By Tobias Xavier Lopez - FORT WORTH, TX (Oct 21, 2004) USSoccerPlayers - Hans Vrij was five years old when West Germany defeated the Netherlands, 2-1, in the 1974 World Cup final. Vrij, 35, laughs at the memory of the man who lived across the street in The Hague, Holland. The soccer fan, so frustrated by the Oranje's loss, threw his television set out a second story window. Vrij knows soccer's passion. He knows soccer. He's played soccer. His children Max, 3, and Saryn, 5, play soccer. His wife Jeanne coached high school soccer for two years. So he was the perfect subject for a reporter's questions.
Hans, when does the Dallas Sidekicks season begin?
``No clue?'' he responded.
Have you ever gone to a Sidekicks game?
``Yeah, a couple.''
Did you pay for the tickets?
``No, I got them free at work. We used to get a lot of free tickets at work,'' he said.
Hans had no idea that after 19 years, the Sidekicks aren't playing indoor soccer this year. Is that his fault for not knowing? Is it his fault the flagship indoor franchise, the model of stability Sidekicks are no more? Absolutely not.
First off, indoor soccer's heyday has come and gone. There will never be a return to the jock-jam 1980s, where Tatu and Doc Lawson dominated indoor soccer. The Sidekicks' highest attendance average was the 1987-88 season at 9,878.
That was near the end of the original Major Indoor Soccer League's run. A league that rightly or wrongly could say they were the future of American pro soccer. After all, they outlasted the North American Soccer League, even if the 1990 US World Cup team opted for college players. They were the draw, even when they began to look outdoors with something called ?Major Soccer League? in 1990. The US Soccer Federation thought that was enough to schedule friendlies with the US National Team while trying to form a new US first division. The money, television contracts, and history were there. They were the best bet up until most of their owners opted out.
Indoor soccer could have remained stable. Well, as long as those running it weren't misguided enough to think that this country was big enough and soccer enough to support two rival indoor soccer leagues. The current version of the MISL was actually the league that killed it, the American Professional Soccer Association turned National Professional Soccer Association, and now the MISL all over again with their own version of single-entity.
The Sidekicks and a couple of versions of the St. Louis franchise were stuck in the World Indoor Soccer League, proven draws without the support of the Eastern clubs playing in the NPSL. Multiple leagues for the better part of a decade must shoulder part of the blame for indoor soccer's fade.
Two point goals doomed indoor soccer.
Three point goals doomed indoor soccer.
Major League Soccer doomed indoor soccer.
Quality of play doomed indoor soccer.
A veteran soccer reporter once pointed out that an 18-35 year old soccer fan can't be persuaded to buy a ticket on Saturday to watch guys play, when they are playing against those same guys in a Wednesday night club match.
Lack of a diverse audience doomed indoor soccer.
As a minority, I'm always leery of playing the race card, but because it's not my only card, because it's the jack in a royal straight, I'll mention it because it is important.
The Hispanic audience in the DFW metroplex never warmed to the idea of indoor soccer. Anyone who doesn't embrace this powerful and growing consumer group, whether selling soccer or widgets is a businessman with horrible vision. Lack of committed ownership doomed the Dallas Sidekicks.
For years Don Carter carried the financial burden of keeping the Sidekicks afloat. Carter founded the team in 1984. He left the team in 1986, but saved the team by taking on the Sidekicks in 1991. In 1996 Sonny Williams joined Carter as a co-owner.
On Sept. 10, 2002 Carter walked away for good and after two seasons on his own Williams put the team up for sale. He couldn't find a buyer in time to save the 2004-05 season. Supposedly there is interest in reviving the Sidekicks, but honestly what's the point? Hockey will be back next year as will FC Dallas and its fancy new digs up in Frisco. Hans will continue to support his children and their soccer. There are always very good reasons why any franchise goes under, especially in a place like Dallas. It doesn't explain Wichita or Harrisburg, but then again the new MISL is all about major metropolitan areas. Like Dallas.
The question now in the wake of the Sidekicks' demise, is whether or not FC Dallas, its players, its coach, its ownership group, its general manager and MLS itself can make the proper commitments and decisions to make loyal MLS soccer fans out of people like Hans? or more importantly those kids of his. Otherwise this same column might be written in 10 years time.
Tobias Xavier Lopez is a soccer writer for the Fort Worth Star Telegram.