EPISODE #115: The North American Soccer League’s Rochester Lancers – With Michael Lewis

After more than 40 years of covering the “beautiful game,” Newsday sportswriter and FrontRowSoccer.com editor Michael Lewis (Soccer for Dummies) knows more than a thing or two about the evolution of soccer in this country.  A self-professed “Zelig of soccer,” the NYC-based Lewis has covered some of the sport’s most important events, including eight World Cups, seven Olympic tournaments, and all 23 MLS Cups (and counting) – not to mention an endless array of matches and related off-the-field activities across leagues and competitions on both the domestic and international stages over that span.  If it happened in American soccer since his start as a cub reporter at the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle in 1975, Lewis was probably there.

It was in Rochester that Lewis got his first taste of US pro soccer as the assigned beat reporter for the North American Soccer League’s fledgling Rochester Lancers – a team that literally helped save the down-to-four-team league from extinction in 1970 when owner Charlie Schiano moved the club from the regional semi-pro American Soccer League (along with the similarly-situated Washington Darts) where it had played since 1967.

The Lancers promptly won the title in their first NASL season, and featured the circuit’s first breakout star – 5′ 4″ Brazilian scoring sensation Carlos “Little Mouse” Metidieri, who nabbed league MVP honors in both 1970 & 1971. 

By 1973, however, Metidieri had been traded to the expansion Boston Minutemen, and Schiano was forced to sell controlling interest in the club to bolster its finances – and the Lancers promptly descended into mediocrity.  Though Schiano re-acquired majority ownership in late 1976, the team rarely achieved more than middling success thereafter – save for an anomalous 1977 season that saw the small-market Lancers fall one playoff game short of reaching the NASL title game, despite compiling only an 11-15 regular season record. 

The Lancers’ final seasons were also marred by internecine warfare between an increasingly cash-strapped Schiano and new investors John Luciani and Bernie Rodin – exacerbated by the team’s off-season moonlighting in the semi-rival Major Indoor Soccer League as the Long Island-based New York Arrows.  The two factions faced off in court during the 1980 NASL season, with the league terminating the franchise at season’s end.

While outdoor soccer soon returned to Rochester in 1981 with the ASL Flash, the indoor Arrows went on to win four consecutive MISL titles with much of the Lancers’ late 1970s NASL outdoor roster, including notables like Branko Segota, Shep Messing, Dave D’Errico, Val Tuksa, Renato Cila, Damir Sutevski, and head coach Dragon “Don” Popovic.

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EPISODE #66: Sports Broadcaster JP Dellacamera

Fox Sports soccer play-by-play broadcaster extraordinaire JP Dellacamera joins the podcast this week to discuss a pioneering career in sports announcing spanning over 30 years – including calling this year’s 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia – his ninth consecutive men’s quadrennial assignment since Mexico ’86.

Widely acknowledged as the original voice of US Soccer, Dellacamera’s calls have become synonymous with some of modern-day American soccer’s most indelible moments – including his accounts of the US Women’s National Team’s dramatic penalty kick shootout victory over China in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and Paul Caligiuri’s historic “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” against Trinidad & Tobago in the final game of 1989 CONCACAF qualifying that punched the US Men’s National Team’s ticket for Italy ’90 – ending a 40-year World Cup finals drought, and reorienting the sport’s trajectory in the ‘States for decades to come.

The road to broadcasting global soccer’s marquee events has by no means been a straight and narrow one, however, and we (of course) chat with Dellacamera about some of the more memorable “forgotten” stops made along the way, including:

  • Talking his way into his professional debut calling local TV games for the 1978 NASL expansion Detroit Express;
  • Handling radio play-by-play for the American Soccer League’s ALPO dog food-sponsored Pennsylvania Stoners;
  • Parlaying years of minor league hockey broadcast experience into lead announcing duties for indoor soccer’s Pittsburgh Spirit of the fledgling MISL;
  • Cementing his stature as the voice of US women’s soccer as the play-by-play lead for the 2001 launch of the WUSA; and   
  • Returning to his first love of pro hockey – finally at the NHL level – with the short-lived Atlanta Thrashers.  

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EPISODE #35: National Soccer Hall of Famer Paul Child

Former NASL, MISL, CISL (and even ASL) soccer great Paul Child becomes the fifth National Soccer Hall of Famer to join the podcast – and regales host Tim Hanlon with a bevy of eyebrow-raising anecdotes from a 25+ pro career as a player and coach across teams and leagues in both the outdoor and indoor versions of the game, including: 

  • Taking a chance to get first-team play as a 19-year-old via loan with the Atlanta Chiefs in the fragile 1972 North American Soccer League;
  • Learning to love the narrow confines and uniquely spray-painted burgundy and black penalty areas of San Jose’s Spartan Stadium;
  • Laying carpet for and dodging chicken wire during the NASL’s primitive inaugural indoor tournament in San Francisco’s Cow Palace in 1975; 
  • Wondering if sellout crowds in Atlanta’s Omni for Chiefs indoor games in the early 1980s were for spirited play, or cheeky promotions like “Who Shot J.R.?” night;
  • Taking the early 1980s Pittsburgh sports scene by storm – and regularly outdrawing hockey’s Penguins – with the MISL’s Spirit; and
  • Earning two caps for the US National Team – despite not being an actual American citizen!

This week’s episode is supported by our friends at Audible and Podfly!

EPISODE #29: The American Soccer League’s Cincinnati Comets with Writer/Photographer Ronny Salerno

While the meteoric rise of the United Soccer League’s FC Cincinnati franchise caught many pro sports observers by surprise, keen observers of soccer’s unique history in the Queen City note that the foundation of the team’s current success actually dates back to 1972, when an ambitious little club called the Cincinnati Comets won the American Soccer League championship in the team’s inaugural season. Cincinnati writer/photographer/native Ronny Salerno (The Extraordinary Story of the Cincinnati Comets; Fading Ads of Cincinnati) joins Tim Hanlon to delve into the curious story of this surprisingly notable squad, whose motley cast of characters included:

  • Dr. Nico “Nick” Capurro, a strong-willed Italian-born surgeon and county coroner whose passion for the sport led him to not only buy a Cincinnati ASL franchise, but also become its head coach;
  • Julio “Ringo” Cantillo, a 16-year-old Costa Rican midfield phenom who immediately became the team’s (and league’s) most valuable player – despite still being a high school student;
  • Jim Scott, the long-time king of Cincinnati morning radio, whose simple offer to help with some publicity mushroomed into the presidency of the team – and later the ASL itself;
  • Bob Cousy, the legendary basketball hall-of-famer, who Scott recruited to become ASL commissioner – despite a mixed reputation in the Queen City, and an admitted ignorance about the sport of soccer; AND
  • Lamar Hunt, the patron saint of AFL football and the then-nationally ascendant North American Soccer League, whose dogged efforts to get the Comets to move up to the NASL came up short.

Our thanks to Audible and Podfly for their support of this week’s episode!