The Arizona Sandsharks were an indoor soccer team based in Phoenix, Arizona. They were founded on August 3rd 1992, and were founder members of the Continental Indoor Soccer League (CISL). They played in the league between 1993 and the leagues collapse in 1997, although they spent the 1996 season on hiatus.
The CISL was an indoor soccer league, which operated from April through to September, with the playoffs taking place at the start of October. It was created largely by owners of Hockey and Basketball arenas, as well as the ownership of the San Diego Sockers and Dallas Sidekicks, the only surviving members of the now defunct Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) that had collapsed in 1992. They created the league as a way of keeping indoor soccer going during the summer (traditionally it had been an autumn to Spring season), as well as keeping arenas busy during the slow summer months.
The Sandsharks were owned by Jerry Colangelo. He was a sports mogul who also owned at various points, the Phoenix Suns (basketball), Phoenix Mercury (women’s basketball), Arizona Rattlers (Indoor American football), Arizona Diamondbacks (baseball), and the Phoenix Coyotes (ice hockey).
He also owned the America West Arena, the 15,505 capacity venue in Phoenix where the Sandsharks played, along with Colangelo’s other sports franchises. The arena was new, having only been finished in 1992.
The inaugural season of the CISL was a one division league. Alongside the Sandsharks were the Dallas Sidekicks, Los Angeles United, Monterrey LaRaza, Portland Pride, Sacramento Knights, and the San Diego Sockers. Monterrey were the first ever Mexico based professional soccer franchise. 3 further franchises were scheduled to play, but they delayed for a season due to organization problems.
Peter Duh was named as head coach.
Under the league’s salary rules, a player could not expect more than $3,000 a month. Each team also had a salary cap of $150,000 for the season, with a 16 player roster. 6 players would earn $3,000, and the rest $2,000 a month for the 4 month season. Players signed to reserve contracts could expect to earn $500 a month. Each team was also required to pay a $200,000 fee to the league at the start of each season.
Under CISL rules any player drafted was tied to that team for 2 years, unless traded or sold to another team. The player has the right to decline to play, but cannot sign with any other team. The Sandsharks had wanted to draft Wes Wade, a player from Phoenix, and making him as the main draw of the team. However he was drafted first by the San Diego Sockers and protected. Wade himself wanted to play in for the Sandsharks, but under league rules found he couldn’t. On their 2nd and 3rd draft picks, the Sandsharks chose Alex Golovnia and Thompson Usiyan, two ex-Sockers players who lived in San Diego as leverage for a trade as the Sockers wanted these 2 players for their own roster. After a dispute between the teams, Wade was traded to the Sandsharks for Golovnia, Thompson Usiyan, and Nassim Olabi.
The 1993 roster featured a fair few standouts. On the roster was striker, and Phoenix native, Mark Kerlin, Englishmen Paul Kitson and Franklin McIntosh, and goalkeeper Warren Westcoat. Also American defender Bill Becher, and Ghanaian forward Paul Agyeman.
The first game for the Sandsharks was at home against the Los Angeles United on June 17th 1993. This was also the first ever CISL game. The Sandsharks won the game 6-4.
The game against the San Diego Sockers was marked by the debut of on-field referee Rosalie Kramm, the first female referee in US soccer history.
The Sandsharks finished the season placed 6 out of 7 franchises, missing out on the playoffs. In the 28 game season their record stood at 6 wins, 22 losses, 201 goals scored, and 243 conceded. At one stage they went on a 12 game losing streak.
Englishman Franklin McIntosh was the leading goal scorer for the franchise with 35 goals. Wes Wade was the leading assist maker and point’s scorer with 25 and 64 respectively.
The Sandsharks average attendance was a respectable 5,316.
In 1994 7 new franchises were added to the CISL, and the league was split into Eastern and Western Divisions. The Sandsharks were placed in the Western, facing the Anaheim Splash, San Diego Sockers, Las Vegas DustDevils, Sacramento Knights, Portland Pride, and the San Jose Grizzlies.
