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New Team, New Hopes : The Heat Discovers L. A. Is a Cold, Cold Soccer Area

July 31, 1986|BRIAN LANDMAN | Times Staff Writer

Consider yourself a sports trivia master if you can name the professional outdoor soccer teams that have failed in Los Angeles in the last 20 years.

Here is a little hint: there are seven of them.

The now-defunct franchises, which included North American Soccer League and American Soccer League teams, were the L. A. Wolves, the L. A. Toros, the Aztecs, the Skyhawks, the California Surf, the California Sunshine and the Lazers.

Potential owners of soccer teams here seem to adhere to the adage, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again: L. A. is at it again with two new outdoor soccer teams.

The Torrance-based L. A. Heat and the Hollywood Kickers joined Edmonton, Portland, Seattle, San Diego and San Jose in the fledgling Western Soccer Alliance for the league's second season.

Keep Salaries Low

However, the game plan for success of attempts Nos. 8 and 9 is a complete reversal of the strategy employed by some of their predecessors.

The NASL, for example, relied on the big-name, expensive foreign player to attract fans. That plan worked initially. The New York Cosmos and its star Pele routinely drew crowds of 70,000 in the mid-1970s.

But the league eventually was crushed by the weight of the high salary its stars demanded.

Low-paid players, commanding about $1,200 a month, dominate the Heat and the other WSL teams' rosters.

"The first problem with the NASL was that it brought in players and gave them too much money," said L. A. Heat Coach Wim Suurbier, who played with Pele on the World Soccer team after leading the Dutch national team to the World Cup in 1974 and '78.

"This league has to stay low budget. If we win, maybe we'll get more money. But now, it's like semipro."

Relying on Locals

Suurbier said that it's equally important to rely on mainly local, American players. In fact, of the 11 players on the field at any one time, 9 must be American, according to league rules.

"There's enough good players around," he said. "And it helps if the people have followed the players through high school and college and really know them."

Mike Brady, a forward who led American University in Washington, D. C., to a runner-up finish to UCLA last season for the NCAA title, agreed with Suurbier.

"Hopefully, when people see the familiar names, it will generate interest," said Brady.

The Heat's local products include goalie David Vanole (Aviation High and UCLA), goalie Marine Cano (Bishop Montgomery High and El Camino College), defender Lou Sciappa (Hawthorne and Palos Verdes Highs) and the Ervine brothers, Glenn (North Torrance and El Camino) and Dale (North Torrance and UCLA).

Poor Attendance

However, the Heat has not ignited much interest. Michael Hogue, the team president, said that the average paid attendance at the Heat's first six home games has been about 1,100. The Hollywood team reportedly has had similar attendance figures.

"I'm really not sure why it hasn't taken off," said Dale Ervine, a two-time All-American forward who led the Bruins past American University. "We're all disappointed with the crowds we're getting."

Glenn Ervine said the crowds have been so small that it would take less time to introduce the people in the stands than the players.

"Seven teams have tried and seven teams have failed, so the percentages say you're going to lose your ass," Hogue said. "And although we've done fairly well at the gate compared to other teams in the league, we're below our expectations."

Not even the World Cup helped. In fact, Hogue said that as the cup picked up steam, which translates into increased interest and viewers, the Western Soccer Alliance lost fans.

Damaged by Past

The Heat plays its games on Saturdays and the weekend was the prime time to watch World Cup action, he said. Still, Hogue didn't blame the World Cup for the lackluster support of his team. Instead, he pointed his finger to the past failures.

"When pro soccer was here, it alienated a lot of people," he said. "So now, we're paying for the sins of others.

"There was a base of support here at one time. The Surf and the Aztecs used to draw 3,000, 4,000 and even 5,000 a game. But that base has disappeared, and we have to rebuild it."

Suurbier, a native of Amsterdam, argues that the fundamental problem has been and is that American leagues lack organizational foundation. For one thing, he said that friction exists between the amateur and professional ranks.

"In Europe, you start playing when you're 10," he said. "If you're good enough, you play professionally. If you're not, you play amateur soccer. But you can play both.

"Here, if you play pro, you can't play in college. That's a big disadvantage. You can learn so much from both sides."

Game Conflicts Hurt

He added that in Europe no league games ever would be scheduled in conflict with a national team game. But in the U. S., a player often must choose between league and national games.

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