A History of USA Indoor Soccer

originally appeared as a four-part series in GoalIndoor Magazine, 2002-03
The Early Years: 1900-1970

Indoor has been well established in many countries since the early part of the 20th century, but in the United States it was not established as a serious professional sport until the 1970s. This does not mean, however, that indoor soccer was entirely absent from the American sports scene during those early years. In fact, indoor 11 on 11 games were played as far back as the 1880s, and reappeared at various times through the decades, but the games were no more than exhibitions, and often were mere training regimens.

The National Soccer League of Chicago played full-sided exhibition tournaments during the 1920s, as did the American Soccer League, whose games were played at Boston’s Commonwealth Armory. The matches were seen as an oddity more than anything else.

It was not until February 1941 that a serious effort was made to promote “professional” indoor soccer. The directors of Madison Square Garden were looking to develop new revenue-generating sports, and settled on two “noble ventures”: “honest” wrestling and indoor soccer. Ironically, soccer was seen as having greater revenue potential. In an arrangement with the American Soccer League, four teams from the league would play a triple header and a championship match.

In order to fit into the Garden (designed for hockey), the field size was reduced considerably, with 2 ½ yard walls running along the sidelines and a 35 foot wall behind either end. The goals were 14 feet wide and 7 feet high, compared to the 24 x 8 outdoor goal then in use. With the smaller field and walls, few balls would go out of bounds, and action was expected to be fast and furious.

Fast and furious it was. In the opener, fists flew with wild abandon, and when the free for all ended, there were several bruised faces and bloody noses. Ironically, after all the action, the score was Brookhattan 2, St. Mary’s Celtics 0. A far cry from the high scoring matches we’re accustomed today. In the second match, Brooklyn Hispano defeated New York Americans 3-1. Lacking the fisticuffs of the first match, this one had a lot more well played soccer. With the hour running late, the final match was cut to two ten minute halves, with Brookhattan and Hispano crawling to a 1-1 draw, both goals notched in overtime.

The experiment went well enough for the Garden to stage a match the following season, in November 1941, but the novelty had worn off and attendance was spotty. The lukewarm reaction and outbreak of war led to the demise of pro indoor soccer for the time being.

Indoor soccer continued, however, at a low key level in many cities. In St. Louis, club teams would often play exhibitions, often in church basements under rules similar to FIFA’s Futsal format. Teams would often have to contend with ceiling beans and water pipes in their cramped venues, adding interesting strategic twists, which brought affected the flow of the game in frequently amusing ways. Tournaments were also becoming frequent among the college ranks, and in numerous amateur leagues, but were always secondary to the “real” league seasons.

Indoor soccer did land on fertile soil in the Midwest. The National Soccer League of Chicago, remembering its early forays in the 1920s, established a full fledged indoor season in 1950, a U.S. first. Twelve teams participated that first year in a 13 week season, broadcast on local radio. Vikings won the regular season, with Eagles winning the playoff trophy. Similar to the ASL game, the NSL had a field of 60 x 42 yards with play-off boards, 7 man teams with two ten minute halves. The playing surface was dirt with only gym shoes permitted. Goalkeeper Gino Gardassanich won the MVP and went with the US World Cup squad to Brazil but did not play. The season was so successful that 17 teams took part the following season, in two divisions. The indoor seasons continued at least through the 1962 season, but was gone by 1968.

The next major attempt to professionalize indoor soccer occurred, once again, at Madison Square Garden in 1958. On November 12, an all-day, six game tournament was held involving ASL teams. According to the ASL News, there were “thrills, chills, spills, excitement, boos, cheers, heroes and goats”. New York Hakoah opened by beating Brooklyn Italians 3-0, and went on to win the tournament, defeating the Italians again, this time 4-3.

Iggy Malinkowski scored a hat trick as Brookhattan defeated Falcons, Pasquale Pepe scored four in the Uhrik Truckers 8-6 victory over Newark Portuguese, and a coin toss broke the 2-2 semifinal draw between Uhrik and Brooklyn. The players and fans had a great time, but the crowd of 6,121 was considerably less than the 14,000 anticipated, and despite hopeful words, this tournament proved to be a one-time event. The ASL was starting to enter a period of decline, which would only get worse through the 60s, and outside of the NSL games in Chicago, the indoor game went back to the basement exhibitions and training regimens.

