In League's 10th Season, a First: Teams That Finished Are Back

Times Staff Writer

As the Major Indoor Soccer League celebrates its 10th anniversary this season, the league welcomes back all the teams that finished the previous season.

In many sports, that's no big deal. In the MISL, it's a first.

The New York Express folded during last season, the Wichita Wings almost folded at the end of last season and the Minnesota Strikers were almost forced to take a year off. But Wichita and Minnesota are back. Therefore, the 11 teams that concluded the 1986-87 season are back.

And for the first time since they joined the MISL, the San Diego Sockers are not the defending champions. San Diego had its streak of five straight indoor titles (1981-82 and 1983-84 in the North American Soccer League and 1982-83, 1984-85 and 1985-86 in the MISL) ended by the Tacoma Stars in the Western Division championship series, 4 games to 3.

The Dallas Sidekicks beat Tacoma in seven games in the league championship series, and about 10,000 people attended a ticker-tape parade in downtown Dallas.

Said Socker Coach Ron Newman: "When we went downtown to celebrate our fourth championship, we had more people in the bus than there were fans. Complacency was here in San Diego. After we won our fifth championship, there was no celebration."

This season, there appears to be more parity. There was a lot of off-season player movement, in part because the salary cap of $1.275 million per team forced some of the top teams to release good players and allow others to become free agents when their contracts expired.

The following is a team-by-team look at the league:

WESTERN DIVISION Tacoma Stars

Last season's record: 35-17

Finish: First

Coach: Alan Hinton

Outlook: The Stars had the best record in the MISL last season. In the final game of the league championship series, they led Dallas, 3-1, with 2:38 to play but still lost, 4-3. Tacoma set an MISL record for blocked shots with 753 last year and acquired from Cleveland defender Bernie James, who led the league in blocked shots with 138. Star defender Neil Megson was second in the league with 134 blocked shots. The Stars also acquired forward Peter Ward from the Force. Tacoma cut midfielders Fran O'Brien and David Norman and lost free agent goalkeeper Joe Papaleo to Dallas. Goalkeeper Mike Dowler returned from a knee injury to go 3-1 with a 2.78 goals-against average in the regular season and 5-5 with a 5.02 GAA during the playoffs. On offense, Steve Zungul (42 goals, 47 assists), Preki (41 goals, 47 assists), Godfrey Ingram (52 goals, 29 assists) and Gary Heale (46 goals, 24 assists) return.

Kansas City Comets

Last season's record: 28-24

Finish: Second

Coach: Dave Clements

Outlook: After Dave Clements replaced Rick Benben as coach last season, the Comets had an 18-10 record and a 10-game winning streak. In the division semifinals, they pushed the Sockers to five games before losing. Clements was selected Coach of the Year. Despite a successful season, the Comets made quite a few changes. Kansas City acquired a six-time all-star defender, Kim Roentved, a free agent from Wichita. Roentved is the highest scoring defender in the history of the league with 183 goals and 150 assists in seven seasons. Sidelined by a knee injury last year, Roentved had just 14 goals and 24 assists while playing half of the season. Barry Wallace, a free agent from Wichita, joined the Comets after scoring a career-high 25 goals and 38 points last season. Other additions include forward Armando Betancourt from Honduras, former St. Louis midfielder Duncan MacEwan and forward Kia, who played with Canton the past three seasons and is the all-time leading scorer in the American Indoor Soccer Assn. The Comets released forwards Pato Margetic and Louie Nanchoff, defenders Tim Clark, Jorge Espinoza and Gary Collier and midfielder Charlie Fajkus. Returning are goalkeeper Alan Mayer (22-166, 4.19 GAA) and forwards Jan Goossens (second in the league in scoring with 51 goals and 44 assists for 95 points) and Dale Mitchell (51 goals and 24 assists).

