Laurie Abrahams – From Tailor’s Shop to NASL

Laurie Abrahams was one of the most prolific goalscorers in the NASL. Here is a profile of his career in the states. This article was originally hosted by Gav on his excellent Les Rosbifs blog. Many thanks to him, and go check out his blog.

In today’s time, when talent is highlighted at the under 9 level and players at the top level rarely have any experience of real-life work before becoming highly paid superstars it is worth remembering the people who came through a different way.

Laurie was born in Stepney, East London on the 3rd of April 1953, and had a tough upbringing and although talented on the football field was only playing semi-professionally for non-league Barking. His main job was working in a tailor’s shop, measuring up the customers, making trousers, and selling suits.  He has stated that he had no desire to play professionally as he felt he wouldn’t like the business. He actually only signed for Charlton Athletic in 1977 at the age of 24 in 1977.

After one season with Charlton, making 17 appearances upfront and scoring twice he was approached to move to the NASL and sign with the Boston based franchise, The New England Tea Man (the team’s odd name was due to the fact that they were owned by the Lipton Tea Company, and also to relate to the Boston tea party of 1773). The Lipton Tea Co. Were owned by Unilever, who in turn owned Charlton’s training ground, so when it came to putting a team together Charlton were the first port of call. The Tea Men were a new franchise and had decided to build their team around largely English talent. Irishman Noel Cantwell was named as Head Coach and Manchester United legend Dennis Viollett his assistant. Joining Abrahams on the team would be fellow striker Mike Flanagan (on loan from Charlton), midfielder Roger Gibbins, 37 year old goalkeeper Kevin Keelan, and ex England international Keith Weller amongst others.

Abrahams’ debut season in the NASL was a success, with the team winning their division and qualifying for the playoffs at the first attempt. The team was very dependent on Flanagan who notched a hugely impressive 30 goals from just 28 games. Abrahams played 17 games, notching a respectable 7 goals and 10 assists. During the season Abrahams had started to develop a reputation as being a bit of a difficult character, with even Noel Cantwell stated that he had rubbed him up the wrong way, and wasn’t sorry to see him go at the end of the season. Cantwell stated “he was a bit of a Jack-the-lad, he would play well for a week or two, then disappear, then come back and do something exceptional. I don’t think he took football seriously”

At the end of the season Abrahams left. The contract that the Tea Men had signed would mean that if he stayed another season they would have to pay more money to Charlton which they were unwilling to do.  Abrahams was approached by the Tulsa Roughnecks, another team who had debuted in 1978, and after he impressed in a friendly against Portsmouth was signed. The Roughnecks were owned by oilman Carl Moore, whose son Joe-Max would go on to play for Everton, and had caused a bit of a stir in the pro sports franchise desert of Oklahoma. Like the Tea Men, the Roughnecks were a largely “English” team under Head Coach Alan Hinton (ex Notts Forest, Derby, and Wolves). Abrahams would be paired upfront with Roger Davies, with David Nish at the back alongside Terry Darracott.

The 1979 season saw Abrahams start well in Tulsa, scoring 10 goals in 15 games, but another clash of personalities, this time with Alan Hinton saw him traded mid-season to Anaheim, home of Disneyland, and the California Surf NASL team. The Surf were not one of the NASL’s more successful franchises, and frequently only scraped through into the playoffs before being knocked out in the first round. His half season with the Surf showed his worth with 8 goals from 10 games. His first full season (1980) in California under English Head Coach Peter Wall was successful, scoring 17 goals from 28 games and making 17 assists. Abrahams was the undoubted star of the Surf franchise, wand it was felt that if he played well, the team played well and vice versa. He was also not averse to having a sly dig at his coach stating in the press that “we’ve played well and delighted a few people, but the coach shouldn’t be too pleased with himself. Some days we go out there and get slaughtered”. At the end of the season Wall was fired and replaced by fellow Englishman Laurie Calloway.

The close season also saw Abrahams’ first experience of indoor soccer. The Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) had been founded in 1978 playing a winter schedule, and had proved to be hugely successful in terms of fan attendance, with some indoor teams outdrawing their outdoor counterparts. The indoor pitch was roughly the same size as an ice hockey rink, with 6 players per team, endless substitutions, rebounds, and a healthy dose of razzamatazz. Eager to cash in on this boom for indoor soccer, the NASL launched its own indoor competition to be played in the winter.  Abrahams had had talks with the MISL’s Hartford Hellions, but terms couldn’t be agreed. Instead Abrahams stayed in Anaheim and played the 1980-81 NASL indoor season with the Surf, scoring 14 goals in as many games. The Surf won their indoor divison, but again lost in the playoffs at the first hurdle.

