By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Sep 17, 2018) US Soccer Players – Wonderful teams and colorful characters filled the original North American Soccer League era. While the focus of those years mostly revolves around the New York Cosmos and names like Pele and Giorgio Chinaglia, other teams and players were also vital in helping to grow the game. One of those teams was the Dallas Tornado. The team, in existence for 15 seasons, would go on to make American soccer history.
As a founding franchise of the United Soccer Association, the Tornado played before the NASL came into existence. In 1967, the year the USA began, foreign clubs played in US cities as American teams. The Tornado that year was Scotland's Dundee United. Sports visionary Lamar Hunt owned the Dallas club. An astute businessman, Hunt had played college football for Southern Methodist University and was a big sports fan. The years after World War II had signaled growth in the US economy. The proliferation of television and more leisure time meant Americans were willing to spend that money on entertainment.
Hunt sought to corner the burgeoning sports programming market. He bankrolled an array of sports, including soccer, and later came up with the term Super Bowl for the NFL’s annual championship game. Similarly, once the USA and NPSL merged to form the NASL, the title game would eventually become known as the Soccer Bowl. Hunt had fallen in love with soccer after watching the 1966 World Cup final and saw the potential for the game in this country. Decades later, Hunt would invest in MLS, providing strong financial support at a time when the league was just getting off the ground. In Hunt’s honor, the US Open Cup trophy now bears his name.
In 1967, the team embarked on an unlikely world tour. During a seven-month span, the team played 49 games in 27 countries across the globe. Coach Bob Kap and Hunt pt the tour together hoping their team could serve as ambassadors for American soccer.
“(Kap) did everything. Can you imagine these days going in a tour? I mean the players, the coaches complain having to go for a week, and for [Kap] to do it, and not only be the coach, but the manager, the trainer, the equipment guy; he did everything, really by himself,” former Tornado striker Mike Renshaw told FC Dallas’ official website in an interview last year.
When not on the field, the Dallas players donned cowboy hats, although most hailed from Europe and had never been to the city. Along the way, the team had a variety of adventures and misadventures. The tour ended just before the start of the 1968 season, where the team finished a dismal 2-26-4.
Following several seasons of futility, the Tornado won the NASL title in 1971, beating the Atlanta Chiefs 2-0 in the decisive match of a three-game final series on September 19. Under coach Ron Newman, the Tornado had amassed a 10-6-8 regular-season record, good for 2nd- place behind the Atlanta Chiefs in the Southern Division. The playoffs that year are most-remembered for Dallas’ 2-1 loss to the Rochester Lancers in Game 1 of the semifinals. It took the Lancers six 15-minute overtimes to snatch the result. League top-scorer and MVP that season, Carlos Metedieri scored in the 176th minute to down the Tornado. Nonetheless, Dallas won the next two games 3-1 and 2-1 after four overtimes that had lasted 148 minutes to reach the final.
The championship series very much mirrored the semifinals. The Chiefs came in as favorites. Not only had they produced a better regular-season record, but the Tornado had played two marathon matches in a span of just eight days. In the finals, Dallas lost Game 1 in overtime 2-1, only to win the next two matches to capture the NASL title. In Game 3, it was goals from Renshaw and midfielder Bobby Moffat that helped the team win the title. The Tornado was a team loaded with players that had mostly hailed from Great Britain including Renshaw and Moffat.
For Hunt and the organization, the victory was a testament to his newfound love and financial commitment to the sport. For Newman, forced to play in the final after an injury crisis, the title was a reward for years of hard work. He had worked for the Tornado as a player-coach since 1969. He would coach the team until 1975. Newman died on August 27 at age 84. He helped the game grow at a time when the nascent NASL had few superstars and limited fan interest. The Tornado remains the only pro soccer team from northern Texas to capture a championship.
“Ron was responsible for so much of the (sport's) growth in Dallas-Fort Worth,” Moffat recalled in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. “Lamar (Hunt) backed it, and Ron was a lot of help, with the players that he brought over, in establishing the game here. It was amazing how quickly the game grew.”
Newman’s success as a coach is its own category. He would win go on to win ten indoor championships with the San Diego Sockers, retiring with a career coaching record of 753-296-27. In 1992, he won election into the US National Soccer Hall of Fame.
“He was very proud of what he’d done,” Moffat added. “He was proud of the numbers and the quality that was coming out of the Dallas area, a lot of which he was responsible for.”
As defending champions, Dallas was unable to repeat. The team lost to the New York Cosmos in the semifinals during the 1972 playoffs. Another championship would elude them after losing the 1973 NASL title game 2-0 to the Philadelphia Atoms. Despite featuring Kyle Rote, Jr in the lineup, the Cosmos had become a team that would go on to dominate the league for much of the ‘70s. Dallas selected Rote, Jr first overall in the 1972 draft. For his part, Rote, Jr, who also played for the US at senior level, became a household name in those years after winning ABC Sports’ “Superstars” competition in 1974, 1976, and 1977.
The Tornado, however, did win two indoor titles. In 1971, the Tornado won the inaugural NASL indoor championship – called the “Hoc-Soc” tournament that year – and another in 1979 at the Budweiser Invitational. The Tornado would play its final season, both outdoor and indoor, in 1981 before folding. Falling attendance and red ink forced the team to disband. Hunt, along with fellow owner Bill McNutt, had spent $20 million on the team. The Tornado merged with the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Hunt and McNutt became minority owners of that team.
While the Tornado only won one NASL outdoor championship, it was the work of Hunt, Newman, and others that not only helped the game grow during those years but left behind a legacy that still resonates. Next month, the National Soccer Hall of Fame reopens in Frisco, Texas. That's a soccer tradition in the region that began with the Dallas Tornado.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Q&A with Paul Arriola: "These games give us experience right now"
- Playing Brazil in the USA
- The Concacaf Nations League
- Soccer History: Atlanta Chiefs
Logo courtesy of the Dallas Tornado