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.

Thank you 503 Sports, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com, Streaker Sports, Audible, and OldSchoolShirts.com for your support of this week’s show!

Soccer for Dummies (First Edition) - buy here

EPISODE #24: Soccer “Renaissance Man” Dr. Joe Machnik

Fox Sports soccer rules analyst and newly minted National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Joe Machnik (So You Want to Be a Goalkeeper; So Now You Are a Goalkeeper) has done just about everything across the American soccer landscape in his 60+ year career.  As a player, coach, referee, administrator, match commissioner, and soccer camp (No.1 Soccer Camps) pioneer, “Dr. Joe” has had a direct hand in helping achieving some of the sport’s major milestones in the US at virtually every level – amateur, collegiate, professional, and international.  Entwined within that legacy were memorable stops in oft-forgotten places like the original Major Indoor Soccer League, the scrappy American Indoor Soccer Association, and the chaotic early days of Major League Soccer – all of which host Tim Hanlon obsessively grills Machnik on in this episode, including his:

  • Instrumental role in crafting and codifying the professional indoor soccer rulebook for the MISL;
  • Championing of the MISL’s novel move to hire full-time professional referees;
  • Indisputable memory of the 1981 MISL All-Star Game at New York’s Madison Square Garden, and its role in helping birth Arena Football;
  • Coaching travails with the once-mighty New York Arrows, depleted by major player trades and an ownership change;
  • Frequent bus rides in the decidedly minor league AISA; AND
  • Fortuitous friendship with an AISA arena owner in Rockford, IL that led to a pivotal role in stabilizing the launch of Major League Soccer.

Thanks to Audible and Podfly for their support of the podcast!

EPISODE #15: MISL Memories with Michael Menchel

This week, Tim Hanlon buckles up for a wild ride through the tumultuous early years of the original Major Indoor Soccer League with sports PR veteran Michael Menchel, in our longest and most anecdote-filled episode yet!  Menchel takes us on a head-spinning audio journey across some of the most memorable (and forgettable) franchises in professional indoor soccer history – including stops in Long Island, NY (the Arrows trade for Pete Rose!), New Jersey (scoring champ Fred Grgurev’s unique approach to car maintenance!), Houston (the “Summit Soccer” borrows its name from the arena it plays in and its players from the NASL’s Hurricane!), Baltimore (the marketing genius of Tim Leiweke!), and Hartford (what the hell is a “Hellion”?).  Plus, Menchel:  hits the road with Frank Deford;  spends a year outdoors among the Caribou(s?) of Colorado;  has a bad day in Rochester, NY;  and “settles down” in St. Louis wondering when and where the NFL football Cardinals will move next.  Thanks to Audible for sponsoring this week’s episode!