San Diego Sockers

Last season's record: 27-25

Finish: Third

Coach: Ron Newman

Outlook: The five-time indoor champions had their streak broken when they were defeated in seven games in the Western Division finals by Tacoma. Despite threats by management to shake up the team after last season, the Sockers have made very few deals because most of their veterans have trade-approval clauses in their contracts. Former Lazer defender Gus Mokalis (15 goals, 17 assists) was acquired for future considerations. San Diego also signed Yugoslavian forward Keder, who played briefly with the New York Express last season. Forwards Paul Wright of Grossmont High and Rene Ortiz of Southwest High were signed to two-year amateur contracts, and defender Ralf Wilhelms of Foothill College was signed to a one-year pro contract. Since the end of last season, the Sockers have released Kaz Deyna, Cha Cha Namdar, Tim Bartro, Carlos Melian and Njego Pesa. They also traded midfielder Jean Willrich to Wichita. Returning are goalkeepers Zoltan Toth (17-13, 3.52 GAA) and Jim Gorsek (10-12, 3.89 GAA), midfielders Branko Segota and Hugo Perez, forward Juli Veee and defenders Kevin Crow, Fernando Clavijo and Brian Schmetzer.

Wichita Wings

Last season's record: 27-25

Finish: Fourth

Coach: Charlie Cooke

Outlook: At the end of last season, the Wings needed to sell 5,500 season tickets and come up with an additional $150,000 in order to remain in Wichita. The club sold 6,000 tickets and raised the necessary money. The Wings made a major addition to the team Wednesday when they acquired midfielder Jean Willrich from the Sockers. However, the team lost some key players during the off-season. Free agent midfielder Chico Borja, the club's leading scorer with 51 goals and 36 assists, went to Los Angeles. All-Star defender Kim Roentved and defender Barry Wallace were free agents who went to Kansas City. The Wings released goalkeepers Seamus McDonagh and Bill Irwin and acquired free agent goalkeeper Matt Kennedy, who was 11-7 with a 4.12 GAA in Minnesota last season. Other acquisitions include former Blast midfielder Mike Stankovic and midfielder Juan Carlos Monlina of Almirante Brown, a first-division club in Argentina. High-scoring forward Erik Rasmussen returns after being sidelined by an ankle injury that limited him to just 35 games (27 goals, 32 assists) last year.

St. Louis Steamers

Last season's record: 19-33

Finish: Fifth

Coach: Tony Glavin

Outlook: The Steamers were purchased by a group headed by Bing Devine, a former Cardinal baseball and football executive, and by Joseph T. Farrell, president of Challenger and Hunt, a physician search firm. Coach Tony Glavin returns after replacing Pat McBride last season. The Steamers were 10-15 under Glavin. St. Louis signed former Tacoma Star midfielder Gerry Gray (15 goals, 20 assists) and former Dallas midfielder Perry Van Der Beck. Defender Sam Bick and midfielder Angelo DiBernardo retired, and midfielders Mark Frederickson and Mike Hylla were cut. Leading scorer Nebo Bandovic (34 goals, 13 assists) and veteran goalkeeper Slobo Ilijevski (16-28, 4.01 GAA) return.

Los Angeles Lazers

Last season's record: 16-36

Finish: Sixth

Coach: Keith Tozer

Outlook: This is a much-improved team. Coach Keith Tozer, formerly of the Louisville Thunder of the American Indoor Soccer Assn., led the Lazers to a 10-14 record after replacing the interim coach, Mike Mahoney, last season. During the off-season, Tozer brought in four players from the Thunder, which won the AISA championship last season. They are forward Jim Gabarra, who was the Thunder player/coach after Tozer left; forwards Zoran Savick and Tom Hayes, and goalkeeper Anthony John Lachowecki. The Lazers also acquired a high-scoring free agent midfielder, Chico Borja, from Wichita, former Blast forward Paul Child, former Steamer midfielder Mark Frederickson and former Socker midfielder Cha Cha Namdar. Goalkeeper David Brcic, one of the few bright spots for the Lazers last season, returns after compiling a 14-25 mark (4.17 GAA), which included 10 losses by one goal.

