Professional Soccer Historical Photo Gallery
(Before Year 2000)
( 3 Outdoor Soccer Teams / 2 Indoor Soccer Teams)
Attempts at Sustainable Professional Soccer in Cleveland
Cleveland Stokers and Stars
The popularity of the 1966 World Cup with American audiences emboldened sports entrepreneurs to work for the establishment of professional league soccer in the United States and Cleveland became a charter member of the North American Soccer League along with Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington D. C., Detroit, Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver, and New York.
The plan of the North American Soccer League for the 1967 season was to import complete teams from Europe, Brazil, and Mexico and Cleveland was represented by the Stoke City team of the English League’s First Division. The Cleveland Stokers finished second in the Eastern Division of the United Soccer Association, a name that replaced the North American Soccer League.
The off season brought a merger between the United Soccer Association and the National Professional Soccer League and in December, 1967 the North American Soccer League was formed. Norman Low, who had been chief scout for Liverpool F.C., was named coach and manager of the Cleveland Stokers and given the task of building a team from the ground floor. The team that was assembled won the NASL Lakes Division but lost to the Atlanta Chiefs of the NASL Atlantic Division in sudden death overtime on a goal by NASL Rookie of the Year Kaiser (Boy Boy) Motaung.
The owners of the Stokers did not want to continue in the NASL and Howard M. Metzenbaum and Alva (Ted) Bonda, who owned 50 percent of the shares, voted with the NASL owners to cease league operations. Although on the field play was fine and at a high level, the American sports market was not yet ready, especially from the business viewpoint, for a major soccer operation.
A lower version of pro soccer returned in the summer of 1972 in the form of the Cleveland Stars, a team composed of mainly local talent with a strong Italian flavor. The team was organized, owned and operated by persons who proudly called themselves the “little people of Cleveland” and played at Finnie Stadium in Berea. The coach of the Stars was Olinto Busetto, who also coached the Inter-Italians of the Lake Erie Soccer League. General Manager was Enrico Grazia, also of the Inter-Italians.
Only half of the players were full time professionals (the rest were part time) but the team finished their infant season in the Midwestern Conference of the American Soccer League with 6 wins and 2 losses. The Stars were unbeaten at Finnie and ended the season with a four game winning streak. After a successful 1972 debut season the Stars achieved a regular season record of 8 wins, 2 losses, and 2 ties in 1973. This was the best record of second place teams in the league’s three divisions and earned the Stars a wild card spot. The Stars were required to play Cincinnati and they lost 4-1.
The Stars prepared for their third season in the ASL by reorganizing the front office. Howard Collier was elected president of the Cleveland Stars professional soccer club. A founder of the Ohio Amateur Soccer League, Collier entered the Stars picture in 1973 as a stockholder and quickly was named to the board of directors. He succeeded Enrico Grazia who became vice president.
In each of their three year history, the Stars finished behind the Cincinnati Comets in the standings. Their best season was 1973 in which the team participated as a wild card team in the playoffs. Their lowest finish was third place in 1974. But the Stars were financially successful, and their approach of using local mainly American based players permitted them to survive and continue for future seasons. It was Collier who guided the Stars with an open eye, and adjusted the team's budget to existing reality. Unfortunately, he was a minority voice of reason among a majority of ambitious dreamers, who believed in the quick rise to wealth and succes through field soccer as in other parts of the world. However, the Cleveland market differed markedly from other mature soccer nations and you needed to measure the difference successfully. Collier was a business man ahead of his time, with a long term strategic plan for the Cobras that his fellow team owners did not always fully appreciate.The lure of winning and social success, large egos for personal glorification made many other team owners overspend and quit barely in a couple years of trying. Changing teams was a serious problem for early American professional leagues like the NASL and ASL.
Cleveland Cobras: (From Wikipedia,the free encyclopedia)
The Cleveland Stars were an American soccer club based in Cleveland, Ohio and a member of the American Soccer League in 1972-74. Before the 1975 season, the name was changed to the Cleveland Cobras. The Cobras' colors were green and gold, though in 1979 they also wore alternate uniforms of gold/black and in 1981 often donned green/white uniforms.
