By Phil Hecken and Jim Vilk
Today, I’m joined by Jim Vilk, who is here to tell us about one of the more obscure sports, but one where they still wear uniforms. Indoor soccer. Yup. I remember that, a couple of decades ago, and it was pretty popular. I’m pretty sure there was a team that played in the Nassau Coliseum back then, think they were the New York Arrows. Might have even gone to a game — one of those deals where you clip enough coupons from a milk carton, you get free tickets — something like that. Anyway, the idea of watching soccer, played on a hockey rink with miniature golf grass laid on top was, shall we say, novel. Not my particular cup of tea, but who am I to say anything?
So, here we are, decades later, about to discuss a sport that apparently still exists. Actually, when it first started, it seemed pretty popular. I think even the Cosmos, of NASL fame, fielded an indoor team. But Jim enjoyed it then, and still does it now. He’s here with a look back at the halcyon days of the MISL (or “Major Indoor Soccer League”) and his choices of the top eight uniforms of the day.
In a bit of scheduling serendipity, Paul just yesterday ran a column featuring some of Jim’s DIYs (great stuff, Jim). So, before we hear about the MISL uni’s, let’s take a moment to meet Jim.
Phil Hecken: What got you into unis?
Jim Vilk: I’ve always liked the aesthetics of sports, sometimes as much as the actual game. I’ve always loved helmets, too. Growing up I wanted to be an astronaut or a football player, almost anything with a cool helmet. I like numbers, too – not math, just numbers.
PH: How did you find UW?
JV: I was checking scores on ESPN.com and noticed one of Paul’s Page 2 articles. I then discovered the UW blog and I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s daily required reading for me.
PH: Do you have a unique or special uni?
JV: I don’t have many jerseys. I’m cheap and I like the feel of cotton better. I do have lots of NFL, CFL, USFL, MLB, MLS and NCAA t-shirts. I especially like the ones that look like a jersey. I do have a replica jersey of my favorite Pirate, Willie Stargell. I wish I still had my old softball uniform — we had jerseys that looked like the ’70s Tequila Sunrise Astros, only in blue. You could call them Tequila Moonrise jerseys.
PH: Obviously you have a passion for DIY projects. Do you do a lot of DIYs?
JV: I do a lot of DIY. I paint electric football teams in USFL colors, I made a replica of the Cavaliers’ Miracle of Richfield at the Coliseum using Lego basketball players, an indoor soccer game and a miniature curling game. I’m working on a little ski jump using electric football players and popsicle sticks. I used to have a DIY wiffle ball field in my back yard. You can still play there, but only the bases remain.
PH: Do you have a favorite uni?
JV: My tastes go from traditional to a little out there. You found out my favorite uni in this piece (which we’ll see below). I also love the ’50s New York Football Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, the ’80s Denver Nuggets, the early ’70s Houston Oilers with the blue helmets and the entire late ’70s to early ’80s Canadian Football League. I can’t forget the Killibrew-era Washington Senators, the ’71 Pirates with the mustard gold, the old St. Louis Football Cardinals, Penn State football and Villanova basketball.
PH: Wow. Thanks Jim. You’ve been a great contributor to the site, and I love your DIY stuff, which I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of in the future. OK, then, lets get on with the MISL:
With Paul and the ESPN gang looking back at the 1980s, it seems appropriate to include a very ’80s sport that became oh so tantalizingly close to being our fifth major sport.
The Major Indoor Soccer League was born in 1978 and ended in 1992. There was another MISL … which used to be the National Professional Soccer League … which used to be the American Indoor Soccer Association … which was hatched in 1984 as a rival to the original MISL. The 2nd MISL turned into the National Indoor Soccer League in 2008. As if that’s not enough soccer madness, the original MISL competed with the indoor arm of the North American Soccer League for its first few seasons.
