Some things die hard and the Major Indoor Soccer League apparently is one of them. It will stagger into its 11th season today with just seven teams and one division.
Citing money losses, the league got approval from the players' union for two salary cap cuts in the last 9 months, and in the process lost four teams, among them the Cleveland Force. The Force was the league's most successful club, only the second American professional soccer club to turn an annual profit, and the only team to do that more than once.
"(The league) was on a roller coaster downhill," Cleveland owner Bert Wolstein said. "I don't think it will survive, No. 1, and if it does survive it won't be of any quality."
Stating the obvious, John Kerr, director of the MISL Players Assn., said: "There's a lot of work to be done out there in re-establishing the credibility of the league. (MISL Commissioner Bill Kentling) has done OK in regaining most of the sponsorships that they had for the past year. He said, obviously, he had a lot of work to do in convincing sponsors that they were going to be around."
Because there are fewer teams, the league cut its schedule from 56 to 48 games and will play the majority of those games on weekends in an attempt to boost attendance that averaged 8,456 last season.
"If there was any damage regarding the fans, that will show up once the seasons begins," Kentling said.
SAN DIEGO SOCKERS
The defending MISL champions were 42-14 last season and the class of the league. In fact, indoor soccer's most successful franchise--in performance--failed to win the title only once--in 1986-87--since 1982.
This season, though, Coach Ron Newman has a job ahead of him, since his team lost 9 players from last season's title team.
Most notable among the absentees: Juli Veee, the Sockers' all-time leading scorer, who turned 38 and was not offered a contract; Hugo Perez, the most valuable player of this last season's championship series when the Sockers swept the Cleveland Force, 4-0; Fernando Clavijo, Waad Hirmez and Jim Gorsek, all of whom wound up with the Lazers.
Though Gorsek will be missed, the Sockers still have the game's finest goalkeeper in Zoltan Toth. At 21-6 with a 2.94 goals-against average, Toth was tops in the league and was instrumental in helping his club allow the fewest goals in the league.
Defender Kevin Crow, a 4-year MISL veteran and anchor of the U.S. national team's backfield, will get help from newcomer Ralph Black, who was acquired from Tacoma, and Gary Etherington from Minnesota.
The Sockers' best offensive weapon is Branko Segota, who led the team in scoring with 56 goals and 33 assists.
There were rumors that Steve Zungul, who played last season with the Tacoma Stars, would be back with the Sockers but a Socker publicist said that San Diego has a full roster and that "nothing came of his visit."
Notable newcomers include former Lazer Poli Garcia, who was a 50-goal scorer last season with the St. Louis Steamers, and Alan Willey from Minnesota.
Injuries helped contribute to the team's worst season, 25-31, and its first finish below the .500 mark.
Only 7 players will return from last season's roster.
Baltimore has picked up many of Cleveland's players, including the Force's second-leading scorer, Kai Haaskivi, who contributed 16 goals and 38 assists. Defender Desmond Armstrong, midfielder Mike Sweeney and forward Carl Valentine also come from Cleveland.
The acquisition of Minnesota's David Byrne, who had 35 goals and 42 assists, should also bolster the Blast's offense.
Nine-year veteran Scott Manning--43 games, 19-20 and 4.36 goals-against average--will anchor a goalkeeping crew that will include 8-year veteran and crowd favorite Slobo Ilijevski, who was picked up from St. Louis.
The return of Tatu, who missed all of last season because of a torn knee ligament suffered in last season's opening game, will be welcomed.
During the 1986-87 season, the diminutive forward scored a league-high 73 goals and 38 assists in leading the Sidekicks to the MISL title.
Despite salary cap reductions and player dissatisfactions, Coach Gordon Jago was able to keep Dallas, 28-28, pretty much intact.
Second-leading scorer Mark Karpun is gone, but Richard Chinapoo from the Blast has been added to complement last season's top-scorer Godfrey Ingram, who had 40 goals and 25 assists. Goalkeepers Krys Sobieski and Joe Papaleo will return to anchor the league's second-best defense.
KANSAS CITY COMETS
Jan Goossens was last season's third-best scorer with 45 goals and 56 assists. Together with Dale Mitchell, 48 goals and 47 assists, the league's most potent offense--294 goals--should have another productive year.
Unfortunately for Coach Dave Clements, the Comets weren't able to recruit much help for a defense that allowed a league-leading 290 goals.
Defenders Kim Roentved and Dave Boncek will have the primary job of protecting goalkeepers Ed Gettemeir and Alan Mayer, who together allowed just under 5 goals a game.