Although indoor soccer competition at the professional level largely takes place in a separate world from that of the outdoor game, there was a time when indoor players had a major presence on the US National Team. This was never more true than during the mid 1980s, at the height of the original Major Indoor Soccer League, when the national team roster looked like a MISL all-star squad. Unfortunately, this was also a time when the National Team was fairly inactive, assembling only occasionally for occasional friendlies and the periodic and inevitably fruitless qualification rounds for the World Cup. But this was an element of prominence for indoor players that is looked upon fondly by many.
As the NASL gained strength in the early 1970s, their stars steadily eased out the players from the amateur teams which had been the team mainstay for decades, and by the mid 1970s, totally dominated the rosters except for an occasional college star. The first indoor players found their spots on the USA roster by default when 12 teams of the NASL inaugurated their indoor season in the fall of 1979; this spread to almost the entire league the next season, and familiar names such as Arnie Mausser, Jim McCalister, and Ringo Cantillo were already finding regular duty with the senior team. The first MISL player to land a starting spot on the National team was Greg Makoski, a St. Louis native and SIU-Edwardsville graduate, who had gone pro with the expansion Colorado Caribou of the NASL in 1978, as a defender, before bolting full-time to the St. Louis Steamers of the MISL in the fall of 1979. Makoski, who had joined the national team for the Olympic qualifications was a stalwart on defense, but had to watch from the sidelines due to the USA boycott. For the 1982 World Cup qualifications, he was joined by fellow Steamer teammate Ty Keough.
The National team returned to life in 1983, in preparation for the 1984 Olympics. In an unprecedented show of cooperation, the USSF, NASL, MISL and ASL collaborated to form a team of the best American players which would play a full season schedule in the NASL, along with exhibition games, to prepare for the 1984 Olympics which the US was hosting, and for the 1986 World Cup, which the US was hoping to host. But the plans went awry when the International Olympic Committee ruled that professionals would continue to be barred for the 1984 Olympics, and shortly thereafter FIFA passed over both the USA and Canada to award the 1986 World Cup to Colombia. The team, called Team America, did play the 1983 season in the NASL, with home games at Washington, but never achieved its goal of attracting the best American players, and the National team only played one full international match that year. By the time the 1984 Olympics came around, the USSF was back to begging NASL coaches for players to be released for the Olympic matches. Ricky Davis of St. Louis, Bruce Savage of the Phoenix Pride and Erhardt Kapp of the Pittsburgh Spirit were starters in those Olympic Games in which the US failed to advance from pool play.
By this time, the USSF was only too willing to look beyond the now crumbling NASL to secure players for its key international matches. As the NASL headed towards its looming demise, in the fall of 1984, players began signing with MISL squads, and four NASL teams (The Cosmos, Minnesota, Chicago and San Diego) joined the league as well. World Cup 1986 qualifications commenced on September 29, 1984 with a home and away series against the Dutch Antilles. The roster was dominated by the New York Cosmos and San Diego Sockers whose players filled 7 of the 11 starting spots. Chico Borja, Ricky Davis, Winston DuBose, Kevin Crow, and Perry Van der Beck were some of the more well known players starting that day. Despite the names, the US barely managed a 0-0 draw against a lightweight opponent. Back home at St. Louis they were more convincing, pulling off a 4-0 shutout with Ada Coker of the Sockers scoring 2 goals and the Cosmos’ Angelo Dibernardo and Pittsburgh Spirit’s Erhard Kapp scoring the others.
After the first round, the Nats played a series of exhibitions against Lain American opponents to bone up for the critical second round. The Cosmos went through substantial turnover as they prepared for their exhibition tour and indoor season, most of their players were dropped from the national team, to be replaced with college players (including Paul Caligiuri and Mike Windischman) and free agents. Winston DuBose, Kevin Crow, Chance Fry, Ade Coker and Perry van der Beck were still around for the first two exhibitions, a 3-1 win over El Salvador and a 1-0 shutout of Colombia. Van der Beck scored the lone goal in a 2-1 loss to México on October 17, which followed a humiliating 4-0 loss to Guatemala. For the last game of this series on December 2 (a 2-2 draw against Ecuador), the lineup consisted almost entirely of college, ASL and amateur club players and a free agent., although the core players listed above mostly returned for the remaining exhibitions in early 1985.
