Anaheim Splash

The Anaheim Splash was an indoor soccer team based in Anaheim, Los Angeles. They were founded as the Los Angeles United, and competed in the 1993 Continental Indoor Soccer League (CISL) season, before being bought and relocated to Anaheim and renamed. They competed in 4 summer CISL seasons, from 1994 through to 1997 when the team and the league folded.

They were bought by Ogden Facility Management in 1994, the company that operated the Arrowhead Pond, and they owned the franchise for 2 years until it was sold to Bill Williams in 1996. 2 months later he sold it again to The Anaheim Splash Inc just before the start of the 1996 season.

The team played its home games at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, which had a capacity of 17,163 and was shared with the Anaheim Ducks (NHL), Los Angeles Clippers (NBA), Anaheim Bullfrogs (Roller Hockey), Anaheim Piranhas (Arena Football), and the Anaheim Storm (Lacrosse).

The team began life as Los Angeles United in the inaugural 1993 CISL season, and were owned by Jerry Buss, the ex-owner of the MISL’s Los Angeles Lazers franchise. He also owned the Los Angeles Lakers. He sold the franchise to Ogden Facility Management in 1994 and the team was relocated to Anaheim and became the Splash. Ogden are a New York based operation, and the running of the team was left to The Ponds general manager Ryan Mayne, and its governer’s (Brad Payne & Tom Orchard). At the start of each season every club in the CISL had to post a $200,000 letter of credit with the CISL.

For their first season they were placed in the Western Division, lining up against the San Diego Sockers, Las Vegas DustDevils, Sacramento Knights, Portland Pride, San Jose Grizzlies and the Arizona Sandsharks.

Their first coach was George Fernandez, appointed on 4th May 1994. As he was a player in the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) with the Cleveland Crunch, and the NPSL prohibited their players or coaches playing in the rival CISL the Crunch had to release him from his contract. Also as the CISL prohibited player-coaches he couldn’t play and had to remain on the sidelines.

Their squad included a number of holdovers from the franchises previous Los Angeles United incarnation. These players included stars defender Ralph Black, midfielders Dale Ervine and Doug Neely, and forwards Rod Castro & Raffaele Ruotolo. Also on their roster was the actor Andrew Shue (brother of the more famous Elisabeth), who was starring in the hit soap opera ‘Melrose Place’. Shue signed up as a ‘protected amateur’ (whatever that means) and featured in 2 games.

Their CISL debut was on the 10th June 1994, and was a 7-4 win against the Las Vegas DustDevils, watched by 4,721 fans.

Splash games were covered on radio by Korg (1190). Joe Tutino was the main announcer, having turned down the chance to perform the same role with the Las Vegas DustDevils.

After their 28 games regular season they won the CISL’s Western Division with a record of 20 wins and 8 losses. They scored 227 goals and conceding 172. In the playoffs they defeated the Sacramento Knights in the quarter finals, before losing to the eventual champions the Las Vegas DustDevils in the semis.

George Fernandez was named coach of the year, and Ralph Black named ‘Defender of the Year’, as well as making the CISL All-star team. Defender Paul McDonnell was named on the CISL Rookie All-star team. Dale Ervine was the franchises top scorer with 39 goals, and he finished equal top on assists with Raffaele Ruotolo (37).

In a re-organization for the 1995 CISL the Splash were placed in a new Southern Division, alongside the Mexico Toros, San Diego Sockers, Arizona Sandsharks, and the Houston Hotshots. George Fernandez again coached the team. The Splash ownership stated that anything less than the championship in 1995 would be considered a failure.

They lost All-star defender Ralph Black, but kept hold of Ervine, Neely and Castro. They also added defender Sean Bowers (Sacramento Knights in a trade for forward Paul Wright ), forward Bernie Lilavois (San Jose Grizzlies for draft choices), and goalkeeper Ruben Fernandez.

