The Major Indoor Soccer League, still trying to become a major attraction, hopes the Big Apple can help it reach that goal--with its league headquarters and newest team now in New York for the 1986-87 season.
"We don't have to prove anything to ourselves," said new Commissioner Bill Kentling, who took over after Francis Dale resigned under pressure last June. "But in the perception of others, for advertising and marketing purposes, it's important to have a successful base in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area," the former Wichita Wings director said.
"We need continuity of teams in the league," Chicago Sting owner Lee Stern said. "But without New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, you don't have a 'major league' sports league."
The MISL feels it has stabilized itself to where it can make a national impact. Last year's regular-season games averaged more than 9,000 fans and playoff attracted more than 19,000 in Tacoma and 15,000 in Minnesota, both traditionally weak cities.
Also, a $1.2 million salary cap also was instituted, the league will be on ESPN for a second straight year, and the schedule has been increased from 48 to 52 games.
But there still are problems. It took new ownership to keep the 2-year-old Dallas Sidekicks going while a charter franchise, the Pittsburgh Spirit, folded this summer.
However, the league feels that what it lost in Pittsburgh it regained by adding the New York Express.
"Ever since we began negotiations to gain entry into the league, both we and the league recognized the importance a New York franchise would be to the future of the league," said Shep Messing, part owner, president and the Express' No. 1 goalkeeper.
Messing, one of the most popular members of the Cosmos, has signed former Cosmos' and St. Louis Steamers' midfielder Ricky Davis and moved him to the more visible forward position.
Coach Ray Klivecka will have a difficult time contending this year in the Eastern Division, where four games separated all six clubs last year.
In the Western Division, perrenial also-ran Tacoma acquired Steve Zungul in midseason last year and went from an 11-16 team to the division finals.
And even the Los Angeles Lazers, who have been the lowest-salaried team since entering the league in 1982, have signed good players as part of owner Jerry Buss' commitment to make the team a winner.
But the class of the league is still San Diego. After falling behind 3-1 to the Minnesota Strikers in last year's final, the Sockers rallied for their fifth straight indoor title and second consecutive MISL crown.
"History has shown how hard it is to win championships back-to-back," said Sockers Coach Ron Newman, whose club opens Saturday at home against the Strikers. "I just keep thinking the bubble's going to burst."
A team-by-team look at the MISL for 1986-87:
Cleveland Force--The only charter franchise remaining, the Force has a 114-78 record over the last four years, but hasn't reached the championship. Coach Timo Liekoski has much of his Eastern Division champion squad returning including Craig Allen, fourth in league scoring last year with 50 goals and 31 assists. Cleveland hopes their top draft choices, defenders Desmond Armstrong out of Maryland and John Stollmeyer from Indiana, will provide the added lift.
Minnesota Strikers--Coach Alan Merrick's club surprised almost everybody last year, especially when it came within one game of winning the title. Defenders John O'Hara and Helmut Dudek have been added to solidify a defense that allowed the third most goals last season, 242, 10 more than it scored.
Dallas Sidekicks--A group headed by Stan Finney Jr. had to jump in this summer after previous owner Donald Carter had given up on the team. Tatu (49 goals, 32 assists) will be counted on heavily again for offense while goalkeeper Krys Sobieski (24-16, 4.42 goals against average) will anchor a sometimes spotty defense.
Baltimore Blast--A major change is the absence of Stan Stamenkovic, the club's leading scorer for the last three seasons. While league-leading goalkeeper Keith Van Eron (14-10, 3.66 gaa) will keep one of the strongest defenses intact, newcomers Paul Child, Andy Chapman and Keith Furphy, will be relied upon to pick up the offense, hurt heavily by Stamenkovic's departure, who at 30 wanted to remain in his native Yugoslavia.
Chicago Sting--The biggest difference this year for the Sting is their move to the suburban Rosemont Horizon. With midfielder Gerry Gray gone to Tacoma, Karl-Heinz Granitza (28 goals, 47 assists), Drago Dumbovic (47 goals, 14 assists) and Manny Rojas (24 goals, 17 assists) will rotate the scoring responsibilities. Vojislav Stanisic, who played briefly with the Cosmos in 1984-85, has been added to help Victor Nogueira (17-14, 4.31 GAA) in goal.