When qualifications resumed on May 15, the NASL was history, and many of its top stars had migrated to the MISL. The league was again well represented on the national team, with substantial performances by Dan Canter (Chicago Sting), Perry Van der Beck (Dallas Sidekicks), Ricky Davis (St. Louis steamers, Gregg Thompson (Minnesota Strikers), Angelo DiBernardo (Wichita Wings), Hugo Perez (San Diego Sockers)and Dave Brcic (Wichita Wings). The qualifications started out well, with 2-1 and 1-0 victories over Trinidad & Tobago, but a 1-1 draw against Costa Rica Forced the US to come up with a win in the rejoinder to advance. The match was at home, but unfortunately played at Torrance, CA in front of a pro-Costa Rican crowd, in front of which the Ticos shut down the US offense and pulled out a 1-0 shutout. The bulk of this squad remained together for the friendly against England two weeks later. The dispirited US team was soundly shut out 5-0.
This was a low time for the outdoor game in the US, the national team had been eliminated from the World Cup for the ninth consecutive time, three months after the NASL had folded. Just a few days later, the only remaining outdoor soccer league, the first United Soccer League had been forcibly shut down by creditors who padlocked the league offices. For a time, the indoor game was the only one in town.
Amazingly enough, the National team seemed to look the other way when it came time to restocking the national team roster. For the only two games of 1986, both friendlies, the rosters consisted entirely of college players. For the Olympic qualifications in 1986, several amateur club players joined the ranks, along with a couple free agents and Western Soccer Alliance folks. Chico Borja Paul Krumpe (Sting) and John Doyle (Earthquakes) did find spots, with Krumpe scoring both goals in a 3-0 shutout of Canada on May 30. Tom Kain (Kansas City Comets) and Ted Hantak (Memphis Storm) played in June friendlies against South Korea and Thailand with Hantak scoring the lone goal in the latter game giving the US a 1-0 shutout. They were joined by Kevin Crow, John Stollmayer (Cleveland Force), Frank Klopas (Chicago Sting), Paul Krumpe and Chico Borja (Now with Los Angeles Lazers) for the 1987 pan American Game series; a 3-1 win over Trinidad & Tobago and a 0-0 draw against El Salvador; alas this was not good enough to advance.
The Olympic qualifications resumed in September. The MISL lineup from the Pan-American games was largely intact, and strengthened with the addition of Steve Trittschuh (who went from the amateur St. Louis Busch club to the Steamers), and Ricky Davis (now with Tacoma Stars). The experience of this toughened squad (44+ games last season did not go to waste) paid off as the Americans swept their series against Trinidad and polished off El Salvador 4-2 to take the drivers seat in the standings.
Ironically, despite the major role played by MISL players in the qualifications, this was the high point in the involvement of indoor players with the national team. By the time the final qualification game was played (a 4-1 win which sent the team to Seoul), only Dave Vanole, Steve Trittschuh, Paul Krumpe (and Jim Gabarra of the Lazers) made starting lineup. By this time, the MISL was hemorrhaging badly due to the salary wars and labor disputes, and players were defecting to the new outdoor American Soccer League and the rapidly rising Western Soccer Alliance. Although Kevin Crow and David Vanole maintained their starting spots through the Olympics, the USSF stocked almost all of their player pool for 1990 World Cup qualifications with players the ASL and WSA. Some of these were former MISL players. But many older players were being supplanted by a rising new generation of recent college graduates who were making waves in the outdoor leagues, who were not burdened by the large salaries of the MISL.
The other major challenge for the MISL was the establishment of the USSF’s Residency program, which had been set up to ensure that the US made a decent showing when they hosted the 1994 World Cup. Top players were being steadily signed by the USSF to play full-time for the national team. By early 1990, the USSF residency players formed the majority of the player pool. Jimmy Banks of the NPSL’s Milwaukee Wave secured a number of caps in 1989 and 1990 during the run-up to World Cup 1990, Bruce Savage had a brief return in 1991, as did Brian Quinn of the San Diego Sockers and Fernando Clavijo of the St. Louis Storm. The last appearance of an indoor player on the national team was on March 25, 1993 when Dale Irvine of Wichita Wings (now in the NPSL) earned a cap against El Salvador. By this time, basically the entire national player pool was in the residency program. But the results showed as the US made a respectable showing in the momentous events of World Cup 1994.
The residency program was disbanded soon after the World Cup, at which point most of the players secured spots with foreign clubs. Since the advent of Major League Soccer, an increasingly large portion of the roster consists of MLS players, and those playing overseas. The period of indoor prominence on the national team was brief, but while the MISL was at its height, its players provided a substantial number of the highlights during a tough period in the history of the National team.