The Los Angeles Lazers were a professional indoor soccer team who played in the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) between 1982 and 1989. They played their home games at the 15,893 capacity Forum in Inglewood, a city in south western Los Angeles County.
The Lazers franchise was awarded on the 26th June 1982 by MISL commissioner Earl Foreman, having previously operated as the Philadelphia Fever for the MISL 1981-82 season. The franchise was sold to real estate magnate Jerry Buss who moved it to Los Angeles where his sports empire was based. Buss owned 90% of the franchise, with another 10% belonging to Gene De Piano, President of the Rancho Bank of San Dimas. Buss had started in sports as one of the owners in the World Team Tennis League before buying the Los Angeles Lakers NBA franchise and the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL. He also owned the Forum where all of his sports franchises played. The Lazers were the MISL’s 13th franchise, and if the ownership had paid more attention to superstition may have gained an inkling into the future performance of the franchise.
Buss named his 25 year old son John as the Lazers President. His Vice President was named as Bill Sharman, who was the President of the Lakers. The former Assistant General Manager of the Kings, Parker McDonald, was named as General Manager.
For the Lazers inaugural 1982-83 season, Englishman Peter Wall was named as head coach. Wall was new to indoor soccer, but had played over 250 league games in England, as well as featuring for the St. Louis Stars & California Surf in the NASL. Whilst plating for the Surf he also handled the Head Coach role for the last 3 seasons of the franchise’s existence.
The team’s roster for its first season had a familiar look to it for fans of the NASL. English defender Clive Charles signed, along with American international Poli Garcia. Other standouts would be future American international defender Cle Kooiman, Bermudan international forward Clyde Best, English midfielder Don Tobin, and Greek defender Gus Mokalis. The goalkeeping position would be shared between Americans Gary Allison and Kirk Shermer.
The Lazers were placed in the MISL’s Western Division, lining up against the Wichita Wings, Kansas City Comets, St. Louis Steamers, Phoenix Inferno, and 2 teams from the outdoor NASL, the Golden Bay Earthquakes and the San Diego Sockers.
The Lazers debuted on November 5th, with a home match against the Phoenix Inferno, which ended in defeat. In fact the Lazers didn’t start the season well, losing their first 9 games straight. Even motivational pre-game talks by Jerry Buss seemed to have little effect. They slightly changed the roster after the 9th game, with Argentine forward Eduardo Marasco (9 games 5 goals) leaving and English defender Lee Cornwell coming in. They didn’t register their win until they beat the Memphis Americans in December; nearly a month after the season had started. For their next game out they reverted to type, blowing a 4-1 lead to lose 9-7 to the Wichita Wings.
The fans veered from being supportive of the team, to booing them after performances. By the 21st game the team had a record of 3 wins and 18 losses. The team also had problems with injuries, sometimes only naming 14 players for the game, instead of the 16 allowed. Wall told the press that he was unsure what the Lazers had to do to win a game, and how many chances they needed to score. He suggested that the team “should start going to church”.
On January 19th, General Manager Parker MacDonald quit, with President John Buss assuming his role on a temporary basis.
The Lazers first season was not a successful one, finishing dead last of the Western Division with the worst record of any team in the MISL. OF the 48 game season, the Lazers won only 8 games and losing the other 40.They scored the fewest goals of any team (191) and had the second worst record for goals conceded (286). The teams leading goal scorer was Poli Garcia with 41, whilst Don Tobin lead the way with 29 assists. Garcia was the leading points scorer overall with 65.The only bright spot was that goalkeeper Kirk Shermer was unanimously named the MISL ‘Rookie of the Year’ by the Professional Soccer Reporters Association. The average attendance was a measly 3,963, far short of the 7-8,000 needed for the team to break even. The Lazers were also branded as “failures” by Basketball superstar Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, who was in a contractual dispute over money with Jerry Buss.
Despite the poor debut season, Wall was appointed a new 2 year contract as Head Coach in the close season.
For the 1983-84 season the team operated a slightly smaller roster for the second season, with quite a few changes. The key players from the previous season (Best, Kooiman, Tobin, Garcia & Shermer) were retained, but with some new additions. In came Brazilians Beto & Batata, Englishmen Stuart Lee & Mark Lindsay. Other players coming back for a second season were English defenders Lee Cornwell and Alan Kelley, Colombian striker Willie Molano, and Greek defender Gus Mokalis. Despite winning the ‘Rookie of the Year’ award the previous season, goalkeeper Kirk Shermer was reduced to the bench, behind new English goalie Mike Mahoney.
Just after the start of the season the Brazilian Batata signed a 3 year contract. The 28 year old midfielder’s transfer fee from Mexican side Club America was reputedly $250,000, and he was also named as Assistant Coach. His reputation was greatly enhanced by the fact that he had played alongside Pele for Santos in Brazil. He debuted with 3 goals in an 8-3 victory over the New York Arrows. In February Batata and forward Poli Garcia were both named to the MISL Western Division’s All Star team.