EASTERN DIVISION Cleveland Force

Last season's record: 34-18

Finish: First

Coach: Timo Liekoski

Outlook: The Force made some key changes after losing to Dallas in the conference finals last season. In a trade of talented goalkeepers, the Force sent Chris Vaccaro (20-9, 4.02 GAA last year) to Chicago for Victor Nogueira (14-16, 4.89). Cleveland also acquired a 1988 second-round draft pick, and Chicago got a 1988 first-round pick. The Force traded defender Bernie James, who led the league in blocked shots with 138, and forward Peter Ward (26 goals, 15 assists) to Tacoma for the Stars' first-round draft pick, forward Glenn Lurie from Seattle Pacific, and Tacoma's first-round picks in 1988 and '89 and its third-round pick in 1990. Joining the Force are rookie defender Brian Bliss, a two-time All-American from Southern Connecticut State University; rookie defender Francis Okaroh of Boston University, and former Sting forward Elias Zurita. Goalkeeper P.J. Johns (14-8, 4.05 GAA) is expected to platoon with Nogueira. Midfielder Kai Haaskivi returns after leading the Force in scoring with 34 goals and 55 assists for 89 points last year.

Baltimore Blast

Last season's record: 33-19

Finish: Second

Coach: Kenny Cooper

Outlook: Forward Stan Stamenkovic returns after a one-year retirement in Yugoslavia, where he opened a pizza shop and realized he missed playing soccer. One of the league's top scoring threats, Stamenkovic had 37 goals and 44 assists for 81 points in 1985-86. The Blast acquired defender Helmut Dudek from Minnesota for future considerations and signed free agent defender Mike Uremodich of Dallas. Free agent midfielder Mike Stankovic went to Wichita, forward Paul Child signed with Los Angeles, and the Blast did not re-sign forward Dave MacWilliams. Goalkeepers Keith Van Eron (15-6, 3.92 GAA) and Scott Manning (4-9, 3.47 GAA) and leading scorer Drago (34 goals, 30 assists) return.

Dallas Sidekicks

Last season's record: 28-24

Finish: Third

Coach: Gordon Jago

Outlook: The MISL champions signed free agent goalkeeper Joe Papaleo (22-9, 3.98 GAA with Tacoma) to platoon with veteran Krys Sobieski (24-19, 3.45 GAA). Former Los Angeles forward Stuart Lee (31 goals, 10 assists) signed as a free agent. Also on the front line are Tatu, who led the MISL in scoring with 73 goals and 38 assists for 111 points, and Willie Molano, who had 7 goals and 5 assists in 14 games after being acquired from the Lazers. Dallas also signed former Lazer midfielder Beto, former Minnesota midfielder Mike Jeffries and midfielder Mark Lugris of the Fort Wayne Flames in the American Indoor Soccer Assn. All were free agents. Midfielder Scott Bell, a fourth-round draft pick from William & Mary, joins the team. Cut from the club were midfielders Mickey Kydes and Perry Van Der Beck, goalkeeper Mark White and defender Hayden Knight.

Minnesota Strikers

Last season's record: 26-26

Finish: Fourth

Coach: Alan Merrick

Outlook: After much speculation during the summer that the team might be forced to take a year break for financial reasons, the Strikers are back. Former Cleveland midfielder Mike Sweeney and former Los Angeles goalkeeper Tim Harris joined the team as free agents. Two fourth-round draft picks, defender Troy Snyder of Penn State and forward George Gelnovatch of Virginia, made the team. The Strikers released defender Dan Center and midfielder Mike Jeffries and lost free agent goalkeeper Matt Kennedy to Wichita. They traded defender Helmut Dudek to Baltimore for future considerations. Goalkeeper Tino Lettieri, on the trading block for much of the off-season, returns after going 15-19 with a league-leading and record-setting 3.38 GAA last season. Forwards Steve Kinsey (31 goals, 24 assists) and Alan Willey (32 goals, 18 assists) return to pace the Strikers' low-scoring attack.

Chicago Sting

Last season's record: 23-29

Finish: Fifth

Coach: Erich Geyer

Outlook: Former Socker defender Erich Geyer starts his first full season as coach of the Sting. Geyer led the team to a 22-22 record after replacing Willy Roy, who got off to a 1-7 start. The Sting traded goalkeeper Victor Nogueira to Cleveland for Chris Vacarro. They signed former Sting and Comet forward Pato Margetic (25 goals, 37 assists last season), former Socker and Comet defender Gary Collier, former Lazer defender Neil Gibson and a seven-year veteran midfielder, Oscar Albuquerque.

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