The dawn of the modern era of indoor soccer can be traced to 1971 when the North American Soccer League began toying with the idea of indoor soccer. That year, the league held an indoor exhibition tournament, won by the Dallas Tornado. This event was low-key and not much noticed, but it did mark the first of many indoor championship crowns won by coach Ron Newman who would figure so prominently in the early days of the pro indoor game.

The NASL Exhibition Tournaments

Although indoor soccer in the United States can trace its roots back to the 19th century, it is not until recent years that it became an established sport. The dawn of the modern era of indoor soccer can be traced to 1971 when the North American Soccer League began toying with the idea of indoor soccer. That year, the league held an indoor exhibition tournament, won by the Dallas Tornado. This event was low-key and not much noticed, but it did mark the first of many indoor championship crowns won by coach Ron Newman who would figure so prominently in the early days of the pro indoor game.

Perhaps the true birth of modern indoor soccer occurred in February 1974 when the North American Soccer League staged two indoor exhibitions against the touring Red Army of Moscow club. This series was one of cold-war era sports exhibitions that was engaged in as a form of “sports diplomacy” to maintain cultural contacts between the two dueling superpowers during these challenging political times. Recently, the USA Hockey team had scored some surprising results against the USSR, and this soccer series was seen as a logical extension of the diplomatic initiatives.

The stakes were surprisingly high: The Red Army team was one of the top clubs in the Soviet Union which boasted one of the stronger leagues in the world. The first match was played on February 7, where Red Army easily beat a haphazard NASL All-Star team that had been quickly thrown together. The real event was the second game against the NASL defending champion Philadelphia Atoms. The Atoms had achieved distinction for winning the league title with a roster of primarily American players, a notable achievement in a league where rosters were dominated by foreign stars and journeymen.

The Atoms met Red Army on February 11 in front of 11,790 enthusiastic fans at the Spectrum. The match was played in three 20 minute periods with free substitution, in a hockey rink covered with Astroturf, with six man rosters (5 fielders and a goalie). . The Atoms took an early 1-0 lead, lost it, rallied to tie the game at 3-3 with 17 minutes remaining. Alas, the Atoms faltered at that point and Red Army scored three quick goals for a 6-3 victory. Despite the disappointing results, the performance was impressive, and clearly demonstrated the potential of native American players, which was little recognized at the time.

The NASL was more than satisfied with the results, and soon made plans to stage a full fledged tournament in 1975, to test indoor soccer’s potential as an organized game, and a means to increase fan interest in the sport by giving them more action and scoring. Meanwhile, a pair of businessmen, Rick Ragione and Norm Sutherland attempted to launch a professional indoor league, to be called Major League Soccer, which died on the drawing board. But the NASL persevered, launching their indoor tournament in early 1975, with sixteen teams taming part, first in regional tournaments, and then a final four, held in San Francisco, a la the NCAA Basketball tournament. That final four commenced March 14, with Tampa Bay Rowdies crushing the New York Cosmos 13-5 and the San Jose Earthquakes dispatching Dallas Tornado 8-5. The final, broadcast by CBS, saw San Jose cruise to the title, 8-5, with teammates Paul Child and Gabbo Gavric sharing MVP honors. Child also led the tournament scoring with 7 goals and 3 assists. The tournament was a surprising success, averaging 9,000 fans per game.

Inspired by it’s success, the NASL revived the tournament in 1976, this time with 12 teams in three regionals. The final four was held in St. Petersburg, with the Rochester Lancers upsetting San Jose 6-4, and Tampa Bay defeating Dallas 6-2. On March 27, before a sellout crowd, the Rowdies defeated Rochester 6-4 to avenge the previous year’s lost, and took the tournament.

The NASL did not continue the indoor tournament, but various league teams played scattered exhibition games outside of the league season. Tampa Bay in particular caught the bug, playing 7 indoor matches in 1978, averaging 6,400 per game. But at the time, the NASL saw its future in the outdoor game.

Birth of the Indoor Leagues

The launch of indoor league soccer in the US bore an uncanny resemblance to the birth of the outdoor pro leagues. Back then, following the success of the 1966 World Cup, three groups of businessmen formulated rival plans for the launch of pro soccer in 1967, seeing an opportunity to fill their stadiums with lucrative ventures. Now, in 1978, spurred by the increasing interest brought by Pele in the NASL, three groups of investors developed rival plans for launching indoor leagues.

