season of unified arena soccer, I’ll be documenting the history of the uniquely North American spin on the beautiful game, and the revolving door of leagues and teams, but first, a brief summary of what arena soccer really is.


 

It’s basically soccer mixed with ice hockey.

Start off with a hockey rink, boards and everything. Take some synthetic turf, cover the ice, and remove the walls behind hockey’s goal line. Put a goal in each hole in the wall, flush with the boards. Goals are 14 feet by 8 feet and at least 5 feet deep, smaller than outdoors. The field is divided much like hockey, and the hockey offsides rule is used. There’s also a 3 line violation rule, where a defending player kicks the ball past both yellow lines and the white line. It gives possession to the other team, and can result in a 2 minute penalty.

 

Here’s a rough idea of what the field looks like, courtesy of the PASL rulebook.

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Teams consist of five position players plus a goalkeeper. Rules are pretty similar, with goal kicks and corner kicks and penalty kicks all working, but teams are allowed unlimited substitutions, much like hockey, and the same benches are used. Substitutions can happen at any time, and frequently occur during play.

The boards are all in bounds, and playing the ball off them is part of basic strategy.

Arena soccer preserves the hockey penalty box, using soccer style cards to issue penalty time.

A blue card means two minutes in the box, for specific minor fouls. Fouled team plays on a two minute 5-on-4 power play.

A yellow card means five minutes in the box for more severe offenses, but no power play.

A red card means the offending player is gone, just like soccer, with blue card style 2 minute power play following. A designated player occupies the box.

Games consist of four 15 minute quarters. There’s no ties; teams play 15 minute sudden death overtime followed by a 3 man shootout if necessary.

In the MISL, goals are worth two points, with those scored from behind a special three-point arc worth three, much like basketball.

In the PASL, all goals are one point, and there’s no 3 point arc.

For lower leagues, numbers will be used to describe which generation used that particular name. MISL1 will refer to the original, while MISL will refer to the current league.


 

Small Fish Big Pond 3 – One Little Victory

We last ended in 1986, with the Benna Boys bowing out of Central American and Caribbean Games qualifying after two matches.

1987 brought with it a brief foray into Olympic qualifying, with a pair of draws against the Dominican Republic. Despite neither side winning, the away goals rule took effect, with the Dominican Republic scoring their only goal during the leg hosted in Antigua. An unfortunately early exit from the tournament, and with that, the end of international competition for Antigua in 1987.

However, 1988 was set to be the busiest year yet for the Benna Boys.

March of 1988 brought with it another round of CFU Championship qualifying.

For the home and away series, Antigua would be facing their most recent victims, Dominica, who, despite taking an early lead with an 18th minute goal from Robert Hippolyte, wound up level at half time thanks to a late goal from Steve Hurst, and had their fate sealed with yet another goal at the increasingly legendary feet of Everton Gonsalves in the second half. That win back in 1985 put Antigua through to the next round of qualification, but eventually lost 1-0 to Guadeloupe.

After three years, Dominica was out for revenge, and Antigua was hoping to go two-for-two.

The first match, played away in Dominica, was a relatively tame affair, with the hosts managing to hold the visiting Antiguans to a scoreless draw. The same, however, can’t be said for the leg hosted in Saint John’s.

The match started out rough, with Dominica conceding a penalty in just the 18th minute. Everton Gonsalves made swift work of it, and put the home town favorites up 1-0. Late into the first half, the visiting Dominicans own McIntyre equalized with a goal in the 44th minute.

The teams entered the second half still level, but in the 70th minute, Antiguan player Anthony scored the go-ahead and eventually game winning goal in the first Antiguan victory in over three years.

The Benna Boys were through to the next round.

The CFU Championship finals were scheduled for July of 1988, but before that, another tournament: the CONCACAF Championship, which counted for 1990 World Cup Qualification!

For only the third time in their brief history, Antigua and Barbuda would be fighting it out on the biggest international stage of all! Or, at least, that’s what they planned. But before that, they must qualify.

The two tournaments would overlap, with one qualifying match hosted against Curacao, followed by the three matches of the CFU Championship finals, then the second qualification leg, and then Olympic qualification for the 1988 Summer Games. A very busy summer for the Antiguans.

The Benna Boys had a less than ideal start to the summer, dropping the first qualifying match 1-0 at home against Curacao. Hoping to put this loss behind them, the Antiguans traveled to Martinique for the 1988 CFU Championship Finals. Their first of three matches was against the host nation.

