Pioneers of indoor American soccer

This article originally appeared in GoalIndoor Magazine in 1993

Although indoor soccer has been played professionally in the United States since at least the early 1940s, it was the advent of the Major Indoor Soccer League in 1978 that truly established the indoor game firmly in the US professional sports scene. When the MISL began, its rosters boasted a significant number of major NASL players on its rosters. Some of these were NASL Veterans who expanded their twilight seasons by doing double duty (Steve David, Jeff Bourne, Ringo Cantillo, Arnie Mausser, Karl-Heinz Granitza, Clyde Best, et al.), others were upcoming talent whose NASL and ASL experience launched them into long indoor careers (Keith Furphy, Chico Borja, Luis Alberto, Tony Glavin, Fred Grgurev, Kevin Kewley, Doc Lawson, and from the ASL, Poli Garcia and Andy Chapman). The NASL introduced the majority of their players to the indoor game when they expanded their indoor season to 21 teams in 1980-81. Despite the expansion of the NASL’s indoor program, many top players remained loyal to their MISL clubs for the indoor season.) But the NASL experiment exposed many players to the indoor game, and when the league folded in 1984, the MISL enjoyed a new influx of talent, being the top professional league in the country at the time.

Among the veterans and new upstarts was an impressive array of players at the prime of their careers. These people were top performers in both the NASL and MISL, often winning scoring titles, championships, all-star awards and other accolades in both leagues. Such players included Gary Etherington, who won two championships with the NASL, Perry Van Der Beck, Alan Willey, Juli Veee, Jim McAllister, Ricky Davis, the hall of famer, who won numerous caps for the National Team, Ty Keough, and Alan Mayer. The mid 80’s were the prime for many of these amazing players; and indoor soccer was at its peak as well. The MISL was the only fully professional league in the country for some years and the prime source of talent for the struggling National Team when it was resurrected to begin its run for the 1990 World Cup. It is important to remember these pioneers of indoor soccer and appreciate their accomplishments during this important era of great change for American Soccer.

The indoor soccer world had matured considerably by the time Major League Soccer made its 1996 debut. Although a smattering of NPSL and CISL players jumped to MLS for its inaugural season (Preki, Matt Knowles, Goran Hunjak, etc.), the numbers paled in comparison to the preponderance of talent that chose to play 12 months a year in the late NASL era. Those players who wanted to play full-time tended to do double duty in the summer and winter indoor leagues (the Continental Indoor Soccer League and the National Professional Soccer League), rather than splitting the year between indoor and outdoor. Although outdoor soccer may enjoy a higher profile in the US soccer scene at present, indoor soccer is no longer seen as an off season alternative for outdoor players, but a viable and independent entity of its own.

Below are just a few of the indoor pioneers who had a significant career in both the NASL and Major Indoor Soccer League. Let’s not forget them!

Branko Segota. Midfield. Born 6/8/1961.

A Yugoslavian who also played with Real Madrid and Rayo Vallecano of Spain and Atlante (Mexico). Segota made an immediate impact when he debuted with MISL in 1978 and NASL in 1979. Segota was fortunate to play with two perennial champions throughout his MISL Career, first with the New York Arrows and later with the San Diego Sockers. Branko was a teammate of Steve Zungul for the first three seasons of the MISL — winning three championships with the New York Arrows. His outdoor career started in 1979 with the Rochester Lancers, but he moved on to greater success with the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers in 1981, which reached the NASL semifinals. In 1982, he scored 37 points, and nearly matched that the next season. His greatest outdoor success came the following year when he was the 2nd highest league scorer in the 1984 season, albeit with the cellar dwelling Golden Bay Earthquakes.

Segota returned to the MISL in 1985 with the San Diego Sockers, and here his story was made: Two consecutive 3rd place scoring finishes (1985, 1986), 1986 All-Star Game MVP, six league titles, four 1st team all-star selections, and two 2nd team all-star selections. Although he never won the scoring championship, he was a reliably prolific scorer from the midfield, and was a key factor in many of his teams’ championships. After seven seasons, Segota closed out his MISL career with the St. Louis Storm. After the demise of the league, he played a season with the CISL and NPSL before retiring. His record with the MISL is impressive: 2nd all-time scorer (841 points), 2nd all-time goals (463), and 3rd all-time assists (378). One can imagine what he might have accomplished outdoors had the NASL survived, but his legacy in the MISL is clear.

Kai Haaskivi. Midfielder. Born Finland 12/28/1955.

A prolific midfielder during the last years of the NASL, Kai Haaskivi was a charter member of the Major Indoor Soccer League — playing from its inception in 1978 to its demise in 1992. During these 12 seasons, he amassed 297 goals (9th all-time) and 386 assists (2nd all-time) for 683 points (4th all-time) over 12 seasons. In the MISL’s inaugural year, he was with the Houston Summit and placed third among leading scorers, as he helped lead the Summit to the regular season championship. Houston repeated as division champions in 1979, and Kai again placed third among league scorers, being selected to the first all-star team in both seasons. He left the MISL in 1980 to concentrate on the outdoor game for the next three seasons.

His two seasons (1981-1982) with Edmonton were the most successful. He scored 27 points to lead his team in scoring. However, the team didn’t make the playoffs for two seasons running, and Kai found a more successful career back on the smaller pitch, this time with the Cleveland Force. In 1983-84, his 88 points were second best in the league, and he was selected to the 1st all-star team once again. Injuries hobbled him the following two seasons, but Haaskivi returned to championship form in 1986-87, leading the Force to the Eastern division title and a respectable showing in the Semifinals. His 89 points were good enough for a third place tie with Steve Zungul in the scoring race this season. After 1988, Kai went to the Baltimore Blast, but was back in Cleveland the following season with the new Cleveland Crunch. His best days now behind him, Haaskivi played a supporting role for the Crunch during his final three seasons.