The first effort was audaciously named the Super Soccer League. The investors were headed by Jerry Saperstein, the son of Harlem Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein, who had previously launched the American Basketball Association and the World Hockey Association. Frustrated by his inability to land a hockey team in southern Florida, Jerry teamed up with Rick Ragone and Norm Sutherland, whose 1975 indoor league had failed to launch. They announced a list of 12 cities, primarily on the east and west coasts, that would field teams, with play to begin in April 1978. As a gimmick, they announced they would draft the first pro female player. But they also would focus their recruiting efforts on drafting American players out of college, and supplementing them with a limited number of imported foreigners.

The second effort was launched by National Lacrosse League team owner Ed Tepper, who had been inspired by the 1974 exhibition matches to declare that the future of American Soccer was indoor. He showed videotapes of the matches to his friend, Washington Lawyer Earl Foreman who was excited by what he say. They agreed to form a league, and quickly aroused interest by arena owners who were anxious to find additional entertainment to fill dark days at their facilities. With seed money provided by the arena owners, Foreman and Tepper were able to announce in October 1977, the launch of the Major Indoor Soccer League, with six teams concentrated on the east coast and Midwest. The MISL would launch in December 1978 and play a 24 game season ending in mid-March. The league declared its intentions to provide an opportunity for American players, who were being left on the bench in the NASL. To emphasize that point, they set the roster limit requiring at least 10 of the 14 roster spots to be held by Americans.

The third effort was launched by the North American Soccer League. Not wanting to be left behind, the NASL belatedly announced they would also begin an indoor season in late 1978 with 18 teams participating. Their rationale was to provide additional experience for their established players, with commissioner Phil Woosnam stating that at least 60 games per year were necessary to give US players the experience to be competitive on the world scene.

So as 1978 dawned, suddenly there were three leagues ready to launch. But there was a lot of work ahead. First major challenges were gaining capital and credibility. The SSL quickly announced a $2.5 million TV contract with 20th Century Fox television. The MISL had secured strong ownership groups as well as leases with most of the premier arenas in the country. They also quickly landed a top star for the New York Arrows, with the signing of national team star Shep Messing, the goalkeeper for the 1977 NASL Champion Cosmos. The NASL, despite their late start, already had name recognition and established teams.

The SSL was first out of the starting gate, but they quickly faltered as they struggled to find ownership and investors. After losing potential franchises and repeatedly delaying the start of their season, they delayed their start to 1979, to give themselves time to pull their finances together.

The NASL also decided to wait a year, to give them time to find out how many teams were actually interested in taking part. This left the MISL standing alone for the 1978 season, and with their ownership in place and leases signed, they set out to establish their rosters and play ball.

Teams used a variety of methods to populate their rosters. The Philadelphia Fever and Pittsburgh Spirit relied primarily on signing local talent. Houston Summit Soccer and the New York Arrows, in contrast imported entire NASL teams (Houston Hurricanes and Rochester Lancers respectively). That approach would prove successful as those two teams dominated the first season. Besides Shep Messing for the Arrows, a number of other major players, both domestic and foreign, were signed to MISL rosters. In spite of these disparities, many more Americans had an opportunity to play in the MISL that they had outdoors.

By the late 1970s, the United States had already produced a fair number of capable goalkeepers and defenders, and this was reflected in the MISL, as goalkeepers Shep Messing (New York), Keith Van Eron (Cincinnati), and Woody Hartman (Philadelphia) and defenders Jim Pollihan (New York) and Ed Sheridan (Philadelphia) performed impressively. However, as was common at the time, the number of creative, talented American scorers were few and far between: Joe Fink (Philadelphia) and John Stemlau (Houston) were the only natives to crack the top ten in scoring. Nonetheless, the league did introduce scorers to soccer fans who would remain dominant throughout the next decade: Steve Zungul (New York), Kai Hasskivi (Houston), and 17-year old Canadian sensation Branko Segota (New York).

On December 22, 1978, 10,386 fans piled into Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum to watch the hometown Kids take on New York Arrows in the first Major Indoor Soccer League match; in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, baseball legend (and Kids co-owner) Pete Rose kicked out the first ball.