The start of the Finals competition was a high scoring affair, and at the final whistle, Antigua remained level against Martinique with a score of 2-2. The second match, played just two days later, saw Antigua draw long standing rivals Trinidad and Tobago 1-1. Another two days after that saw the Benna Boys conclude the Finals with a third consecutive draw, this time 0-0 against Guadeloupe.

Despite failing to win any of their three matches, Antigua and Barbuda’s three points from three draws was good for second place, behind eventual second time champions Trinidad and Tobago. While it might not seem like much, this was the best finish ever by Antigua in any international tournament. They had only made the finals twice before, and finished last both times.

Hoping to carry this momentum through to their second CONCACAF/World Cup qualification match against Curacao, the Benna Boys traveled to the Netherlands Antilles for what proved to be a much tougher task.

Antigua wound up scoring their only goal as of yet in the tournament, going level at 1-1 in aggregate, but in extra time, eventually conceded three goals, losing 4-1 overall. Not the outcome they hoped for, but after the incredibly busy summer, was still not that bad a result.

Plus, it set up the Benna Boys for something unprecedented.

But first! Some history!

In 1981, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States was founded with the Treaty of Basseterre. This succeeded the previous West Indies Associated States, a union of islands whose status changed from British colonies to semi-dependent states maintaining association with the United Kingdom in 1967. Due to many of these nations declaring independence, the union became obsolete, leading to the foundation of the OECS.

This organization hosted a soccer tournament in the fall 1988, and Antigua and Barbuda made the final.

This time, instead of a round-robin bracket, there would be a more traditional championship match.

On November 20, 1988, Antigua hosted Saint Lucia for the OECS final, and in front of the home crowd, scored two unanswered goals and won their first ever international championship!

Yes, the Benna Boys finally did it. And while the OECS title might not be as impressive as many other competitions, it’s still a major international victory.

The remaining month of 1988 didn’t see any international play for the Antiguans, but it did see the creation of an new Caribbean championship tournament. The CFU Championship would be folded into the new Caribbean Cup, with the inaugural tournament to be held the following year in Barbados. This would feature three groups and sixteen teams, more participants than any prior Caribbean tournament.

And Antigua was entered.

Small Fish Big Pond 2 – Steady, as She Goes

We last left off in the late 70s/early 80s with Antigua bowing out of CFU Championship qualification after two 1-0 defeats at Haitian hands.

Not much is known to have happened in Antiguan soccer between then and 1983, and for the games before then, not much statistic wise is known. In fact, simply figuring out who scored would likely require a trip to Antigua and an extended rifling through their archives, something I’m considering doing with increasing seriousness.

Anyway, as stated previously, our saga continues in 1983. The Benna Boys returned from their hiatus by entering the 1983 CFU Championship once again. First round qualification consisted of a home-and-away series against neighboring Guadeloupe, the first victim of Antigua in international play. Antigua traveled to the French island on April 2nd, for the first time since their prior victory on penalties. This time, the visitors didn’t need spot kicks to stun the home crowd with a 3-2 victory, only their second.

Antigua hosted Guadeloupe for the second leg a month later. Mervyn Richard opened the scoring for the Benna Boys in the 15th minute, before Guadeloupe answered with first half goals from Philipe Galoux in the 29th and Jean Silvedire in the 41st. Cedric Joseph brought Antigua back level only three minutes later to close out the first half tied two-two.

The second half began with a second goal from Guadeloupe’s Galoux, not even a full minute in. The next twenty minutes, the visiting side led, before Antiguan Alfred Lewis scored in the 55th. That put the match back level at 3-3, with Antigua leading 6 to 5 on aggregate. The Benna Boys kept the game level for the remainder of the match, pushing them through to the qualification playoffs, consisting of a two game series against Guyana.

Antigua was now only two games away from their second CFU Finals appearance, potentially their first in five years.

The first match was once again to be played on the road. Antigua held the local Guyanese to a scoreless draw.

Then, in the home leg, something unfounded happened. Back home, the fired up Antigua side needed only one goal to advance. Instead, Everton Gonsalves netted four. The Benna Boys’ back line maintained a clean sheet, giving the local boys a four-nothing victory. Antigua had never scored that many goals, nor won by such a margin before, and it would remain their biggest win for nearly a decade.

Antigua and Barbuda, for only the second time in their history, had made it to the CFU Championship Finals.

The Benna Boys had a daunting task ahead of them, aiming to improve upon their previous performance. They had made it to the final competition in the inaugural tournament five years before, but scored only a single goal in three games, finishing without a point and a -7 goal differential.