The Cobras actively promoted youth soccer. Hundreds of clinics and camps conducted by its players established a solid youth soccer base throughout northeast Ohio — though the club did not play long enough to reap the benefits of the kids growing up to becoming ticket-buying adults. The Cleveland Force (1978–88) and Cleveland Crunch/Force (1989–2005) indoor soccer teams capitalized with good crowds in the Major Indoor Soccer League and National Professional Soccer League.
The Cobras played home games on AstroTurf at George Finnie Stadium on the campus of Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. A few exhibition games were played at Cleveland Stadium. Each season, ownership brought top international clubs to town for "friendly" matches. Among those were the national teams of Poland, Israel and Canada, Cork Hibernians F.C. and Sligo Rovers F.C (Ireland), GKS Tychy and Arka Gdynia (Poland), Betar Jerusalem F.C. and Hapoel Jerusalem F.C. (Israel), Eintracht Braunschweig and VfB Oldenburg (Germany) and Partizan Belgrade (Serbia).
Management, consisting of local businessmen of moderate wealth who were soccer aficionados, tried to make up for a lack of big finances with an abundance of enthusiasm. The club annually brought in numerous players from the largely ethnic local Lake Erie Soccer League.
The Cobras' long-time general manager was Dr. John P. Gyekenyesi, a native of Hungary who grew up on Cleveland's east side, earned his doctorate at Michigan State University, and has been an aerospace engineer and researcher at NASA for more than 35 years. In the Cobras' instance, you really did need a rocket scientist to run the team. Dr. Gyekenyesi had been president of the LESL before joining the Cobras.
Though the club generally had limited budgets, it had future wealth right in its locker room without realizing it in 1980. The 18-year-old son of Cleveland businessman Al Lerner expressed interest in sports and his father figured it would be good for the youngster to start at the bottom. Randy Lerner served as the Cobras' equipment manager, a glorified term for a locker-room assistant who picked up soiled towels and jerseys and did all sorts of mundane tasks. Randy Lerner succeeded his father as chairman of MBNA, owner of the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League, and later became chairman of the Aston Villa Football Club in England.
After the 1981 season, Cobras ownership sold its ASL rights to a group that moved the club to Atlanta, Georgia as the Georgia Generals. Outdoor professional soccer thus came to end in Cleveland, but was quickly replaced by its more appealing indoor version, with its higher scoring and quicker pace.
Cleveland Force: (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
The original Cleveland Force was one of six charter franchises in the original Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL). The team played from 1978 to 1988 at the Richfield Coliseum, the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and regularly drew crowds in excess of 12,000 in the mid-1980s.
Akron businessman Eric J. Henderson, who had been involved in ownership of the Cleveland Cobras of the American Soccer League in 1977, was the Force's first owner. He sold controlling interest to Cleveland multi-millionaire Bart Wolstein in 1979. Under Wolstein and his son Scott's direction, the club became a rarity in America — a professional soccer team that turned a profit.
The Force started off the '78–'79 season by splitting their first two games. That turned out to be the high point of the season. The team lost 13 of its last 14 games to finish in sixth place, one game behind the Pittsburgh Spirit. Only Brian Budd and Roy Sinclair managed to break double digits in goals, netting 24 and 10 respectively.
The MISL expanded to 10 teams and a 32-game schedule in '79–'80. The Force was placed in the Central Division with Houston, which finished the previous year with the best record, and expansion teams in Detroit, St. Louis and Wichita. Cleveland's roster was almost entirely new with only four players from the previous season returning. The result was pretty much the same as the Force tied for last place in the division with the St. Louis Steamers
Cleveland made it to the playoffs for the first time the following season with a 21–19 record, then fell back again in 1981–82. Wolstein then hired Timo Liekoski as coach. Liekoski brought in several players from the North American Soccer League, and the Force had its first truly successful season. Still, Wolstein was not happy with attendance until a flash crowd of 19,106 jammed the Richfield Coliseum for a playoff game against the Chicago Sting. The team was an overnight success. That success continued through the remainder of the team's existence, as it qualified for the playoffs each year and averaged at least 11,000 fans per game each year until the team folded in 1988.