Those in attendance viewed indoor soccer played under rules different than those under which the NASL exhibitions had been played. While most of the NASL indoor rules had been retained, Tepper and Foreman (who was now the MISL Commissioner) met with a few friends in a Philadelphia apartment before the season to try to add scoring to the game. As a result, the game was divided into four 15-minute periods, as opposed to the three 20-minute periods used by the NASL. More importantly, the size of the goals was enlarged, to both allow for heading in the inside game and increase scoring. When asked how high the goals should be, Tepper stood in a doorway at the apartment and indicated they should be as high as the door frame; as a result, the goals stood 6’6” high by 12’ wide, as compared to the NASL’s 4’ by 16’. Tepper, predictably, was excited by their new sport: “Bringing soccer indoor provides all the speed and scoring lacking in the outdoor game,” he said. “And they are ingredients the American fans look for in a sport-and indoor soccer has them”.

On the field, Houston, with its polished NASL vets, emerged as the class of the league behind the scoring of Haaskivi and solid goalkeeping of Paul Hammond, easily winning the regular season crown, and compiling an 11-1 home record in the process. Philadelphia and New York recovered from poor starts to scramble into the playoffs with Cincinnati–also dominant at home, posting a 10-2 mark–and Houston. The playoffs found the heavily favored Houston side fall at home to Philadelphia, while New York, riding the production of scoring sensation Zungul, easily defeated Cincinnati. The MISL’s first finals found the experienced Arrows sweeping the Fever in the best-of-three series.

All told, the MISL’s first season was a success–none of the franchises ended the year in financial trouble, and attendance had increased steadily through the season. Plans were made to expand the number of franchises and the number of teams for the next year.

Major Indoor Soccer League

The arrival of professional indoor league soccer was complete when the New York Arrows defeated the Philadelphia Fever ton win the Major Indoor Soccer League’s inaugural championship in early 1979. The league had been an overall success, with high quality play, an impressive roster of top stars, and attendance climbing steadily throughout the season.

Their success was not long on the NASL. The senior league soon announced that they would play a full indoor season for 1979-80. Having pioneered the indoor pro concept in the mid 70s, Commissioner Woosnam now regretted the leagues initial hesitation to enter the field and was now playing catch-up. Their initial effort was not helped by the fact that only 10 of the 24 teams chose to take part in the first season. Even the ASL was considering joining the run, initially announcing a plans for a full schedule in 1979-80. These plans were delayed and ultimately abandoned.

The MISL was not resting on their laurels. For 1979-80, they added five teams (Buffalo, Hartford, Wichita, Detroit and St. Louis), to bring the circuit to ten (Having lost Cincinnati to financial difficulties). St. Louis was an immediate hit with the fans, and pioneered the concept of whiz-bang effects and promotions, making the event somewhat of a three ring circuit, yet without detracting from the game at hand, which remained fast, exciting and colorful, with particular appeal to American audiences. The Steamers immediate surging to the top of the attendance charts. Attendance was up to 6,102 fans per game. The New York Arrows repeated as champions, boasting an overpowering lineup of major NASL stars including Shep Messing, Steve Zungul, Branko Segota, and Juli Veee. Other squads boasted Joey Fink (Philly), Kai Haaskivi (Houston), Fred Grgurev (Philly) and Alan Mayer (Pittsburgh).

The NASL’s inaugural season did respectably well, drawing over 4,000 per game, although they were overshadowed by the MISL, despite boasting several stars of their own, including California’s Steve Moyers, Minnesota’s Tino Lettieri and Detroit’s Pato Margenic. One player who made an auspicious indoor debut this year was young (!) Victor Noguiera of the Atlanta chiefs, who has been a stellar player to this day.

Steve Zungul and the New York Arrows became the first player-team dynasty of the league as the Arrows won the first four league championships and Zungul was the league MVP for those four years, as well as winning the scoring trophy for years 2-5 inclusive.