This time, Antigua would face Martinique, French Guiana, and Caribbean powerhouse Trinidad and Tobago. Their first game, against Martinique, ended badly. Antigua lost 2-0. The second, held against the hosting French Guiana, didn’t go much better. Another loss, this time 1-0.

Antigua traveled to Trinidad for the last of 3 games, without a hope of winning, but with the potential to play spoiler to Trinidad and Tobago. If Martinique won or drew their final match, they would win, but if Martinique lost, and Trinidad beat Antigua, Trinidad would win.

Martinique held French Guyana to a scoreless draw, guaranteeing themselves the 1983 CFU title.

Antigua, however, did manage to score on Trinidad, as they had five years ago, but allowed two goals in the process. Despite losing all three games, they managed a respectable -4 goal differential. While far from ideal, it was an improvement on their previous showing, and the plucky underdogs still had reason to celebrate. Two wins, including their 4-0 slaughter, and improved defending, were sure signs of progress to the twin islands.

Antigua’s participation in the CFU finals meant they were eligible for 1985 CONCACAF Championship qualification, consisting of a two game series against Haiti. In preparation, the Benna Boys took on Guyana in friendly competition. Everton Gonsalves maintained his prolific form, netting all 3 en route to a clean sheet victory.

August 1984 brought Antigua’s second CONCACAF Championship qualification, and with it, a potential berth in the World Cup, meaning that for only the second time, Antigua and Barbuda had entered FIFA’s most famous contest. Both games were due to be played away in Haiti, robbing the Benna Boys of their now-growing home field advantage. The first match went undeniably poorly. Haiti took down the visitors 4-nothing. During the second game, only three days later, Antigua managed to net 2 goals en route to their first continental level victor, but with Haiti adding another, Antigua lost 5-2 on aggregate. Once again, Antigua and Barbuda’s qualification hopes ended early, along with the year 1984.

1985 brought with it another CFU Championship, and with a handful of wins to their name, Antigua and Barbuda had a lot to prove. Qualification consisted of two matches, against Dominica and Guadeloupe.

Not much is known about the qualification round, but we do know that despite going up 2-1 on Dominica, the 1-0 loss at the hands of Guadeloupe meant the Benna Boys lost out on their chance of a finals repeat.

Antigua’s only known matches in 1986 were two Central American and Caribbean Games qualifiers, held in the Dominican Republic. Antigua drew the hosts 1-1 and lost 1-0 to Honduras, and failed to qualify.

It would be two years before Antigua and Barbuda had another appearance in international soccer.

Small Fish Big Pond 1 – Birth of the Benna Boys

Antigua Barracuda, the former USL Pro side, achieved notoriety during their 2013 campaign, for all the wrong reasons. Here’s the story on how the 3rd Tier underdogs came to be.

Antigua and Barbuda is a small Caribbean nation, consisting of it’s two namesake islands, located among the Lesser Antilles. According to it’s most recent census, it’s population is somewhere around 81,000. Ruled by Britain until it’s independence in 1981, it was only natural that the colonial influence would bring with it the sports of cricket and soccer. Antigua and Barracuda are one of several nations that make up the successful West Indies international cricket team; one of only ten to play at the elite Test level. Yet, in soccer, they’re historically one of the least successful nations in CONCACAF.

The Benna Boys, named for the nation’s indigenous music, got their start in 1928 with the creation of the Antigua and Barbuda Football Association. The local Premier Division was founded in 1968, en route to FIFA and CONCACAF membership in 1970, just in time for qualification to the 1974 World Cup.

On November 10th, 1972, the Benna Boys traveled to nearby Trinidad and Tobago to take on the Soca Warriors for their first official international. The match was the first in a World Cup qualification home and away series.

Antigua lost, eleven to one. Their worst defeat, in their first match.

The following week didn’t end much better, with the Benna Boys losing again, two to one. The remaining qualifying matches followed suit, with Antigua and Barbuda losing 6-0 and 3-1 against Suriname. It would be another twelve years before the twin islands would so much as enter another World Cup.

In January of 1978, the Caribbean Football Union was created, providing more frequent international competition for the region. Antigua and Barbuda entered the inaugural CFU Championship, qualifying for the final with their first international win over French territory Guadaloupe. Having made it to the finals, they swiftly found themselves overpowered, losing all three round robin games to Suriname, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago. The following year, they were knocked out of qualification by Haiti, losing both games 1-0.

Four years passed before the Benna Boys played again.