The 1981 season was not a happy one for Abrahams. Although he featured heavily in the first half of the season, by the second half his relationship with the club had broken down and he found himself increasingly sidelined and hardly featured. The club were reputedly trying to trade him to another team, but he had had a “no trade” clause inserted into his contract making this impossible. From this point Abrahams has admitted himself that his attitude could have been better. The Surf management went around each player asking them if they wanted to play, Abrahams refused to say, not because he didn’t want to play, but upset that anyone would question his desire to play. The management took this as a refusal to play and told him that he would not be involved in any future games. Then on a road trip, the management backtracked telling him he could play, at which Abrahams refused to play. His ex-coach at California Peter Wall has stated that “Laurie was a weird guy with a strange personality, but a brilliant finisher and quick”.  He also stated that Laurie had a difficult attitude and could easily rub people up the wrong way, and wasn’t the world’s best trainer. Another insight was given by his English teammate Mark Lindsay, who said that one day Abrahams out of the blue was going to go into the management office and demand a better contract. If they refused he was going to quit and go back to making trousers.

At the end of the 1981 season the Surf folded, an all too common experience for players in U.S. professional soccer until the MLS provided a more stable environment. The players from franchises who had folded were placed in a special NASL “Dispersal Draft”, where they hoped they would be picked up by another NASL team.

Abrahams was picked up by the Roughnecks, and head back to Tulsa for the next 2 NASL seasons, forming a formidable striking presence with fellow English import Ron Futcher. By this time the future of the NASL was in doubt, and the quality of play and fan interest had dropped sharply. However, these 2 seasons would prove to be Abrahams most successful in his career. In his first season he featured regularly, scoring 17 goals in 31 games. His relationship with the Roughnecks Welsh coach Terry Hennessey was by no means perfect, as Hennessey was always upset with Abrahams’ efforts in training, but he just felt he could play for him. Even Hennessey came close to losing it with him, once saying to him “you are the hardest player I have ever had to manage, when you stop scoring goals you will be gone”. Abrahams responded, somewhat disparagingly towards his teammates, “all you have to do is make sure these clowns get the ball to me”, which at least gives an insight into his levels of self-confidence. Mark Lindsay has also said that maybe some people didn’t get Abraham’s rather dry sense of humour.

It was to be the 1983 season that would be the high point, probably for pro sports in Tulsa. Like most franchises by this stage, the Roughnecks were existing on a shoestring budget (they actually had the lowest budget of any team in the NASL), and were thought to have one of the weaker teams, stuffed with rejects from other teams. Despite this they won their division, with Abrahams again prolific scoring 11 goals from 22 games. They excelled in the playoffs reaching the 1983 Soccer Bowl against the Toronto Blizzard. 58,452 fans saw the Roughnecks defeat the Blizzard 2-0, and claim an unlikely championship.

The close season saw the Roughnecks in danger of folding; only a fan appeal saw them able to field a team to defend their 1983 triumph. Abrahams was gone however, being traded to the San Diego Sockers for midfielder Peter Skouras and reputedly, 2 used footballs. Abrahams scoring touch deserted him in San Diego, with him scoring only once from 19 appearances. Abrahams was largely used from the bench, and said that “San Diego was a very strange team, with a lot of factions”.

After the season the NASL folded, leaving Abrahams ninth in the NASL all-time points scorer list with 76 goals and 63 assists from 162 games. The San Diego Sockers jumped ship to the MISL, a move that made sense as the Sockers had a higher average attendance playing the indoor version of the game. Abrahams was sold however, moving to the once great New York Cosmos for $25,000. The Cosmos by 1984 were playing in from of 4 figure crowds, the stars had gone, and Warner Bros. weren’t able to continue funding the club. They had failed to post their bond for the prospective 1985 NASL season, and instead joined the MISL. Abrahams played 18 games and scored 7 goals before the Cosmos sold him mid-season to the Kansas City Comets, one of the stronger teams in the MISL. This proved to be a good move as after 33 games of the season the Cosmos folded.

Abrahams spent 2 seasons in Kansas City, scoring 38 goals from 55 games, before being reunited with his 1983 NASL Championship coach Terry Hennessey. Hennessey was working in Australia, acting as Head Coach of the Melbourne Croatia in the NSL. Abrahams spent the summer there, scoring 5 goals from 9 games, before returning to the MISL for his final season as a pro. He signed another strong team, the Wichita Wings for the 1986-87 season. After 23 games and 14 goals, he retired at the end of the season, aged 34.