The rivalry between the NASL and MISL had some shades of similarity with the outdoor USA-NPSL tiff, although in this case merger was clearly out of the question. Just as in the past, the rivalry heated up to a dangerous point as bidding wars began to crop up, and the NASL upped the ante by forcing almost all of its teams to take part in 1980-81. This created some dissension among some clubs were who not totally sold on the idea. Nevertheless, their 2nd season saw the indoor debuts for many of the top stars of the NASL. Kai Haaskivi, now playing for the Edmonton Drillers, let them to the NASL indoor title while San Diego Sockers’ Julie Veee scored 51 goals in 17 games the following year, a figure not even Steve Zungul could match. In 1981-82, George Best, Karl-Heinz Granitza and Giorgio Chinaglia were some of the stars to dot the top scorers list.

Both leagues had their best seasons ever in 1981-82, both in terms of quality of play and popularity, but this was at the expense of a bloody bidding war that was having serious financial repercussions for both leagues, but for now the MISL was on a more stable footing, and was winning most of the wars. The Arrows continued to surge, the St. Louis Steamers (and now Kansas City Comets and Buffalo Stallions) continued to dazzle their fans with pyrotechnics and top-notch soccer.

Changes were afoot however. The NASL, wracked by dissension and losing franchises right and left in a sea of red ink, cancelled their 1982-83 season, leading Chicago, San Diego and Golden Bay to join the MISL for the indoor season; they now boasted 14 teams, and San Diego made their mark, winning the Western Division and the league championship. Fans were stunned when the New York Arrows traded Steve Zungul to Golden Bay partway through the season. This proved to be a mixed blessing for Steve, but was the beginning of the end for the Arrows. After falling to .500, the Arrows finished one more season and went bankrupt. Zungul, however, copped another scoring title, and when Golden Bay returned to the NASL, so did Steve. He promptly won the scoring title for the NASL’s indoor AND outdoor seasons, even though the Earthquakes did poorly in both schedules.

The MISL had achieved what few had thought possible by the 1983-84 season. Clearly the healthier of the two soccer leagues (The ASL had just folded after their 51st season), St. Louis, Cleveland and Kansas City regularly outdrew their NHL or NBA counterparts. The NASL was reeling, almost ready to collapse, and the MISL was clearly the class outfit. The league was expanded to an unprecedented 48 games, and the steamers finally got some success on the field to go with their big crowds, winning the western title with a tough defensive squad and the league’s best goalkeeper (Slobo Ilijewski). Baltimore Blast also made their appearance known as they took the eastern title with the league’s best scorer (Stan Stamenkovic, 34 goals and 97 points), leading to perhaps the best championship series yet, with Baltimore besting St. Louis in an exciting series that included a devastating opener, a nail biting OT game and a 10-3 blowout to seal the deal.

The NASL was almost a shadow this year. They revived their indoor season, and expanded it to 40 games, but only ten teams took part and not many noticed. After shedding more franchises, and limping through a disastrous 1984 campaign (Even the successful 1984 Olympics couldn’t bring then business), the NASL cancelled their 1984-85 indoor season, leading four teams to jump to the MISL (San Diego, Chicago, the Cosmos and Minnesota Strikers). The MISL had won their first Soccer War in emphatic style. Baltimore continued their juggernaut, again winning the East and fans welcomed back Steve Zungul to reclaim his accustomed place atop the scorers list. Also in the top were many more familiar NASL names such as Karl-Heinz Granitza of Chicago, and Branko Segota of the Sockers. San Diego returned to form, taking the west and defeating Baltimore Blast for the title. Attendance was up, the rosters were backed with new talent and new teams, and play was better than ever, and the National Team was dominated by MISL players. What more could one ask for? Well, late in the season, the NASL, having only two commitments from the remaining 7 teams, chose to disband. Now the MISL truly had the field to itself. They scoured the rosters, bringing in yet another wave of top talent, the bidding war was over, and things like they could only get better. The MISL was just about to reach their pinnacle.

The 1984-85 season was a year of significant endings and also beginnings. It marked the end of the NASL, and the soccer war between it and the MISL. But some other beginnings would have significant repercussions (both good and bad) not only for the MISL and indoor soccer, but also for soccer as a whole. This season saw the beginning of a small Midwestern circuit called the American Indoor Soccer Association, initially launched as an attempt to provide an opportunity for American born players to gain experience, and also to satisfy markets unserved by the MISL. An expansion franchise which brought up the rear in the MISL East bore the now familiar name, Dallas Sidekicks. A player making his debut in the top scorers list, with Dallas was named Tatu. And a small outdoor league that launched on the west coast, the western Soccer Alliance was the first building block of what is now the A-League in the USL, the 2nd division pro outdoor league for the USA.

