The Major Indoor Soccer League will begin its 10th season tonight with the same 11 teams that finished last season, some hurting financially, but all apparently ready to play another season.
"For the first time in our history, the same teams will play this season that ended the previous season," boasted Commissioner Bill Kentling. "The NFL didn't achieve that until their 16th season."
Kentling, however, did not mention that the 11 teams, with the folding of the New York Express in the middle of last season, are the fewest the MISL has had since its second season in 1979-80.
In fact, the Minnesota Strikers were asking to take a year's hiatus, citing financial problems, but a Save Our Strikers campaign by the community convinced owner Joe Robbie to stay, and a similar response saved the Wichita Wings from bowing out.
So the season--which has been expanded to 56 games, four more than last season--will start on schedule with the league basically intact.
For openers, there is a rematch of last season's championship series between the defending champion Dallas Sidekicks and the Tacoma Stars.
The Sidekicks won the title by rallying from a 3-1 deficit with 2 minutes 30 seconds remaining in Game 7 and beat the Stars, 4-3, in overtime for the first title in the club's history.
A brief look at the league:
Tacoma is the deepest club, with four of the MISL's top 12 scorers, but dissension has been rocking the boat. Superstar Steve Zungul resigned as captain Monday, saying, "I will not be captain of this team as long as (Alan Hinton) is coach."
"That saddens me," said Hinton, who last week raised the ire of Zungul and fellow Yugoslav Preki by releasing their countryman, Cico, saying merely that he was a victim of the salary cap--a $1.275-million salary cap was imposed before last season.
Zungul, who recently signed a three-year contract, and Preki staged a one-day practice boycott after Cico was cut but should be ready to play.
Ricky Davis, a midfielder, was voted by the players to succeed Zungul as captain.
With Zungul, who had 42 goals and 47 assists last season; Preki, 41 and 47; Godfrey Ingram, 52 and 29, and Gary Heale, 46 and 24, the Stars have perhaps the most balanced and powerful offense in the league.
The defense is sound as well, consisting of 4 of the top 10 block leaders in Niel Megson, Ralph Black, Joe Waters and Val Tuksa.
Goal keeping could be a problem, however, as the Stars, who lost Joe Papaleo to free agency, will be counting on Mike Dowler, who played in only six regular-season games after missing most of last season with a knee injury.
San Diego Sockers
The Sockers, used to being a notch above the rest--having won three MISL titles since 1982-83--had their worst season last year, largely because of injuries and internal strife.
But the salary cap has added to the Sockers' troubles, as the team had to trade team captain Jean Willrich to the Wichita Wings Tuesday. Goalkeeper Jim Gorsek, who along with Zoltan Toth forms one of the top goalkeeping pairs in the league, is also on the trading block because of the salary cap.
Despite losing Willrich and possibly losing Gorsek, the Sockers should be back in form--if they can stay healthy.
Branko Segota, the Sockers' top scorer who last season had 34 goals and 41 assists in just 38 games, has committed to a three-year contract and is ready to play.
The defense, led by Toth and Gorsek, who were among the top five goalkeepers in the league, allowed 198 goals, fewer than any other team.
Kansas City Comets
After Coach Rick Benben was fired when the Comets were 10-14 last season, Dave Clements took over and guided the team to an 18-10 finish for a 28-24 record, earning coach-of-the-year honors in the process.
Jan Goossens, the league's second-leading scorer last season with 51 goals and 44 assists, and Damir Haramina, 42 and 22, head an unchanged offense, and the addition of defender Kim Roentved from Wichita will make seven-year veteran goalkeeper Alan Mayer's job a little easier.
Last season, Mayer was 22-16 with a 4.19 goals-against average.
Wichita, which led the league with 268 goals, has its work cut out, since the offense will be minus Chico Borja's 51 goals and 36 assists. Borja is now with the Lazers. That means that Erik Rasmussen, 27 and 33, will be relied upon to provide most of the offense.
Midfielder Mike Stankovic, acquired from Baltimore, is an offensive threat as well, however, and should also help fill a defensive hole left by the departure of Kim Roentved.
Matt Kennedy, acquired from the Minnesota Strikers during the summer, will take over as the No. 1 goalkeeper for the departed Seamus McDonagh.
Los Angeles Lazers