Abrahams was an example of a player who made a career for himself in America. Unknown in his home country he ended his NASL career in ninth place in the all-time points scoring list with 216. He played 167 NASL games, scoring 76 goals and registering 64 assists, and won one NASL Championship. When asked about the secret of his success in America he stated that one reason was it “was easier scoring goals in San Diego in the summer, than Hull in the winter”. He continues to live in America, where he is Assistant Soccer Coach at Irvine Valley College in California.

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Miami Americans

The Miami Americans were a professional soccer team in the American Soccer League, though they only featured for the 1980 season before folding. The franchise was originally based in New Jersey, but in the early months of 1980 the New Jersey Americans owner Joseph Raymond sold the franchise to an English consortium that moved the team to Miami. In the process of the move the new owners dispensed with most of the playing and back office staff.

The Americans played their home games at the Tropical Park stadium, a 10,000 capacity ground in the Olympia Heights area of Miami.

The Miami Americans Stadium - Tropical Park

The ASL in 1980 was to be an 8 team league, split into 2 four team divisions, A National Conference and an American Conference.  The top 2 sides in each division after the regular season would meet in a best of three playoff series to decide who would play in the ASL Championship game. The Americans were placed into the American Conference, lining up against the Sacramento Gold, California Sunshine, and another new franchise, the Golden Gate Gales from San Francisco. The regular season would be 28 games long, with each team playing each other 4 times.

The English investors looking to bring the New Jersey Americans to Miami were named as the artist Barry Leighton-Jones, and broker Stanley Worshore. Both of them were based in South Florida, and co-owned the Fort Lauderdale Saints soccer team of the semi-professional Southern Soccer League.  Jones was quoted as being “very excited” about the move, with a “60-40” chance in favour of the teams move. Even if the team didn’t make the move in time for the 1980 season, they would be prepared to wait for 1981.

The Americans Head Coach and GM, Ron Newman

Before the franchise had been sold the potential English ownership group had begun discussions with Ron Newman about taking the job. Newman had been a successful coach and player in the higher profile North American Soccer League (NASL) with the Dallas Tornado and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. He had also had a championship winning season in the ASL as Head Coach of the Los Angeles Skyhawks. Newman had been dismissed at the Strikers Head Coach after the 1979 season, although he was in the process of filing papers against the Strikers ownership to collect the money he was owed on his contract. Newman was very interested in the Americans job, and convinced that the sale and move of the team would happen.  He also thought a franchise in Miami could work, although he had frowned about soccer’s potential in Miami before, due to the poor performance of the Miami Toros in the NASL. The media did not quite share his belief however, pointing to the Toros failure, and wondering whether South Florida was a strong enough soccer market to support the Americans and the Strikers.

Despite Newman’s enthusiasm, he was still keeping his options open, speaking to the owners of the New York Eagles of the ASL, and another potential new ASL franchise in Charlotte about their vacant Head Coach positions. The NASL’s San Jose Earthquakes were also chasing him.

By Mid-January 1980 Newman was leaning towards taking the offer made to him by the Americans. The offer of a 5-year contract, worth $200,000 a season (plus bonuses and incentives) would make him the highest paid coach in North America. The deal to move the Americans to Miami was done, but Leighton-Jones and Worshore said that they would not complete the deal without Newman agreeing to coach the team. Newman eventually agreed the deal in February and took the position, also assuming the position as the team President. Fellow Brit Brian Tiler was named as Assistant Coach, having  played for and managed the Portland Timbers of the NASL, as well as having a lengthy playing career in England.

The team’s roster contained few stars. Newman’s son Guy followed his father from the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to play in the defence. One of his first signings was English goalkeeper Brian Parkinson, who had won an ASL championship with Newman at the Los Angeles Skyhawks. Other signings were American players Ernie Buriano, Ernst-Jean Baptiste, and Charlie Greene. Welsh defender Bob Delgado was signed from English side Port Vale after a 281 game league career and installed as captain. Holdovers from the New Jersey Americans roster were midfielder Denny Vaninger and Nigerian striker Solomon Hilton. 33 year old Scottish midfielder and ex-Tampa Bay Rowdies player Stewart Scullion was also signed to give the team some experience. The players with the team were reputedly some of the better paid players in the ASL.

Before the season kicked off Newman had stated that his role with the Americans was the toughest task he had faced in soccer. Due to the short time before the franchises relocation and the start of play (roughly 2 months) he had found it hard to find the players he wanted, as well as an acceptable office to work out of. Despite managing in the ASL before, he also stated that the league was a bit of a mystery to him, with regards to the level of play and finances. He was hoping for crowds of around 3,000 for the early fixtures, steadily rising to 6,000 during the season.