Mid 1980’s: Dominance of the Indoor Game

In 1985, the MISL was at the top of the US soccer world. This year, the league was fortified with a fresh infusion of veteran players from the NASL looking for work. Improved quality of play, lack of competition and tight division races in the East brought average attendance to almost 8,700 per game, nearly matching the league’s best season, 1981-82. The league inaugurated their 15 game television contract with ESPN, giving them their best broadcast coverage yet.

The Cleveland Force emerged atop the exciting three-way race in the East while San Diego Sockers cruised easily in the west. Few surprises ensued in the playoffs although San Diego fought a surprisingly close race with the below .500 St. Louis Steamers. The championship series was one to remember, a see-saw battle extending to seven games with the Minnesota Strikers and San Diego Sockers taking turns trouncing each other. That was followed by two Minnesota victories and then three straight wins by San Diego to take the title; the first time a team had rebounded from a 1-3 deficit to take win it all.

San Diego’s Steve Zungul again won the scoring title, with 55 goals and 60 assists for 115 points, followed closely by Erik Rasmussen of Wichita with 108 points and Branko Segota of San Diego with 106; all earned places on the all-star team. Zungul also won MVP and top assist awards.

Meanwhile, the American Indoor Soccer Association saw considerable improvement on the field, although attendance remained at just under 2,000 per game. It remained the Canton Invaders show as they won the regular season at 33-7 and took the playoff finals in three straight over the Louisville Thunder. Outside of Steve Hellencamp, top players were mostly unfamiliar names.

The MISL returned to New York the following season with the Express, but the effort was a disaster as the team folded midway through the season with a 3-23 record. In happier news, Cleveland and Baltimore Blast duked it out in a close Eastern Race, while the blowout in the West was won this time by the Tacoma Stars. Upsets were the order of the day in the playoffs, as most top teams were eliminated in the first two rounds, leaving the 3rd place Dallas Sidekicks to upset the Tacoma Stars in seven games, twice going to overtime. An indoor soccer attendance record of 21,728 attended the final game.

For the first time in many seasons Steve Zungul was not top scorer; that award went to the young Tatu of the Dallas Sidekicks. The league sponsored a tour by Moscow Dynamo, and perhaps due to their greater indoor experience, the MISL teams won every game. This inspired a follow-up series two years later.

The AISA expanded to two divisions, with last year’s finalists, Canton and Louisville winning their divisions, and defeating their playoff opponents. This time, Louisville took the title, defeating Canton in five matches.

By the end of the season, several worrisome developments nagged the MISL. First was the continuing slide of the St. Louis Steamers, formerly a flagship franchise which had regularly led the league in attendance and led the way with innovative promotional events. The second was the continuing poor performance of the Los Angeles Lazers who again finished last in the West, despite being in one of the league’s largest market areas. At this point, the three top metropolitan areas featured a folded team and two teams at the bottom of their divisions. The league faced other challenges as well. The AISA, buoyed by its first successes, expanded into new territories and began to raid the MISL for players leading to the start of a salary war. Feeling the pinch, the Minnesota Strikers received permission to suspend operations for 1987-88 to reorganize their finances through a “save the Strikers” campaign. This was successful and the team returned for the season after all.

Another new development was the inauguration of Francisco Marcos’s Southwest Indoor Soccer League, operating in the Texas/Oklahoma/New Mexico region. Five teams competed in the inaugural season, with the Garland Genesis (who became the Addison Arrows mid-season) winning the league title. The SISL would not become involved in the salary war plaguing the MISL; from the start the league had been envisioned as a feeder system for the professional leagues.

The MISL celebrated their tenth season by expanding the season to 56 games and signing a new TV contract with FNN/SCORE which included a game of the week, the all-star game, the entire championship series and a weekly highlight show. Early in the season, Steve Zungul became the first player in league and indoor history to score 1,000 points. But he was feeling the effects of age, and relinquished his spot on the scorers list to Erik Rasmussen, and newcomers such as Preki, Jan Gossens and Chico Borja.. The San Diego Sockers returned to form, winning the league title and championship series.