The team was again placed in a slightly smaller Western Division, this year lining up against the Wichita Wings, St. Louis Steamers, Tacoma Stars, Kansas City Comets, and the Phoenix Pride for a playoff position.
The Lazers opening game of the season was a 6-2 win away at the newly formed Tacoma Stars in front of 12,284 fans, more than the Lazers would ever play in front of at the Forum .Their first home game came against the Kansas City Comets.
The team’s record was much improved on their debut season, finishing 3rd in the division after the 48 game regular season, thus qualifying for the playoffs for the first time. The regular season ended with an even 24 wins and losses, scoring 223 goals and conceding 239. The Lazers fell in the first round of the playoffs however, losing in a best of 5 series against the Wichita Wings. Poli Garcia again led the way on the field, scoring a team-high 39 goals and making 33 assists for a total points score of 72. The Brazilian duo of Beto and Batata also had strong debut seasons. This meant he rated as the 7th best points scorer in the MISL. Attendance rose slightly, but was still a disappointing 4,405 average. Peter Wall was rewarded for the Lazers better performance, by being named runner up as ‘Coach of the Year’.
The 1984-85 season saw the Lazers start with a few new additions to the roster. Gone were Don Tobin, Clyde Best, Kirk Shermer, and Mark Lindsay. Newcomers were the Yugoslav striker Zoran Savic, South African defender Nathan Sacks, and the Canadian defender Greg Ion. Wall was again Head Coach, as the team had made a steady improvement on the field over the 2 previous seasons. Ron Weinstein was named as Vice President for the Lazers. Gary Hindley was named as Assistant Coach of the team.
The team started their 3rd season in the Western Division, but with again a slight re-jigging of the teams. Familiar foes were the Tacoma Stars, Wichita Wings, Kansas City Comets, with the San Diego Sockers. Completing the line up were 2 new franchises, the Dallas Sidekicks, and the Las Vegas Americans (previously the Memphis Americans). Overall the MISL was stronger than previous seasons. The collapse of the NASL had led to a lot of experienced players seeking contracts, as well as 4 teams quitting outdoor soccer to play indoors. It also ended the bidding war for talent that had erupted between the leagues, and cemented the MISL as THE professional soccer league in America.
The Lazers again finished 3rd in their division, with an exact replica of the previous year’s form, 24 wins and 24 losses. Even their goals scored and conceded were nearly the same, scoring 232 and conceding 230. They qualified for the Quarter Finals of the playoffs where they were whitewashed 3-0 by the Baltimore Blast, going down 4-3, 12-3, and 5-4, thus ending their MISL title chances for another season. The teams leading goalscorer this year was the Englishman Stuart Lee with 42 goals, whilst Poli Garcia again held the assist crown with 31. Lee ended up as overall leading points scorer with 57, 2 clear of Colombian forward Willie Molano. Peter Wall was however named as MISL ‘Coach of the Year’, which seems a little surprising considering the teams rather average performance. The crowds had again picked up, with an average of 5,062 attending the Lazers home games. This was still disappointing as the Forum held over 3 times that amount.
The Lazers returned for the 1985-86 season with Wall still at the helm. The roster had changed little apart from the departure of last season’s top scorer Stuart Lee, and the Yugoslav Zoran Savic. Newcomers were English midfielder David Madden, one-time US prodigy Darryl Gee in midfield, and the German midfielder Kai Steffen. The goalkeeping line-up was unchanged with Englishman Mike Mahoney as number one, and American Tim Harris as back-up.
Bill MacDonald was named as the Lazers Play-by-Play announcer in the close season.
The Western Division had lost the Sidekicks to the Eastern Division, with the St. Louis Steamers moving the opposite way, and the one season Las Vegas Americans who had folded.
Midway through the season with the Lazers not performing well, President Jim Buss stated that the entire roster were playing for their Lazers careers, and only 8-10 players had a chance for a new contract.
This seemed to have an effect on the team, as during an away fixture against the St. Louis Steamers, Peter Wall was ejected in the 4th quarter for throwing water at the referees. He went to the Lazers locker room, but returned later in the quarter to shout instructions from the stand behind the goal. Also, Lazers Brazilian players Batata and Val Fernandez were ejected for lying down on the field play, joining Willie Molano and Cle Kooiman in the sin bin. This game saw the Lazers set the MISL record with 12 penalties, totalling 30 minutes. Due to this St. Louis set the record for most power play goals in MISL history (Power play goals are when the scoring team has an advantage in terms of number of players on the field due to penalties). By the final 3 minutes of the game the Lazers had only 3 players on the pitch. MISL commissioner Francis Dale said the league would be investigating the Lazers conduct and issuing fines if required.