In an attempt to prevent NPSL players performing in the rival league, NPSL commissioner Steve Paxos implemented a $4,000 “processing fee” for players who switched leagues to the CISL for the summer season. This led to players bringing a lawsuit against the league claiming restraint of trade, forcing the NPSL to back down.
The 1994 roster, again under Head Coach Peter Duh, saw a few changes. In came English defender Terry Woodberry, as well as Americans Rick Soderman and Lee Tschantret. They kept hold of leading scorer Franklin McIntosh, Bill Becher, and Paul Agyeman.
The Sandsharks placed dead last of their 7 team division, again missing the playoffs. In their 28 games they won 11 and lost 17, scoring 200 and conceding 214.
Head coach Peter Duah resigned on September 8th, and was reassigned as a special consultant.
For 1995 the CISL was re-organized again, this time into 3 divisions, Eastern, Western and Southern. The Sandsharks were placed in the 5 team Southern Division, pitted against the Anaheim Splash, Houston Hotshots, Mexico Toros, and the San Diego Sockers.
After Peter Duh resigned, they turned to the English coach and American soccer veteran, Ron Newman. Prior to taking over the Sandsharks he had won titles outdoors with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the NASL, and indoors with the San Diego Sockers in the MSL. He was the winning coach who was going to transform the lacklustre Sandsharks. He left the more successful Sockers as he wanted a new challenge, and also he wanted to work with a settled owner, and on a financially stable team. Luis Dabo was named as his assistant.
The 1995 roster saw the arrival of Peruvian forward Mirko Castillo, and the loss of Franklin McIntosh. A few weeks into the season however, when they acquired CISL star forward Dale Ervine in a trade with the Anaheim Splash. The deal saw Paul Agyeman move in the opposite direction. Ervine had fallen out with his coach, George Fernandez in Anaheim.
Some games in the Sandsharks 1995 season were televised live by Tucson’s KHRR Channel 40.
During the season in a match against the Portland Pride a brawl broke out between the teams. Dave MacIntosh of the Sandsharks continued to fight into the car park. When owner Jerry Colangelo attempted to intervene, MacIntosh hit him breaking his nose. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as Colangelo had suffered financial losses running a consistently underperforming team. After the season Colangelo put the franchise up for sale.
The Sandsharks 7-6 overtime victory over the Sacramento Knights also marked Newman’s 700th career victory as a coach, making him the most successful coach in American soccer history.
The hiring of Newman didn’t improve their records on the pitch as they placed 4th in the division, again missing out on the playoffs. In the 28 game season they won 11 and lost 17. Yugolav forward Bojan Vuckovic finished second to the San Diego Sockers’ Mark Chung in the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award.
The Sandsharks were purchased from Colangelo by Kerry Dunne & Brian Weymouth. The Purchase was only completed days before the 1996 season was due to begin. With not enough time to construct a front office or team, they opted to go on hiatus for the 1996 CISL season and return in 1997.
The Sandsharks returned to CISL action in 1997, in what would turn out to be the last season for both the franchise and the league itself. The CISL was now a 2 division league again, split between an Eastern and Western Division. Arizona were in the Western, facing the Anaheim Splash, Portland Pride, Sacramento Knights, and the Seattle SeaDogs.
The new head coach was Luis Dabo, who had been assistant coach under Ron Newman’s reign.
After a year on hiatus the 1997 roster featured returning striker Mark Kerlin, who’d last played for the franchise in 1993. Also returning were Terry Woodberry and Rick Soderman.
They placed dead last again in the division, winning 8 and losing 20 of their 28 games. They scored 135 goals and conceded 189. Mark Kerlin was the leading goal scorer with 31.
After the season the CISL folded. Arizona and the Portland Pride founded the Premier Soccer Alliance in the summer of 1998. The CISL however claimed the rights to the nicknames and logos of all the CISL franchises (except the Dallas Sidekicks), so the franchise had to be renamed the Arizona Thunder. The CISL’s Dallas Sidekicks and Sacramento Knights also joined the league.
The Sandsharks never had a winning record in the CISL, and they never made the playoffs. In total they played 112 games, winning only 36 and losing 76.