Big crowds were commonplace for the next few years as the Force displayed a fan-pleasing high-powered offense. Despite success on the field and at the turnstiles, Wolstein grew increasingly displeased with other MISL owners failing to put as much time, effort and money into their franchises as he did. With other clubs folding and Cleveland's attendance starting to tumble, he gave up the quest in the summer of 1988. It was one month after the club reached the championship round for the first time, being swept in four games by the San Diego Sockers. Another factor in the team's demise was the repeated frustrations in trying to get concessions from the MISL Players Association (MISLPA).
Cleveland Crunch: (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
The Cleveland Crunch was formed in 1989 as an expansion team in the Major Soccer League to replace the Cleveland Force, which had folded on July 22, 1988. Akron businessmen George S. Hoffman and Stuart Lichter formed an ownership group, named Al Miller general manager and former Force star Kai Haaskivi player-coach. Miller and Haaskivi brought back many players who had been fan favorites during the Force's height of popularity in the mid-1980s. The Crunch's home arena was the Richfield Coliseum.
Near the end of the Crunch's first season, Miller engineered a trade that would help Cleveland make the championship finals in seven of the next 10 years. He sent veteran forward Paul Wright to the San Diego Sockers forZoran Karic, a feisty forward who immediately hit it off with Cleveland star Hector Marinaro. Within weeks, they were dubbed the "Dynamic Duo" and together rewrote the scoring record books for the next decade.
When the original MISL ceased operation in the summer of 1992, the Crunch, Baltimore and Wichita joined the rival NPSL as "expansion teams". All were permitted to keep only six players, then fill the rest of their rosters in an expansion draft of players made available by other NPSL teams. The NPSL, in an effort to promote the sport in the United States, had a cap of two non-Americans allowed on a roster. Canadian-born Marinaro and Serbia native Karic filled that quota immediately. Besides Marinaro and Karic, holdovers from the MISL Crunch were midfielders Tommy Tanner and Andy Schmetzer, defender George Fernandez and young goalkeeper Otto Orf.
Orf had only a 14-32 record the previous three years with the club as backup to P.J. Johns. New Crunch coach Gary Hindley wanted Orf as his starter, citing the big keeper's strong throwing arm as an offensive weapon. He wanted Orf getting the ball to Marinaro and Karic with outlet passes at the team's new home, the CSU Convocation Center, where the playing surface was considerably smaller than at the Richfield Coliseum.
Orf became a 25-game winner, Marinaro and Karic shattered all scoring records, and Cleveland advanced to the league finals, where it lost to the Kansas City Attack, three games to two. A year later, the Crunch finally broke through to win Cleveland's first championship in any pro sport in 30 years. Marinaro scored the dramatic game-winner in double overtime as Cleveland overcame a 15-10 deficit to defeat the visiting St. Louis Ambush, 17-15, to take the series, three games to one.
Lichter faded from view when the MISL folded and Hoffman became even more active as owner during the Crunch's almost yearly run to the finals. Hoffman eventually sold his interest to a Cleveland group headed by Richard Dietrich. Soon after, the NPSLreorganized itself as the new Major Indoor Soccer League in 2001. The team took on the old Cleveland Force name in 2002.
One importatant legacy of the professional indoor game was the influx of great players into the Cleveland area,and many remained here even after the pro-teams stopped playing. Among them important Stars like Simon Look, Mike Sweeney, Zoran Karic, Hector Marinaro, Kai Haaskivi, Otto Orf, Denzil Antonio, Joe Pavlek, John Ball and many others joined the Youth Soccer Coaching Programs and even played some with LESL clubs. The Cleveland Germans, Croatians, and Hungarians won Indoor Soccer Tournaments because they managed to have these players join their teams.