Yes, there is indoor soccer to be found in America to this day, but it is a shell of what it was in the glorious 1980s. I hope the NISL grows and flourishes so I can do a piece on it in the future. Today, my focus is on the mid-1980s, when the MISL provided some of the best soccer, and in my opinion some of the best uniforms the sporting world has ever seen.
For a complete history of the MISL, go to this very excellent website. Now, please join me as we take a look at the Top 8 MISL uniforms of the 1980s. If it were a Top 10 list, then my beloved Pittsburgh Spirit would be included. Sadly, they must sit out this one.
Anyway, on with the countdown:
8. St. Louis Steamers: I’m a sucker for light blue – and for teams that use green and blue – so the color scheme and these cool uniforms assure the Steamers of a place on this list. The colors and stripes make me think of the Mississippi River and its layers of water and silt. I’m not sure why the sleeve stripes are green on blue, as opposed to the shoulders being blue on green. Here’s a look at the road uniform.
7. Chicago Sting: One of two former NASL teams who brought uni greatness to the MISL. Black and gold like my good old Spirit, but the Sting kicked their unis up a notch. Here’s a great look at the away uni, and another look at it next to the home kit. I like the sleeve numbers on the home whites and the subtle diagonal lines. The ’90s could learn a lesson from this design — a little goes a long way. I wasn’t a fan of the team, but I loved these unis. Great alternates as well.
6. Cleveland Force: Yeah, they had Darth Vader come out to begin one of the coolest player introductions you’ve ever seen. George Lucas eventually got wind of this and made them stop, but later he reached an agreement with them. Man, I couldn’t stand this team at the time, but I loved working their games. I was a souvenir and food vendor at the Richfield Coliseum. I used to wear a Spirit button and a Baltimore Blast button on my uniform — how I didn’t get canned is beyond me. Here is the road uni and here are front and back looks at the home uni. I liked the player names under the number. The Force folded in 1988. A year later the Cleveland Crunch formed, and they won three NPSL titles. Don’t let Cleveland fans whine to you about a championship curse! Thankfully they changed their name to the Force for a few years before they too folded. By that time I had become a fan. Don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone, so I’m glad I had a second chance to enjoy them, albeit briefly.
5. Baltimore Blast: My second-favorite team of all time, and my favorite current team. Yep, the Blast are still alive and … wait for it … kicking. The current Blast began as the NPSL’s Baltimore Spirit. When one of the original Blast owners bought into the new franchise he brought back the name. They won the inaugural NISL title this year, a year which marks the 25th anniversary of the Blast’s first title. In between they won four of the last six championships in the second MISL. The new Blast look nice but nowhere near as nice as this or this. That’s the late Stan “The Pizza Man” Stamenkovic in both pictures (not to be confused with Mike Stankovic in the home whites with him). Loved that nickname and loved that player! He loved scoring goals as much as he loved eating pizza and it showed in the stat sheets and in his physique. My hero. Towards the late ’80s the Blast tried a different slant on their unis, but those mid-80s ones were the best for me.
4. Kansas City Comets: Cosmic, man. Here are side and front views of the home whites, and here is a look at the visiting blues. A hint of purple in those diagonal stripes, but we won’t hold that against them, will we, Paul? Paul?? I didn’t see them play a lot, but they made an impression on me.
3. Minnesota Strikers: This was the other NASL team who jumped leagues and did it stylishly. The San Diego Sockers may have dominated both leagues, but they have to be content with their championships on this list. Actually, the Strikers had a 3-games-to-1 lead in the ’85-’86 championship, but lost to the Sockers anyway. Oh well, what did Billy Crystal say…”It’s better to look good than to feel good.” The Strikers were absolutely mahvelous, dahling, both at home and on the road (that’s against the Sockers, by the way, in one of their better home looks). Look carefully on the previous picture. There are parrots on goalkeeper Tino Lettieri’s jersey. Fun guy — he used to keep a stuffed parrot in the nets when he tended goal.
