While the Major Indoor Soccer League struggled to stay in business as last season ended, the Lazers were winding up their best season.
“It was kind of a pins and needles season for us,” Coach Keith Tozer said. “We were all wondering if we would still have jobs.”
Two salary cap reductions kept the league alive, though, and the Lazers, who at 31-25 finished with the second-best record in the league, decided to give it another go.
"(Owner Jerry Buss) was committed already, but when the team does well it kindles the fire a little more,” Tozer said.
After taking control of the Lazers in February 1987, Tozer cleaned house and started practically from scratch. By the end of last season not a single player remained from the team that had played under former coach Peter Wall.
This season, Tozer has had to restructure again, largely because of a mass retirement of players who were fed up with the instability of indoor soccer.
Starting goalkeeper David Brcic, defenders Adam Topolski, Erhardt Kapp, Steve Pecher and Don Ebert; forward Paul Child and midfielder Tom Hayes all called it quits.
Thompson Usiyan, a mainstay of last year’s Lazer offense, didn’t officially retire but has not reported, apparently unhappy with having to take a pay cut. Defender Chris Whyte moved back to his native England and got married. He won’t be coming back.
“They all decided that they had other things to do besides playing soccer,” Tozer said.
The most notable absentee, however, is Chico Borja, the Lazers’ leading scorer last season. He was traded to Wichita for a first-round draft choice in 1989. Borja, too, was unhappy with the salary cap and figured he could make more money in Wichita. Tozer and team President Jim Buss obliged, electing to use the money it would have cost to keep Borja happy on other players.
Borja and Usiyan combined for 99 goals and 87 assists last season.
Hoping to make up for their absences, Tozer acquired a group of forwards who had respectable performances last season.
Hector Marinaro scored 58 goals and 23 assists, and Steve Kinsey had 32 goals and 21 assists with Minnesota. Gary Heale was the league’s fourth-leading scorer with 41 goals and 21 assists for the Tacoma Stars. Ben Collins had 33 goals and 20 assists at Chicago, and Daryl Doran was a 3-time All-Star at St. Louis.
Defensively, the Lazers got what Tozer called his most prized acquisition in goalkeeper Jim Gorsek, who came from San Diego as a free agent. Gorsek, 70-30 in 5 MISL seasons, has the best winning percentage in the game. He was 21-8 with a 3.43 goals-against average last season.
Players expected to protect Gorsek include midfielder Waad Hirmez and defender Fernando Clavijo, considered the fastest player in the league. Both came from San Diego.
Clavijo will team largely with Mark Frederickson, who played in all 56 games last season, blocking a club-record 140 shots, and Doug Neely.
Tozer’s overall assessment: “We don’t have that one (superstar) but we have a more balanced team. We’ll be a fast-breaking team. I think we’ll be a physical club, stronger with a man down and on the power-play.”
The Lazers, following their 3-0 exhibition season, were picked to win the championship in a coaches’ poll.
Said Tozer: “San Diego is the defending champion, so as far as I’m concerned they’re still the team to beat.”
The Lazers beat the Sockers twice in exhibition play and will play their first 2 games against the defending champions, beginning Saturday night in San Diego.