The opening game of the 1995 season was away at the San Diego Sockers on the 24th June 1995 winning 8-5, with its home opener against the Portland Pride the next night. Sean Bowers missed the first 4 games of the season, due to his honeymoon. In the second game of the season Raffaele Ruotolo set an indoor record of registering an assist in 29 consecutive games lasting over the 1994 to 1995 seasons.

The season was characterised by a falling out between the coach George Fernandez, and the franchise’s star player, Dale Ervine. By the start of August the Splash were hawking him to other CISL teams, even though he was their top scorer at that point with 16 goals in 9 games . Ervine lashed out at Fernandez, accusing him of being a poor communicator, who let his ego and jealousy get in the way of rational thinking. He was traded mid-season to the Arizona Sandsharks for Paul Agyeman.

For the 2nd season running they topped their division after the 28 game regular season. They finished with 17 wins and 11 losses. They defeated the San Diego Sockers in the quarter finals, before falling for the second year running in the semis, this time to the Sacramento Knights.

Ruben Fernandez was the top ranked goalkeeper, but missed out on ‘Goalkeeper of the Year’ to Mike Dowler of the Sacramento Knights. Defender Sean Bowers made the CISL All-Star team.

The Splash had just before the season kicked off sold 1,437 season tickets. General Manager Tim Ryan put this down to the high scoring action of indoor football, with games averaging 14 goals. This season saw the Splash break their attendance records a few times over. Their match against the Mexico Toros provided their record crowd up to this point, 10,934. Some games were also televised this year on Prime Ticket, although not live broadcasts.

In January 1996, Ogden announced that they were relinquishing their controlling interest in the franchise, though still remain minority partners. The losses were not substantial, but the head office wanted the management to concentrate on running the Pond, rather than the Splash. If no partners could be found they would close the team down. The league offered the team $100,000 assistance, but this was turned down by the Splash as it was too late to approach the head office with the offer. During the 1995 season the Splash had lost approximately $200,000. The Splash were nearly saved by Bob Bell, the ex-owner of the San Diego Sockers in the NASL and MISL. However, a deal could not be struck and the ownership rights were transferred to the league.

Scottsdale, Arizona-based businessman Bill Williams bought a controlling interest in the team. He also brokered a deal to keep the Arrowhead Pond as the team’s venue, and agreed to keep the Splash in Anaheim for 10 years, and not move it to a new location. Williams had previously been a minority owner of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.
Williams only owned the club for 2 months however, he sold up to a 20-strong group of investors headed by Gary Sparks just before the season started. The group registered its name as the Anaheim Splash Inc. Sparks was president of the Coast Soccer League, a youth league with over 700 teams.

The new ownership group decided to dispense with George Fernandez as coach, with him going back to the NPSL as coach of the Cincinnati Silverbacks. The Splash hired the Scotland-born Ian Fulton as the new head coach. He had spent the previous 2 years as assistant at the Las Vegas DustDevils.

Don Ebert was named as the franchise’s General Manager. He had previously played indoors with the St. Louis Steamers and the Los Angeles Lazers. He had combined this with a role as Director of Marketing & Operations at Forum Boxing Inc. He had also done colour commentary on CISL games during the 1995 season.

With his nemesis Fernandez leaving, Dale Ervine was brought back from the Arizona Sandsharks, who were on hiatus for the 1996. They lost a number of players in the 1996 inaugural MLS draft. All-star defender Sean Bowers went to the Kansas City Wizards, defender Denis Hamlett went to the Colorado Rapids.

Following a number of teams withdrawing from the CISL the divisions were reorganized again, with the Spash back in a Western Division, lining up against the San Diego Sockers, Sacramento Knights, Portland Pride, and the Seattle SeaDogs.

The Splash’s first fixture of the 1996 season took place on the 14th June 1996 at home against the Dallas Sidekicks.