The season also saw tempers fray between the San Diego Sockers and the Lazers. During a game on February 11th, with the Sockers leading 7-4, Sockers coach Ron Newman withdrew his goalkeeper for a 6th attacker with only 3 seconds left to play. This incensed Peter Wall after the game, who said it was “uncalled for”. Newman had been accused of running up scores against beaten teams, which was kind of against an unwritten law between coaches in the MISL. Newman said he was purely using the time to experiment with his line up. When the 3 seconds of play resumed Lazers defender Greg Willen kicked the Sockers forward Ade Coker, which Newman stated was “one of the worst things i’ve seen in soccer”. When the final hooter went, Wall approached Newman and jabbed his fingers in Newman’s eyes resulting in a brawl between the 2 teams. At the All-Star game a week later Newman attempted to shake hands and apologize, but was snubbed by Wall. Before the teams next encounter in April, Wall stated that the game would be “a blood bath”. In fact the game passed off peacefully and Newman and Wall shook hands at the end of the game, making their peace.
The 48 game season was not a successful one for the Lazers. They finished the 48 game season with a record of only 13 wins and 35 losses, meaning they were dead last of the Western Division. They scored only 197 goals (2nd worst by one goal), and conceded a season high 270 goals.
Poli Garcia was the team’s highest goal scorer with 36, whilst the Brazilian Batata registered most assists with 39. Garcia was the team’s leading point scorer with 57. The average attendance fell back to 4,470, far short of the MISL’s 8,696 average for the season.
The team decided to retain Peter Wall as Head Coach for the 1986-87 season, but the feeling was that the team would soon have to start performing better for him to keep the job. The team’s Assistant Coach Gary Hindley left to become Assistant at the Chicago Sting, and was replaced by the Lazers recently retired goalkeeper Mike Mahoney.
The 1986-87 season would see the team have a lot less settled roster, with 33 players having game-time with the Lazers. Mike Mahoney’s, place on the roster was filled by the American David Brcic, with Tim Harris as back up. Also one of the teams key players, the Brazilian Batata, was traded to the Chicago Sting for future considerations and $5,000. English striker Stuart Lee returned after a season’s absence, and the Lazers also signed American defenders Paul Kitson and Jim Gabarra.
For the first time the Western Division did not lose or gain and teams, so the opposition would be familiar, however the regular season had been expanded to 52 games instead of 48. Another bonus was ESPN covering more MISL games than ever, with 18 matches available this season. A concern for the league was the improving performance of a rival nationwide indoor soccer league, the AISA (American Indoor Soccer Association). It looked as if a new bidding war for players was going to erupt between the 2 leagues.
1986 Los Angeles Lazers TV advert.
In January, with the team underperforming, Peter Wall was dismissed. According to the Lazers president Jim Buss, the sacking of Wall was the first step in a new direction for the team. Buss stated he would “do whatever it takes to improve this team and make it a winner”. Buss also stated that Wall was a terrific person and a good friend, who had been an excellent spokesperson for the Lazers and soccer as a whole in Los Angeles. Goalkeeper Mike Mahoney was named as interim Head Coach. Under Wall’s charge the Lazers had a record of 75 wins and 134 losses. A fair few coaches expressed interest in taking the position, including Don Popovic and John Kowalski. In the end Wall’s replacement was named as the American coach Keith Tozer, who stated that he was surprised to be given the role as he felt the other candidates were far more experienced. Tozer was brought over from the Louisville Thunder of the rival AISA. He had acted as player-coach of the Thunder, but would take up a strictly coaching role with the Lazers.
Tozer’s first 7 games yielded only one win, but the team had undergone wholesale changes, with Tozer promising even more as he seeked to reduce the average age of the roster. In came English defender Chris Whyte and American midfielder Michel Collins from the fading New York Express. Also incoming were Nigerian forward Thompson Usiyan (Minnesota Strikers), Chris Chueden (trade with Cleveland Force for Paul Kitson), and Don Ebert and Steve Pecher from the St. Louis Steamers (traded for Poli Garcia and Jim Kavanaugh). Usiyan was traded for Canadian defender Greg Ion and a 3rd round draft choice.
The season was again a disaster for the Lazers, for the 2nd season running finishing dead last of the Western Division. Their 52 game season yielded only 16 wins, and 36 losses, scoring 183 goals and conceding 254. The teams leading goal scorer was Stuart Lee with only 31 goals, whilst Canadian defender Greg Ion registered most assists with a paltry 18. Lazers’ mainstay Poli Garcia only featured in 20 games, scoring 9 and making 5 assists. The overall leading points scorer was Stuart Lee with 41, which was pretty abysmal. The average attendance was largely unchanged, standing at 4,647. The Lazers poor performance was becoming a source of concern for the league. They were the largest market area, but still underperforming on the field and in the stands.