Carl Valentine. Forward. Born 7/4/1958, in England

Carl’s career began in 1976 with Oldham Athletic where he played for three seasons before being lured to the NASL. Carl played five seasons for the Vancouver Whitecaps and was a consistently high scorer for the ‘Caps. After the demise of the NASL, Valentine played 44 games for West Bromwich Albion of the English League before returning to Canada in time to play the last game of World Cup qualifying. (He scored both of Canada’s goals.) Valentine went on to play in all three of Canada’s games at the World Cup finals in 1986. In 1985, he joined the Cleveland Force of the Major Indoor Soccer League, later moving to Baltimore and Kansas City. His most successful seasons were 1987, when he scored 72 points for the Cleveland Force, and 1989-90, when he scored 58 for the Baltimore Blast. In seven MISL seasons, Valentine played 270 games scoring 165 goals and 317 points. He played for the Canadian National team in the 1986 World Cup finals. He was a founding player of the Vancouver 86ers in the Canadian Soccer League in 1987 and remained with the team (which moved to the A-League in 1992), as player, later as head coach, through 1999.

Steve Zungul. Forward. 14 Caps. Born 7/28/1954

Perhaps the greatest player ever in the MISL, Slavisa (Steve) Zungul was with the MISL from the beginning, and he started at the top of his game, scoring 68 points his first season and winning four consecutive scoring championships, four Most Valuable Player awards, and four all-star awards in his first five seasons. Zungul stunned the league when he scored 136 points his second season, to be followed by 152 the following year and 163 the year after that. Keep in mind that the MISL did not have 2 or 3-point goals like the NPSL, and it makes his triumph apparent. The New York Arrows were the marquee franchise during the MISL’s early years (amazing, given New York’s complete absence from the indoor scene over the past fifteen years). Boasting the best scorer and goalkeeper, the Arrows won the first four league championships before beginning a rapid decline and demise. Luckily, Zungul left before that, switching to Golden Bay during the 82-83 season.

He played with Golden Bay for two outdoor seasons. Zungul established himself as an impressive striker on the big field as well, scoring 47 points (3rd in the league) in 1983 and 50 points (leading the league) in 1984. Zungul won the NASL MVP award that year, and placed on the 1st All-Star team both of these seasons. Sadly, his scoring feats were not accompanied by any team championships. At the end of 1984, he was traded to the San Diego Sockers, which joined the MISL when the NASL indoor season was cancelled (followed shortly thereafter by the demise of the league.) Steve picked up where he left off, winning the scoring championship, MVP award, league title and All-Star selection for 1985. Steve and the Sockers repeated their league-leading feats the following season; however, Zungul was traded to the Tacoma Stars mid-season, and did not share the glory when San Diego won the trophy that season. Zungul led the Stars to the championship series in 1986-87 where they lost to the Dallas Sidekicks. This was perhaps symbolic, since the lowly Sidekicks featured an up and coming scoring prodigy, Tatu, who won the scoring title this season and would continue to be a leading indoor player into the 21st century. The following season, Tacoma struggled, and Steve Zungul returned to the Sockers for his final two seasons. He was no longer the Zungul of old, and he struggled in a steadily shrinking backup role before calling it quits in 1990. But Zungul’s legacy cannot be denied. Steve holds the all-time MISL records for points (1,123), goals (652), and assists (471), seven league championships and eight all-star selections, ranking him one of the top indoor players in history.

Shep Messing: Born 10/9/1949

One of the most successful American goalkeepers in the NASL, Shep Messing was the league leader during his 1975 stint with the Boston Minutemen. Messing had made his Cosmos Debut on 5/20/73 in an exhibition against Finn Harps (Ireland). He made his mark with the Minutemen, bagging six shutouts. He returned to the Cosmos in 1977, to play alongside Pele, Beckenbauer and others to help lead the team to victory in Soccer Bowl 1977. Messing also earned ten caps with the US National “B” team. He moved to the Oakland Stompers in 1978, and Rochester Lancers in ’79 to great acclaim, before moving returning to the Big Apple in the Major Indoor Soccer League. Shep was one of the biggest names to land with the MISL when it launched in 1978. He was the primary goalkeeper for the New York Arrows for their first six seasons, leading the team to the first four MISL championships, landing a place on the first three MISL All-Star teams and earning playoff MVP honors in 1979. Although his flame did dim after 1984, he played supporting roles with Pittsburgh, the NY Cosmos and the New York Express until his retirement in 1987. All in all, he minded the nets for 202 games and 10,003 minutes, with nearly 3,000 saves and a robust 5.26 goals against average.

Paul Child. Forward. Born 8/12/1952, in England.

One of the most prolific goal scorers in NASL history, Paul Child had originally come to the NASL on loan from Aston Villa, for which he had never actually played a game. He made a name for himself in the NASL, especially for the San Jose Earthquakes, where during six seasons, he was named to the NASL first All-star team in 1972 and 1974. He led the league in scoring in 1974 with 15 goals and 36 points, was 10th in scoring in 1976, and 9th in 1977. Child managed to earn two caps playing for the US, even though he was not a citizen at the time. He is 5th all-time goal scorer for the NASL and 6th in total scoring, with 102 goals in 241 games. In 1981, he switched to the Major Indoor Soccer League with the Pittsburgh Spirit. He made an immediate impact, scoring 81 points, tied for 4th best in the league. He remained with Pittsburgh for five seasons, scoring 68 points in ’82-83, before moving to Baltimore. He finished his career in 1988 with the Los Angeles Lazers. In total, Paul scored 384 points in 330 games in the MISL. In the mid-1990’s, he coached the CISL’s Detroit Neon.