Pre-season games were quite plentiful, playing the U.S. Olympic team, as well as fixtures against local amateur teams such as Miami Dade. Their fixture against the Pennsylvania Stoners caused some controversy however. The game was played in Charlotte and intended to show the Charlotte public what ASL soccer was all about, with the hope that a franchise could be established in the city in 1981. During the first half, and 1-0 down, Denny Vaninger punched the Stoners midfielder Paulo DaSilva in the face, getting sent off in the process. Then after a foul against his son Guy, Ron Newman charged on to the pitch in his suit to remonstrate with the referee.  It was also reported that he “threatened Pennsylvania players and match officials with his umbrella”. The Americans ran out 2-1 winners, although their style of play was described as defensive and boring. In order to establish the franchise in the minds of South Florida soccer fans, the players were doing a huge amount of public engagements, from coaching clinics to visiting local churches and hospitals.

The team’s inaugural game was away against the Pennsylvania Stoners on the 20th of April, a fixture that they lost 1-0 due to a Roman Urbanczuk goal in the second period of overtime. The Stoners broke their attendance record, with 8,300 fans attending the game. Like the reports of their performance in the pre-season encounter between the teams, the game was defensive with both sides mustering only 9 shots on goal between them during the 90 minutes. Newman defended his team, instead criticising the pitch at the Stoners stadium, saying it was impossible to play on. Their second fixture was due to be against New York United away, but the game had to be postponed due to New York being unable to post the $100,000 bond required for them to use Shea Stadium.

After their first game, the Americans signed Haitian international forward Manu Sanon from Belgian club Germinal Beerschot. He signed a 3 year contract and was expected to be a key player for the team. Their first home fixture was against Cleveland Cobras on the 30th April which they lost, and attracting around 2,000 fans.

On May the 4th the Miami Americans were due to play an exhibition match against the Trinidad & Tobago national team; however it descended into farce when the Trinidadian failed to turn up. Instead the Americans played an inter-squad game in front of roughly 300 fans. Still at least the Americans were guaranteed to win this game, as by their 6th game the Americans had only won 1 ASL game, beating the Golden Gate Gales away in San Francisco 4-1. Their attendances were also stalling, with a 2-2 draw at home against the Gales attracting only 1,843 fans, over a thousand less than Newman wanted.

The attendance figures weren’t the biggest problem however. The team’s co-owner Barry Leighton- Jones had started saying that if the ASL failed to improve they would move the franchise to Jacksonville for the 1981 season. Leighton-Jones also stated that the team was going to lose $1,000,000 dollars over the season, and that Newman was to blame for the team’s slow start due to spending too much time sat behind the President’s desk rather than working with the team.  Newman responded saying that these remarks had hurt the credibility of the franchise, and that he had had to spend all his day apologizing to sponsors and fans, as well as being called to explain the comments before the ASL at a league meeting. He also insisted that there was no way the team would relocate, and that Leighton-Jones remarks were made as a frustrated fan, rather than as an owner. Newman insisted that he got on with the co-owner, and that his remarks had maybe been a misguided attempt to get more fans on board. According to goalkeeper Brain Parkinson, the team were fairly insulated from the comments, and that they were fully concentrated on performing better on the field.

In early June, Newman was being linked with the Head Coach position of the NASL’s Portland Timbers, with a meeting between him and Timbers’ General Manager Peter Warner after a Timbers game.  Newman had expressed a desire to leave the Americans, but said it would be up to NASL teams to contact him. After losing out on the Timbers job to Vic Crowe, the Atlanta Chiefs had also reputedly spoken to him. He was concerned about the financial viability of the Americans, amidst rumours that the ownership were ready to jump ship. And that the team was ready to fold. On a positive note, English goalkeeper Neil Ramsbottom joined the team. He had been a steady goalkeeper in England and signed from Sheffield United.

On June 19th, after only 9 games at the helm Ron Newman resigned as Head Coach and President. He stated that he would still be available to offer advice to the team whilst he searched for a new job. His 9 games in charge had yielded 2 wins, 3 draws, and 4 losses. One of the team’s directors, Richard Marx (not the long haired pop star) stated that he was sorry to see Newman go, but with the Americans finances being quite perilous it was an economic necessity.

To replace Newman, his Assistant Coach Brian Tiler was appointed for the remainder of the season. The team’s Business Manager Jerry Sagehorn was promoted, and would take over as General Manager, assuming a lot of Newman’s off-field responsibilities.