By now, the salary war with the AISA was taking its toll, and the league negotiated with the Players Association for a substantial across the board salary cut and stabilization agreement. Even this was not enough to save several teams: NASL veterans Minnesota and Chicago, the former star franchise, St. Louis, and Tacoma. San Diego went into bankruptcy, and an original franchise, the Cleveland Force was at death’s door. In desperation, the MISL put extra effort into reaching a new four year collective bargaining agreement with the players which was achieved in July. The new agreement reduced the team salary cap to $850,000. Cleveland folded shortly after the agreement was signed, but San Diego found new owners and the league awarded a new franchise to Tacoma for the following season.

The AISA wasn’t faring much better. Only four teams had survived to play the 1987-88 season. The playoffs were chucked in favor of a 12 game “challenge Cup” series which included provisional teams in Jacksonville and Dayton. The Memphis Storm won the regular season with Canton taking the challenge series. In the SISL the Oklahoma City Warriors took their first league title and won the playoff championship.

On a happier note, A number of MISL players were earning caps for the National Team. In Olympic Qualifying, Hugo Perez (San Diego) scored the lone goal over Trinidad on 9/20/87 and landed two in the net against El Salvador a month later. Rick Davis (Tacoma) captained the senior team in a 0-0 draw against Ecuador on 6/12/88.Other notable players earning caps during this time were Brian Bliss (Cleveland), Kevin Crow (San Diego), Jim Gabarra (Los Angeles Lazers), Frank Klopas (Chicago), Paul Krumpe (Chicago), and Steve Trittschuh (St. Louis).

A greatly reduced league began play in 1988-89 with the expansion Tacoma Stars joining the six surviving teams. The league made up for the lack of teams with the extent of their season schedule. At 52 games, this was the most arduous league schedule since the original American Soccer League in their heydays of the 1920s. Baltimore was the comeback team this season, taking the league title, but San Diego defeated them in the playoffs, in a wild seven game series that saw two overtime matches, and a blowout loss suffered by the eventual champs. Preki (Tacoma) was MVP and leading scorer, while Victor Nogueira was in a familiar position as top goalkeeper. In the second tour by a team from the Soviet Union, Locomotiv Moscow lost six straight games to MISL teams.

After the season, Bill Kenting stepped down as league commissioner, replaced by founder Earl Foreman. Foreman immediately began to take steps to position the MISL as the official Division 1 league in the nation, a condition of the agreement awarding the 1994 World Cup to the US. Another long struggling franchise, Los Angeles Lazers folded after the 1988-89 season. The MISL still struggled for players. But now the fight wasn’t only with the AISA (which took one of their top stars, Karl-Heinz Granitza), but also with the rising ASL and WSA outdoor leagues(who signed away Trittschuh, Bliss, Stollmeyer among others) but also the US Soccer Federation, who had signed a number of top players to play full time with the National Team in an attempt to give the players enough practice and international experience to make a decent showing at the World Cup.

The AISA meanwhile was showing increased strength, both on the field (where they made a big catch, landing NASL/MISL all-star Karl-Heinz Granitza) and at the gate, with attendance up to almost 3,500 per game). The return to a full-scale 40 game season brought coherence to the schedule, and their adoption of 1-point, 2-point and 3-point goals led to some interesting results in the leading scorers table. Granitza easily won the scoring title, for the Chicago Power, but Canton again took the league title and playoffs. Jimmy Banks, of the Milwaukee Wave became an early AISA player to earn caps for the National Team.

In 1990, the MISL institute several rule changes: (1) permitting goalkeeping on the fly, (2) elimination of the sixth foul rule, (3) elimination of the three line violation by field players, and conducting shootouts in place of penalty kicks. They also awarded new franchises to two key cities, with the Cleveland Crunch and St. Louis Storm. Baltimore and Dallas were the division winners, but San Diego took the playoff championship going to seven against Baltimore. Hector Marinaro made a trip to the leading scorers table, while Tatu won the scoring title and MVP award. Commissioner Earl Foreman was named by the USSF to a commission to study the establishment of a Division 1 professional league.

The AISA expanded to eight teams, with the new Atlanta Attack finishing a respectable 2nd in the East. But it was the Canton Invaders as champions again, this time the Dayton Dynamo were the victims. After the season, the league changed its name to the National professional Soccer League, making clear their plans to go head to head with the MISL, and a new salary war was soon in full force.