2. Los Angeles Lazers: You sort of see their road unis on the team page — that was the best I could find. The home whites show up better here. Another predominantly black and gold team, but owner Jerry Buss added a purple Laker trim to make them stand out from the others. Sorry, Paul, but I think these unis are so hot it takes Smokey the Bear to put out their fire. The logo and the abdominal stripes are just so ’80s. That means they’re timeless to me, but then again I still listen to Duran Duran.
1. Tacoma Stars: Completely ignore the uniform you just saw on the team page. It doesn’t exist in my world. The Stars made it to the top of the list for these brilliant creations here and here. I know, I know, it looks as if Charlie Brown collided with Dan Issel or Alex English and fused into one being, but that is what makes it so endearing to me. Here’s a rear look at the home whites and the away blues. That’s right, I love these babies so much I had one made for my membership card. The Stars not only looked good, however, they were good. They were the only team to beat San Diego in a playoff series, and they were one game away from winning the ’86-’87 title. The Stars lost a thrilling game 7 to the Dallas Sidekicks before more than 20,000 fans packed into the Tacoma Dome. ESPN covered the series…unfortunately, I didn’t see it. Hear that, ESPN Classic?? If you showed USFL games for me you could show some of your old MISL coverage. Please?
Well, some of you may want to have my membership card revoked after this, but hopefully more of you enjoyed this look back at a fun league from a fun decade. Can’t wait to see your opinions.
Thanks Jim! Opinions of unis are totally subjective, so I can’t take any umbrage with your “top 8” or your views. I gotta say, tho — “became oh so tantalizingly close to being our fifth major sport”? Seriously? I know you were undertaking a certain amount of hyperbole there, but c’mon. Everyone knows there are only three major sports, anyway.
But great, great job. It’s probably safe to say there has never before been such a thorough look back at the uniforms of the MISL of the 80s on Uni Watch.
Guess The Game From The Scoreboard: You guys are proving too adept at this game, so the following scoreboard will probably prove to be a piece of cake. A couple of readers have asked that while you keep to the practice of posting the retrosheet or other link to the answer, in order to assist some of the readers who may not be so skilled at guessing the scoreboard, if possible and without revealing too much of the answer, in addition to posting it, could you sort of “talk us through” how you went about solving the scoreboard mystery? (How’s that for a run-on sentence?) In other words, what about the picture were clues and how did they assist you in solving it? Plus, how you solved it might be different (but equally effective) than how someone else solved it. OK? OK. So with that, Guess The Game. And tell us how you did so.
From the Squiddie Files: Another wonderful batch of Life archive photos from Lance “Squiddie” Smith comes to us today. Lance explains, “These aren’t really uni related and I don’t have much to say about them. I still think they’re interesting.”
The photos come from a set, one of which Lance had posted in the comments section some time ago. “A while back I posted a link to a Life photo of someone looking out from the scoreboard at Griffith Stadium,” Lance elaborates. “I’ve found that that photo was from a 1956 photo essay about how teenagers were spending their summer. They had one boy fixing TVs and a girl working as a life guard and so on. (The one boy who was fighting wargames with miniatures was obviously way ahead of his time.)”
With that, let’s take a look at what Lance has gathered for us. He’s broken them down into a couple subjects, but “Other than that I have no details. The photos are still pretty cool.” Thanks, Lance.
“Inside the scoreboard looking out:” More great pics here, here, here, as well as here, here, and here. I love the ‘classic’ undershirt and jeans look (I’m thinking “Fonzie” from Happy Days) of the kid inside the scoreboard.
“Lucky Strike cigarettes on hand:” Great find, Lance, such attention to detail have you!
Great stuff, as usual. Lance concludes, “While my first thought was, ‘What a great summer job!’ I’m now thinking it would be pretty hot running that thing in July. Obviously there wasn’t any air conditioning and probably little ventilation.”
OK. That’s all for today folks. Everyone have a great Saturday.