Tiler’s first game in charge saw them win 2-1 over New York United in Shea Stadium in front of Ron Newman who watched from the stands.

On June the 25th, six days after Newman’s departure, the English ownership group had reputedly agreed to sell the franchise to two Rhodesians, Stan Noah and Archie Oliver for an undisclosed purchase price. Noah and Oliver stated that there would be a “substantial infusion of capital” into the team. They also attempted to re-hire Newman as Head Coach, but baulked and reinstating his $200,000 a year contract.

Results improved under Tiler, but the attendances dwindled, with only 843 fans turning out to see them beat the California Sunshine 2-1. Neil Ramsbottom was playing well in goal, and getting good reviews for his performances. Against the Sunshine he turned out straight from hospital, where he had been with bruised ribs and a stitched up face. The infusion of capital that the new owners had promised didn’t seem to materialise, with the team’s roster basically being limited to just 13 players. Top striker Manu Sanon left and joined Ron Newman and his new NASL team, the San Diego Sockers, and after selling him the Americans would lose 7 of their next 8 games. With him also went the Americans Haitian fans, leaving attendances plummeting.

Americans Haitian striker Manu Sanon

Off the field the chaos continued however, with newly promoted General Manager Jerry Sagehorn quitting, and being replaced by Allan James, the Americans PR officer. According to Brian Tiler, Sagehorn just couldn’t take the aggravation of working with the financially crippled franchise any longer. The Director Richard Marx was named as President.  Brian Tiler was also fed up working with the franchise, but vowed to continue as a professional. He claimed that the new owners wanted him out to save money and hadn’t even spoken to him in a long time.

The financial situation was also being discussed by the players, with Bob Delgado stating that he didn’t know if there would even be a club next week, let alone next year. He had just put rent money down on an apartment, and at best if the team folded would only get 2 week’s severance pay. What made it worse was that a week early the new ownership had said every member of the team would get a new 12 month contract, but now the ownership was even backing down on completing the entire purchase of the team. Stan Noah and Archie Oliver instead had apparently bought a controlling interest in the Columbus Magic, one of the Americans ASL rivals. This was met with some scepticism given the events in Miami, and also due to the pair of them reputedly trying to save the Sacramento Gold who were in financial difficulty. The Gold folded, but were resurrected and funded until the end of the season by the ASL.

In early July the ownership were set to fire Tiler and replace him with George Rada, the Head Coach of the semi-professional Florida outfit, the St. Petersburg Kickers, but the players objected and Tiler’s job was saved.

On July 23rd though Tiler quit and Rada was named as the new Head Coach. The ownership had stated that they wanted an American coach instead of a foreigner. Captain Bob Delgado, and striker Denny Vaninger were named as Assistant Coaches, in addition to their place on the playing roster.

At the start of August English goalkeeper Neil Ramsbottom requested to be released from his contract so he could return to his pregnant wife in England. He had played 14 games for the Americans and was replaced by the back-up keeper Richie Poole. 18 year old Fort Lauderdale High graduate Mitchell Mordas was signed as the new back-up. A week after this, Haiti international defender Ernst-Jean Baptiste also left the club to return to his sick wife in Haiti and midfielder David Bluem also left. New additions to the roster were new goalkeeper Armand Cordoba, defender Daniel Gaston, midfielders Mike Cogan & Jean Tienne, and strikers Louis Rodriguez, and Kenny Pavlioski. The forwards were needed as striker Denny Vaninger had been banned by the league for the rest of the season, having been sent off in the Americans last 3 away games.

The Americans win record was boosted by their home game against the Columbus Magic being awarded to them as the Magic could not afford the travelling expenses. This was the second game where the Americans had profited from another team’s misfortune, with the Sacramento Gold also forfeiting a game during the season. Remarkably, despite the Americans own financial problems, the Americans were still in with a shout for the playoffs.

For the Miami Americans last ever home game they were thumped 8-2 by the Cleveland Cobras in front of a crowd of around 200 fans. Defender Ernesto summed up the feelings of the entire roster by stating that they didn’t care. The players had not been paid, and the money situation was so bad that even though they still had a chance of making the playoffs, Miami officials were praying that they didn’t because it would cost more money. Bob Delgado stated that of they did make the playoffs he wouldn’t stick around, instead he’d be back in England.

The Americans did not have a successful season, finishing third in the American Conference, thus missing out on the playoffs. They won 10 games, drawing 3, and losing the other 15. They scored 54 goals and conceded 45, giving the Americans a total point’s tally of 97.

After the season the Miami Americans folded, along with the other new franchise the Golden Gate Gales.

Los Angeles Lazers

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.