The Southern California Lazers were a professional soccer team who lasted just one season in the American Soccer League (ASL)
The team was based in Torrance, a south-western part of Los Angeles County and competed in the 1978 season. The Lazers home stadium would be Murdock Stadium at El Camino College, which had a capacity of 12,127
The Lazers were placed in the ASL’s Western Division, where they lined up against 2 more Los Angeles based teams, the Los Angeles Skyhawks, and the California Sunshine. Rounding out the 4 team division was the Sacramento Gold. The regular season was 24 games, and draws were permitted.
The teams head coach was English defender Laurie Calloway, who had spent the previous 5 season playing in the NASL with the San Jose Earthquakes. This was to be his first appointment in a career that would see him coaching professional soccer teams in America to this day. Assisting him was fellow Englishman Jimmy Melia. Melia had been a professional in England with Liverpool and Wolves, and had coaching experience with Aldershot, Crewe, and Southport.
The size of the roster was unlimited, but a maximum of 6 foreign players were allowed. The budget for the team was probably around the ASL average of between $300,000 and $350,000 for the season.
The biggest star on the roster was ex-Brazil international defender Rildo Menezes who had played the 1977 season with the almighty New York Cosmos of the NASL. Partnering him in defence was English defenders Jack Howarth (signed from Southport), and Paul Cahill (ex-Portsmouth). An intriguing addition to the roster was 20 year old Scottish midfielder John McGeady, who had played 16 games for Sheffield United. His son, Aiden would go on to play for Celtic, and currently features in the Russian Premier League with Spartak Moscow. Charged with scoring the goals for the new franchise was Irish striker Sid Wallace, who had previously played in the ASL with the Utah Golden Spikers. Keeping goal would be Trinidad & Tobago international goalkeeper John Granville who was signed from the NASL’s Oakland Stompers. His back-up was Hugo Buitrago.
Laurie Calloway on his time as Head Coach:
“I got the job ten days before the start of the season. They asked if I minded them bringing in a fellow from England who could bring some players with him. It turned out to be Jimmy Melia. I said: ‘Sure, I used to play with him and clean his boots’. Actually, I didn’t. I was a bit older but I did use to clean Ron Flowers’ boots and it felt like an honour”.
“It was a good cop, bad cop thing and Jimmy taught me a lot. We had a bunch of rag tags from England, but also Rildo, the Brazilian international. He had an emotional interest in being in LA, so came to play for very little money. He owned plenty of apartments at Copacabana, so he didn’t need the cash”.
The Lazers inaugural game was a 1-1 tie with the California Sunshine. The game had finished tied after the 90 minutes, plus two ten minute overtime periods. The attendance was 2,700 at the Sunshine’s LaBard Stadium.
After the 24 game regular season, the Lazers were placed 3rd in the Western Division, having amassed a record of 15 wins, 1 tie, and 8 losses for a total of 117 points. They scored 44 goals and conceded 29. They qualified for the playoffs as they had the 4th best overall record in the ASL.
In the first round of the playoffs the Lazers were up against the California Sunshine in a winner takes all game. The Sunshine won in sudden death on a penalty goal from Brazilian defender Ramon Moraldo. The Lazers had played the last 17 minutes of regular time and overtime with 9 men after having 2 players sent off. The defeat eliminated the Lazers from the playoffs.
Irish striker Sid Wallace was the Lazers top scorer with 14 goals and 7 assists from 24 games. He finished the 4th highest scorer in the ASL with 35 points. Goalkeeper John Granville finished the season as the highest ranked goalkeeper in the ASL. He led the league with a goals against average of 0.99 from his 18 games. Granville would go on to play in England for Millwall, Wycombe Wanderers, and numerous non-league teams.
Four players from the Lazers roster were selected by the leagues Head Coaches on to the ASL’s All-star team. Granville, Wallace, Rildo, and Paul Cahill were all selected after their stellar performances during the season.
After the 1978 season the team folded. Calloway returned to play for the San Jose Earthquakes the next year, whilst Jimmy Melia became head coach of the Cleveland Cobras in the ASL. McGeady returned to Britain where his professional career would end with 2 games for Newport County. Sid Wallace followed Melia to the Cobras, whilst Jack Howarth returned to England to sign with Basingstoke after his one year sojourn in the states.
Full 1978 ASL Roster:
Goalkeepers – John Granville, Peter Thomas, Hugo Buitrago, David Theobald
Defenders – Rildo, Paul Cahill, Jack Howarth, Mike Young, Kurt Stierle, Keith Walley, Frank Towers
Midfielders – John McGeady, Paul Johnson, Juan Sandoval, Carlos Ravel, Charlie Kadupski, Jim Popov
Forwards – Sid Wallace, Nikica Jankovic, Zivorad Stamenkovic