There were wholesale changes to the Lazers roster for the 1987-88 season after the poor form of the past 2 seasons. The only notable players to avoid the purge were defenders Jim Gabarra and Chris Whyte, striker Thompson Usiyan, goalkeeper David Brcic, and midfielder Michael Collins. Out went Stuart Lee, the long serving Cle Kooiman and Lee Cornwell, Brazilian defender Beto and Colombian striker Willie Molano. Gus Mokalis left for San Diego in a trade for 3 draft picks. In their place came strikers Chico Borja and NASL legend Paul Child, American midfielder Mark Frederickson and defender Mike Windischmann.
The MISL Western Division was unchanged for a second successive season, so the Lazers had a mountain to climb considering the dismal performance of the team in their last 2 campaigns. The regular season was again expanded, this time to 56 games. A bright point for the decade old MISL was the 2 year TV deal signed with the FNN/SCORE network. The deal included a Friday “Game of the Week”, a weekly highlight show, the playoffs and championship game, as well as the end of season all-star game. Each team’s salary cap was set at $1,275,000.
The season began with controversy when new striker Chico Borja was arrested for allegedly punching a 13 year old Tacoma Stars fan in the mouth following a game in Tacoma. Borja could have been imprisoned but the charges were later dropped.
Nearing the end of the season the bidding war with the AISA for talent had really heated up, as was begin to take a toll on some of the more precariously financed franchises. The league asked the MISL Player’s Association (MISLPA) to accept a plan to reduce the player’s salary compensation cap. After negotiations an agreement was reached for a 2 years stabilization deal.
The Lazers had a complete turnaround this year, recorded the franchises best ever stats. They finished the season in their highest place (2nd), with their best record (31 wins and 25 losses) and in the process scoring 291 goals and conceding 266. Disappointingly however they again fell at the first hurdle in the playoffs, being whitewashed by the Kansas City Comets 9-6, 4-2, 7-5. The teams leading goal scorer was the Nigerian Thompson Usiyan with 52, narrowly topping Chico Borja’s 47 goal return. Borja however made the most assists with 52, and finished as overall leading points scorer with 98, placing him 4th overall in the MISL scoring chart (Usiyan came in 7th). Attendances were a franchise high average of 5,879 per game.
During the close season the MISL and the MISLPA again met to discuss the financial ill-health of a number of the league and franchises like the Lazers. An agreement for a 4-year collective bargaining agreement was made with the players, which imposed a salary cap of $850,000 per team for the forthcoming season. Jim Buss had originally stated that he was going to close the team rather than play in a league with less than 8 teams, but after the talks decided to keep the team operational. They paid their $400,000 letter of credit to the MISL for the forthcoming season.
After his good debut performance, Keith Tozer was retained to coach the team for the 1988-89 season.
The roster again had a major overhaul, with only Jim Gabarra, Cha Cha Namdar, Michael Collins, and Mark Frederickson being retained. Top scorers Usiyan and Borja left the team, and were replaced by the Englishmen Gary Heale and Steve Kinsey. They also signed Canadian indoor goal machine Hector Marinaro, defender Fernando Clavijo, and American midfielder Daryl Doran. The goalkeeping duties would be shared between Jim Gorsek, A.J. Lachowecki, and Kris Peat.
The MISL had lost 5 franchises in the close season due to financial ill-health, so the 2 divisions were merged to form one national league of only 7 teams. The Lazers were lining up for a 48 game regular season against the San Diego Sockers, Tacoma Stars, Wichita Wings, Dallas Sidekicks, Baltimore Blast, and the Kansas City Comets.
The Lazers finished their last season in 6th position, and missed out on the playoffs. Their record was 21 wins and 27 defeats, scoring 218 and conceding 222. The team’s leading goal scorer was Marinaro with 47, and Heale registered the most assists with 29. Overall leading point’s scorer was Marinaro with 75, which left him 5th in the MISL leading point’s scorers, with Heale a further position back. The team’s average attendance was 4,356.
After the season the Lazers folded due to heavy financial losses.
MISL regular season record:
348 games played, with 137 wins and 211 losses. They scored 1,535 goals, conceding 1,767.
MISL playoff record:
10 games played, with 1 win and 9 losses. They scored 45 goals and conceded 66.
All-time leading goal scorer: Poli Garcia (165 goals)
All-Time assist maker: Poli Garcia (117 assists)
Most regular season appearances: Poli Garcia (228 games)
Their total average regular season attendance over the franchise history was 33,082 –leading to a season average of 4,726 fans per game. As the team needed to draw upwards of 7,000 to break even, this shows how much money the Lazers were losing every season.