By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Jan 30, 2004) - "The Management Committee took a long and hard look at all the options relating to the San Diego Sockers and the MISL Monterrey team. It is the firm belief of the Management Committee that the strength of the League is derived from its teams which adhere to the obligations and responsibilities of an MISL member club. The core of this League is healthy and vibrant and the MISL will continue to grow again next season with the addition of the California Cougars who will play in a new, state-of-the-art arena in Stockton, and perhaps other cities that have applied and are currently under review for MISL membership. MISL commissioner Steve Ryan
It doesn't do any good to pile onto the state of the MISL hours after they had to drop two clubs, but... maybe it's worth repeating some constructive criticism from two years of giving them more space than you might imagine in Round not Oval.
As a fan, where the MISL is currently failing is in their refusal to define themselves as anything but "low cost family entertainment," or whatever they're calling it this year. The result is someone like me looking at the schedule and whatever screaming kid promotion they've got going and and deciding thanks, but no. In fairness, singles night at the Wizards game had me giving my tickets away.
What I've never really understood is that the MISL version of the game is violent. Not football or hockey violent, but I would argue slightly touchier than the National Basketball Association. I've seen some brutal tackles and shoulder charges at MISL games, incidents during the run of play that don't really blend with yet another playing of the theme from Sponge Bob. I have a ton of respect for the MISL players and coaches. I wasn't kidding last year when I wrote that Baltimore's Lee Tschantret was one of my favorite current players in all of sports. That's a list led by the Detroit Piston's Ben Wallace.
My bent is towards leaving it on the field, that within the rules you play a game at a level that would make intelligent amateurs cry. I recognize that a lot of people aren't interested, that the MISL might be what commissioner Steve Ryan described to me years ago as an alternative to dinner and a movie with the kids. Fine, but there's still a professional sport being played on the other side of that plexiglass barrier.
There you see guys giving up their knees and ankles on a piece of plastic grass covering either ice or concrete. Regardless of the under-layment, it's easily one of the most unforgiving surfaces in pro sports. The oldest type of artificial turf with guys burning their knees in a way that only Arena Football League players would come close to understanding.
When I was a kid, indoors was as established as it would ever be and my town had a minor league indoor team. I remember them being called the Carolina Lightning, but I can't find the kind of confirmation you would expect. They had a section in one of the department stores that fascinated me. For all I knew, they were as big league as big league got. Sure, I would've probably been just as impressed by a minor league baseball team, but it never dawned on me to discredit pro soccer, much less the indoor variety. I'm of the opinion I'm far from the only one.
That's one of the things that burns me when I see the end of a tradition like the Dallas Sidekicks before the start of the season and the San Diego Soccers before the start of 2005. The players that gave their fans the best their knees and ankles could offer. The fans that associate a generation of arenas with indoor soccer, monster trucks, wrestling, ice capades, metal concerts, and the events that really made a city major league.
Standing by and watching these clubs and their tradition taken away leaves us with the same kind of overstatements, misunderstandings, and outright invention that you get when trying to talk about the North American Soccer League twenty-five years later. And it isn't as if the current version of the MISL was making the link for enough of the fans that did remember the glory days of that other league called the MISL in the early 1980's.
I never saw a game at the San Diego Sports Arena, Reunion Arena, the Pennsylvania State Farm Show Building, or the Kansas Coliseum, and I know I missed out. I also know that the four championships in Dallas or the ten championships in eleven years in San Diego is enough to save a club.
The National Soccer Hall of Fame will eventually be kinder to these clubs, their fans, their players, and their stories than what happened as times and tactics changed. The greatest club in the history of indoor soccer ending in the middle of the season, just like the greatest club in outdoor soccer nineteen years ago. The Sockers and The Cosmos. There shouldn't have to be endings. They shouldn't have to be like this.
J Hutcherson watched the final game in Dallas Sidekicks' history, the MISL final at First Mariner Arena in Baltimore. He was one seat over from a guy wearing a homemade superhero costume.