Fulton had numerous problems with Raffaele Ruotolo throughout the season. Before the teams game with the Houston Hotshots, Ruotolo refused to play and take part in 3 player shifts, wanting more time playing. Fulton stated that the “inmates should not be allowed to run the prison”. For the next training Ruotolo came in dressed like a criminal. The club suspended him for a couple of weeks before bringing him back. After another complaint about lack of playing time Ruotolo walked out on the club saying he wouldn’t play whilst Fulton and General Manager Don Ebert were involved with the club got suspended again, and he never featured for the team again.
He also had problems with another star player, Armando Valdivia. Valdivia had been injured in a car crash that kept him out of the first 4 games. Concerned that he was earning $2,500 a month Fulton decided to waive him, much to the shock of his team-mates.

They finished the 28 game season in 2nd place, winning 15 games and losing 13. They scored 180 goals and conceded 169. They again qualified for the playoffs, but failed at the first hurdle, losing to the Dallas Sidekicks in the quarter finals. Dale Ervine was the top scorer with 45 goals, and Danny Barber led the team in assists with 30.

In 1997, the final year of the Anaheim Splash, and the CISL the Splash had another new coach. Dale Ervine who had played with the franchise since 1993 was named as the league’s first-ever player-coach (The CISL had softened their stance on player-coaches). The previous incumbent Ian Fulton had moved on to the Portland Pride.

New players included English defender Terry Rowe (Indianapolis Twisters in trade for Paul McDonnell), midfielder Kevin Sloan, and defender Thor Lee. Lee came in the dispersal draft from the defunct San Diego Sockers.

They remained in the western Division, with the returning Arizona Sandsharks franchise replacing the San Diego Sockers, who had been folded.

The 1997 campaign kicked off with a home game against the Portland Pride on the 20th June 1997.

Ervine, who had had a fractious relationship under previous coach George Fernandez, had his own fall out with players. After Paul Agyeman had been sent off for kicking Monterrey player’s Marco Coria’s groin failed to defend his player. This lead to one player speaking anonymously saying that he whilst he was extolling the virtues of being a team and all in it together, he was alienating one member of the team. His fiery nature was also shown after the last regular game of the season at the Sacramento Knights. Ervine went face-to-face with the Knight’s coach Keith Weller. Goalkeeper Ruben Fernandez also had to be restrained.

They finished the 28 game season in 2nd place behind the Seattle SeaDogs, winning 16 games and losing 12. This got them into the playoffs. They scored 165 goals and conceded 134. Bernie Lilavois was the team’s leading goal scorer with 44, and he also topped the assists with 18.

A week before the playoffs on September 30th, the league voted unanimously to seize the Splash, removing the Anaheim Splash Inc as owners. The league cited a “failure to meet financial obligations” as the reason and terminated the franchise rights. The CISL said that Gary Sparks had missed paying several quarterly assessment fees to the league. The fees, which totalled $200,000, go into a pool to fund player salaries, worker compensation, disability, TV production fees and league operating costs. This however would not stop them competing in the playoffs that began in October.

The players were considering boycotting the playoffs due to non-payment of wages and this was the only leverage that they had. However, they met with then ex-owner Gary Sparks prior to the playoffs. He gave his version of events regarding the situation with the league, and said he would do his best to make sure the players got paid what was owed to them. The players decided to play on.

However, scheduling conflicts with the Arrowhead Pond (owned by Ogden Facility Management, ex-owners of the Splash) meant that both of their playoff games had to take place in Sacramento. They were defeated by the Sacramento Knights in the first round of the playoffs. This turned out to be the last game the Splash ever played.
On December 5th, Ogden Facility Management were looking to re-purchase the franchise from the league with potential partners.

The CISL folded on December 23rd 2007. The Splash had been seized and 3 franchises (Dallas Sidekicks, Houston Hotshots & Portland Pride) withdrew. The CISL advised that they would still seek the $200,00 of delinquent fees from the ownership of the Splash.

Their overall record was 112 games played, winning 68 and losing 44.

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