SAN DIEGO — Everything in the Major Indoor Soccer League seems to change except the champion.
The San Diego Sockers have won two consecutive MISL titles and three in the last four years. In 1983-84, the Sockers won the North American Soccer League title.
While players are shuffled from team to team and the league headquarters make its annual switch in venues (from Chicago to New York City this year), the Sockers remain intact. They have the same players, they continue to bicker, they set league records and they win.
"Individually, we're still better than any team," Socker forward Juli Veee said. "They send a few mummies from one team to another, but those owners get a surprise. And it's not a treasure."
In this, the ninth MISL season, the Sockers appear to be front-runners again, with improved Minnesota Striker and Tacoma Star teams offering the stiffest challenge. San Diego came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Minnesota in last year's championship series.
"We'll make the playoffs, no problem," Veee said. "Tacoma could give us a problem. Maybe Minnesota, but you don't see a surge of new talent."
So what is new?
Bill Kentling, the Wichita Wings' former president, will start his first season as commisioner, replacing Francis Dale, who resigned under pressure from the owners last June.
The regular season has been increased from 48 to 52 games and started last night instead of its traditional late October opener. The New York Express joined the league and will play in the Nassau Coliseum, which was the former home of the Arrows. The Pittsburgh Spirit folded, with its players circulating throughout the league. A $1.2 million salary cap per team has been implemented.
Two rules changes will go into effect: 1) Indirect kicks, which are when the ball must be touched by another player other than the kicker before entering the goal, have been eliminated. 2) Players will come out of the penalty box when their team is scored upon while serving five-minute major penalties. In the past, a short-handed team remained short-handed for the entire five-minute stretch.
ESPN will broadcast MISL games for the second straight season, but this year the television network will pay the league a fee instead of the league paying the network, as it had done last season. ESPN will broadcast 18 games, including the All-Star Game from Los Angeles Feb. 11, as well as four playoff games. The Sockers will be on four delayed telecasts during the regular season.
Here is a brief look at the 12 teams in the league:
Kansas City Comets
Last season's record: 18-30
Finish: Fifth. Did not qualify for the playoffs
Coach: Rick Benben
Top returners: Alan Mayer (G, 15-20, 4.75 GAA), Dale Mitchell (F, 37 goals and 26 assists), Damir Haramina (F, 27 goals and 15 assists), Gino Schiraldi (D, 17 goals and 13 assists)
Top newcomers: Jan Goossens (F, 22 goals and 22 assists in regular season with Minnesota and 12 goals and 9 assists in 15 playoff games), Yilmaz Orhan (M, 12th leading scorer in the history of the MISL with 332 points, played with Pittsburgh last season), Pat Ercoli (F, tied with Orhan as 12th leading scorer in league history, played with Cleveland last year).
Outlook: After a very disappointing year, the Comets made 24 off-season transactions. Offense is much improved with the acquisitions of Goossens, Ercoli, Orhan and 40-year old midfielder Jorgen Kristensen, who is the oldest player in the league. Comets released former Socker Laurie Abrahams, Stuart Lee, Carlos Salguero and Ty Keough.
Los Angeles Lazers
Last season's record: 13-35
Finish: Sixth. Did not qualify for the playoffs
Coach: Peter Wall
Top returners: Poli Garcia (F, 36 goals and 21 assists), Beto (M, 23 goals and 19 assists), Willie Molano (25 goals and 16 assists in only 37 games), Tim Harris (G, 7-19, 5.32 GAA).
Top newcomers: Stuart Lee (F, club record holder for most goals in a season, 42 in 1984-85, returns after playing with St. Louis last season), Paul Kitson (F, 19 goals and 19 assists with Baltimore), David Brcic (G, 21-22, third in the league with a 3.77 GAA with Pittsburgh).
Outlook: The worst defense in the league last season (270 goals allowed) hopes to get a boost with the acquisition of Brcic and defenders Adam Topolski and Erhardt Kapp from Pittsburgh. Lazers also signed defender their top draft choice, Jim Kavanaugh of St. Louis University. Offense bolstered by return of Lee and acquisition of Kitson.
San Diego Sockers
Last season's record: 36-12
Finish: First. Defeated St. Louis, 3-1, and Tacoma, 3-1, to win the Western Division. Defeated Minnesota, 4-3, to win the MISL title.
Coach: Ron Newman
Top returners: Branko Segota (M, 60 goals and 46 assists), Hugo Perez (M, 41 goals and 25 assists), Jean Willrich (M, 27 goals and 30 assists), Juli Veee (F, 23 goals and 31 assists), Fernando Clavijo (D, 17 goals, 9 assists, 70 blocked shots) Kevin Crow (D, 10 goals, 10 assists, 94 blocked shots), Jim Gorsek (G, 19-2, 3.72 GAA), Zoltan Toth (G, 17-9, 4.19 GAA).