Baltimore Comets

The Baltimore Comets were a professional soccer team who played in the North American Soccer League (NASL) for two seasons, 1974 and 1975. After the 1975 season the franchise was moved to San Diego to become the Jaws, it was then moved again in 1977 to become the Las Vegas Quicksilvers. In 1978 they moved back to San Diego to become the Sockers, who played until 1984, the final year of the NASL.

The Comets home field was the Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, which had a capacity of 47,855. The Comets share the stadium with the Baltimore Orioles baseball team, and the Baltimore Colts NFL franchise.

The Comets were awarded an NASL franchise in December 1973, and they paid their $75,000 expansion fee to the NASL. They were placed in the NASL’s Eastern Division, alongside the Miami Toros, Philadelphia Atoms, and the Washington Diplomats. The Diplomats were another expansion franchise that year.

The Comets were owner by Lou Foreaker and Jim McLaughlin, with Foreaker being named President and General Manager of the franchise.

Englishman Doug Millward was named as Head Coach of the franchise, a position he would hold for the 2-year existence of the team. He had also been in charge of Baltimore’s previous NASL franchise, the Baltimore Bays.

Millward built a team of mainly English imports, on loan and at the end of their careers and from the lower divisions of English professional soccer. Key members of the first roster were striker Peter Silvester, American goalkeeper Alan Mayer, Trinidadians midfielder Keith Aqui and Alvin Henderson, and Bermudan midfielder Stan Smith.

The Comets home debut was a 2-1 win over the Rochester Lancers, and they followed this up with a 3-2 win over the New York Cosmos in their first away game. Peter Silvester scored 2 goals in each game. During the season attendance was lagging and the front office was frequently described as being ‘in turmoil’. Lou Foreaker resigned as GM and President of the team on May 19th, 16 days into the season, after a difference of opinion with his co-owners over management of the team. Head coach Millward was named as interim manager and wanted the position full-time, as well as coaching. Al Collins, who was instrumental in bringing the NASL to Baltimore, was named as the new General Manager on July 12th. Millward was known to be unhappy that he didn’t get the position but vowed not to quit as Head Coach.

The Comets finished the 20 game regular season in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, just behind the Miami Toros. The Comets won 10, 2 tie-wins, and lost 8 games, scoring 42 goals and conceding 46. This record was good enough for them to reach the playoffs. In the playoff quarter-finals, the Comets were paired against the Boston Minutemen in a winner takes all game. The Comets lost 1-0 and were eliminated.
The franchises leading goal scorer and points scorer was Englishman Peter Silvester with 14 goals and 3 assists for 31 points. This placed him 2nd in the NASL scoring charts. Keith Aqui registered the most assists with 7. At the end on the season Peter Silvester and fellow Englishman Geoff Butler, defender, made the NASL All-Star team. Silvester was also named the NASL’s MVP for the 1974 season.

Despite a reasonable season the Comets average attendance at the 47,000 capacity Memorial Stadium was low, only 4,139. This was the 3rd worst average in the 15 team NASL. Their largest attendance was against the Toronto Metros, where they drew 6,480 fans.

Despite the poor attendance the ownership announced on July 16th (2 days after being knocked out of the playoffs) that the franchise would remain in Baltimore for the forthcoming 1975 season. Two cities had been vying to take on the franchise that had lost a reputed $300,000 in its first season.

For the 1975 season the Comets were again in the Eastern Division, with the same teams as the season before, plus the expansion Tampa Bay Rowdies franchise. The regular season was extended to 22 games.

The franchise remained largely the same, although Brit defender and American national defender Len Renery was signed from the New York Cosmos. During the college draft in January they picked Ernie Cox of Loyola College first. The team faced difficulties getting Peter Silvester back for his second season, first they had difficult negotiations with his English side Southend United, and then a further delay in getting his visa approved.

During the season the Comets were evicted from Memorial Stadium due to non-payment of rents after only 2 home games of the 1975 season, showing that the franchise was in financial difficulty. The team moved its home base on 28th May to Burdick Stadium, on the campus of Towson University, just outside of Baltimore. This made them Baltimore County’s first ever professional sports franchise. The stadium had a vastly smaller capacity of 11,000, which was more in line with the Comets meagre crowds.

English striker Alan Gilliver, a summer signing, was taken off the roster after injury and returned to the UK after only 5 games. Keith Aqui was named NASL player of the week after 5 goals in 3 wins. After 15 games of the regular season Doug Millward was fired as Head Coach, and was reluctantly replaced by GM Al Collins, who became Head Coach for the final 7 games of the season. He wanted to appoint the Comets goalkeeper and Director of Summer Camps, Lincoln Phillips, into the role but this would have jeopardized his position of Head Coach of Howard University’s soccer team. NCAA rules would not permit his appointment. This actually worked out well as the Comets won their first 3 games under Collins’ charge. It still came too late for them to make the playoffs.

After the 22 game regular season the Comets placed dead last in the Eastern Division. Their record was 9 wins and 13 losses, scoring 34 goals and conceding 52 (the highest in the NASL that season).

The Comets leading scorer in all areas was Keith Aqui, who scored 10, made 3 assists, and finished with 21 points.

The Comets average attendance fell even lower than its debut season, down to a miniscule 2,641, the lowest in the league that season.

After the 1975 season the franchise was purchased by Ken Keegan, part-owner of the San Jose Earthquakes, and moved to San Diego to become the Jaws, ending Baltimore professional soccer interest until the indoor Baltimore Blast would begin play in the MISL in 1980. Deegan was an auto dealer from San Jose. 7 players from the Comets roster went with the franchise to San Diego including star forward Peter Silvester, defender Len Renery, midfielder Keith Aqui, and goalkeeper Alan Mayer.

The Comets all-time record was 42 regular season games, with 19 wins, 2 tie-wins, and 21 losses. They scored 76 goals and conceded 98. They played 1 game in the NASL playoffs, losing 1-0.Their all-time top goal scorer was Peter Silvester with 19, and leading appearance maker was English defender Geoff Butler with 40.

The franchises average attendance over its 2-year history was 3,390.

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