The SISL (Now known as the Sunbelt Independent Soccer League) was up to seventeen teams, but was now showing more much interest in outdoor soccer. They still were providing a farm club service to the MISL and AISA/NPSL, but soon their indoor season would fade in importance as the league focused ever more on the outdoor game.

For the 1990-91 season, the MISL changed their name to Major Soccer League. And the American Indoor Soccer Association changed its name to the National Professional Soccer League. There was no doubt that a full scale war was under away for indoor supremacy. Despite retaining their compete franchise lineup for the first time in league history, financial woes continued to plague the MSL, with the viability of several teams in serious doubt. The NPSL was beginning to get the upper hand in the battles, and added three teams this season, in Detroit, Illinois and New York, as they extended their national ambitions. San Diego Sockers beat the 2nd year Clevbeland Crunch for the MISL title, while the Canton Invaders won their 7th title in 8 years for the NPSL.

The revival of outdoor soccer, and indoor’s decline

Major Soccer League was in financial disarray heading into the 1991-92 season. Despite a new collective bargaining agreement with the players, increasing competition from the NPSL was showing its effect, and the financial losses were simply too much for the Kansas City Comets, one of the oldest teams, who folded, and the league was forced back to a single division lineup. More ominously, players were leaving in increasing numbers to join the NPSL, which, although it was still operating at a slightly lower level, was much stronger financially due to its lower operating budgets, and made out well by raiding the MSL for quality second string players who did not demand excessive salaries.

The MISL fought on right to the end; attendance actually climbed slightly this season, and the top two teams played an exciting championship series with San Diego defeating Dallas for the league title. The MISL was already moving ahead with plans for a new Pittsburgh franchise as well as preliminary plans for European competition. But in the summer of 1992, Commissioner and founder Earl Foreman, seeing a bleak future ahead, pulled the plug. Cleveland and Wichita then joined the rival NPSL, while San Diego and Dallas joined up with a group of arena owners to create the new Continental Indoor Soccer League, which took to the field the following season in a summer league that would avoid direct competition with the NPSL.


Indoor soccer entered a new phase in 1993 with the establishment of the CISL. In some ways it was good, and in some ways it was not. The NPSL and CISL were definitely a step down from the MISL at its best, but the ruinous salary wars were over, and the two leagues were able to co-exist without working at cross purposes and undercutting the game at the front office level.

Without the cut-throat competition, both leagues thrived for several years, although they took a hit with the advent of Major League Soccer in 1996. This was not a result of massive player losses; only a handful of players from either league went to MLS, but some of the attention from fans was diverted as the lion’s share of press attention focused on the top outdoor leagues. This proved a new challenge for professional indoor soccer. There was clearly a well established audience for the indoor game, it had become firmly established enough to have developed its own history, traditions and legends, and a rapidly growing base of participants at the youth, recreational and amateur levels. But the challenge to establish financial viability for professional teams soon came to the fore. A new indoor minor league, the Eastern Indoor Soccer League began play in 1997, but folded after two seasons. Meanwhile, the USISL’s indoor league, which had been fading through the 1990’s, held its last season in 1997-98, and the CISL disintegrated some months after the 1997 season.

From this point, the indoor game at the professional level has rebounded somewhat. Several teams from the defunct CISL joined together and formed the new Premier Soccer Alliance in 1998 (renamed the World Indoor Soccer League in 1999). Shortly after the NPSL reorganized and became the new Major Indoor Soccer League in 2001, the WISL merged with the MISL effective in the fall of 2002. The MISL strugged for several years, but several other leagues started up, generally at a somewhat lower amateur or semi-pro level, but fielding sumerous teams. The MISL folded in 2008, but some of its teams joined with a few from other leagues to form the National Indoor Soccer League; others did likewise in forming the Extreme Soccer League. After one season, the XSL suspended operations and the NISL reappropriated the MISL name. Although there are fewer teams to root for now, there is finally one single, stable, major indoor league, which will be poised for growth in the years to come. Given the ever increasing legions of participants in the indoor game at youth, recreational and amateur levels, the existence of a healthy and growing professional league is a welcome development for indoor soccer.