Archive for the ‘Chicago Sting’ Category

Sting debut in MISL

A Brief History of the Chicago Sting: Part 9

1982-83 (Indoor): In the fall of 1982 agreement was reached between the NASL and the MISL to allow three franchises – the San Diego Sockers, the San Jose Earthquakes and the Chicago Sting – to join the MISL for the upcoming 1982-83 indoor season. With a regular season stretching from November to mid-April and comprising 48 games per team (compared to just 18 games in the NASL Indoor League the previous season) the Chicagoans had effectively signed up to play two full seasons a year, of two very different types of soccer.

Even so, the Sting, who were assigned to the Eastern Division, acquitted themselves well taking place in a three way race for the division title, with the veteran Cleveland Force and the Baltimore Blast, eventually finishing third, two games behind the Blast in first place, and one behind the Force in second place, with a 28-20 record.

In the first round of the playoffs experience was a telling factor at Cleveland eased into the next round winning the best-of-three series 5-9, 5-4 and 7-5.

Defending champions fail to make playoffs

A Brief History of the Chicago Sting: Part 8

1982 (Outdoor): The possibility that the Sting would become the first defending champions to fail to make the playoffs since the Soccer Bowl’s inauguration in 1975 was certainly far from anyone’s minds when Chicago resumed NASL outdoor action in April. However, four straight losses in the opening month set the trend for what would become a topsy-turvy campaign.

The players had had little time to rest after a tough indoor season and the team and its management also had to adjust to a number of rule changes. First, the league had agreed to FIFA’s demands that offside rule should apply from the half-way line and not the NASL’s 35-yard line as had been the case since the leagues inception. Second, the league insisted that clubs have at least four North Americans on the field at any one time. The Sting had sufficient players to do so but was left with a surfeit of foreign stars and David Huson and John Tyma – who had both played their part in the 1981 success – were traded to other teams.

The first win of the season came against the Tulsa Roughnecks at Wrigley Field on May 1st but that was just a brief respite as the Sting slumped to a further four defeats to end the month with a 1-7 record. Then remarkably Frantz Mathieu – a firm fan favourite – was traded to the Montreal Manic, with Gordon Hill coming the other way, making his return to Chicago after a seven-year absence.

A break from league action saw the Sting take part in the Trans-Atlantic Challenge Cup. After holding Nacional of Uruguay to a 0-0 tie and defeating Italian Seria A side Napoli 3-1 they lifted the trophy with a 4-3 victory against the New York Cosmos in front of 36,904 at Giants Stadium, New Jersey. But after winning the prestigious trophy it was back to NASL action and another defeat in a 3-0 reverse at the Seattle Sounders.

Defensive mistakes, poor officiating and continuing injury problems dogged the remainder of the season although the Chicagoans did manage a run of three straight wins to briefly keep alive hopes of making the playoffs. The Edmonton Oilers were beaten 3-2 at the start of July, followed by the Fort Launderdale Strikers 3-0 and a 2-1 shootout victory against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

Those slim hopes finally came to end with a 3-1 loss at the New York Cosmos, followed, ironically, by two excellent performances that saw the Sting defeat the Toronto Blizzard 3-1 and the Montreal Manic 2-1, both at Comiskey Park, to close out the season, leaving the Sting with the worst win-loss record (13-19) in its history.

Sting set US indoor attendance record

A Brief History of the Chicago Sting: Part 7

1981-82 (Indoor): A dramatic and high scoring season saw the club top the Central Division pipping the Tampa Bay Rowdies to the title in the final game of the regular season. A then record attendance for an indoor soccer game in North America of 19,398 saw the Sting come from 8-4 down to beat the Rowdies 10-9 after sudden death overtime.

Chicago had topped the division for most of the season and remained undefeated in regular season play at the Chicago Stadium. Highlights en-route to the title included the 10-3 defeat of the Montreal Manic, a 10-4 victory over the Tulsa Roughnecks and a 6-3 win against the New York Cosmos at home while on the road impressive 6-3 and 6-5 wins were recorded against, respectively, the Toronto Blizzard and Jacksonville Teamen.

Even more impressive were the growing attendances at the Chicago Stadium where the Sting were outdrawing the Chicago Bulls (NBA) and fast catching up with the crowds pulled in by the Chicago Blackhawks (NHL). Besides the record crowd of 19,398 for the Tampa Bay Rowdies game, 18,374 saw the New York Cosmos game, 13,000 turned out for the regular season game against the Tulsa Roughnecks while 16,000 attended the playoff game against the Oklahoma side.

Sting set US indoor attendance record

It was against the Roughnecks that the Sting made an unexpected and early exit from the playoffs having been widely tipped to add the indoor crown to the Soccer Bowl trophy won the previous summer. The Sting lost the best of three game opener in Tulsa 5-4 but in a dramatic return at the Chicago Stadium the Sting turned a 6-1 deficit into a 7-6 victory, Karl-Heinz Granitza scoring the winner five minutes into sudden death overtime.

With the series tied at one game each a 15 minute mini-game followed. The Roughnecks took a three goal lead, the Sting pulled a goal back but there was to be no dramatic comeback in this game as the Roughnecks advanced into round two of the playoffs with a 3-1 win to take the series by two games to one.

Karl-Heinz Granitza finished the season as the leagues second highest scorer (behind Julie Veee of the San Diego Sockers) with 35 goals and 36 assists. In the home game against the New York Cosmos on January 30th he scored a hat-trick, as the Sting won 5-3, extending his indoor scoring streak to 35 consecutive games. Three games earlier he had beaten the leagues existing record of 32 in the 6-5 overtime win against the Jacksonville Teamen.

Soccer Bowl ‘81

A Brief History of the Chicago Sting: Part 6

Eighteen years without a major sporting honor ended for the city of Chicago as the Sting won the NASL Championship to give the Windy City its first professional sports title since the Chicago Bears had won the NFL Championship Game in 1963. On that occasion the Bears had beaten the New York Giants and the Sting’s triumph would be earned against another New York team, the Cosmos.

A crowd of 36,971 – including some 6,000 from Chicago – were on hand at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium and they could have been forgiven for expecting a high scoring game as the two previous meetings between the Sting and the Cosmos that year had produced fifteen goals. So it was very much against the odds – after the normal 90 minutes and a further 15 minutes of sudden death overtime – that this game would end goalless.

Each side had plenty of scoring opportunities though, the closest of which came from the Sting’s Pato Margetic whose strike was saved by a fully extended Hubert Birkenmeier in the Cosmos goal, team mate Ingo Peter’s saw his header strike the woodwork, and an overhead kick by Giorgio Chinaglia went just wide of the Sting goal.

Despite that effort, Chinaglia, the NASL’s all-time leading scorer, was marshaled well by the defensive partnership of Frantz Mathieu and Paul Hahn, supply from the flanks by the Cosmos wingers was kept to a minimum by Dave Huson and Derek Spalding, the Sting’s two fullbacks, while in goal Dieter Ferner put in another exemplary shift. At the other end the Cosmos backline, aided by Birkenmeier, was just as effective.

Twice in regular season play the Sting had needed extra time to beat the Cosmos and the same would be the case in Toronto. New York took the lead after three rounds through Vladislav Bogicevic, Karl-Heinz Granitza then leveled things up before Ferner made a great save to keep out Ivan Buljan’s chipped shot. Rudy Glenn then stepped up to beat Birkenmeier to become the first native North American to score a winning goal in a Soccer Bowl.

Joint captains Ingo Peter and Spalding proudly accepted the Champion¬ship Trophy from NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam to confirm the Sting as the North American Soccer League champions for 1981.

‘81 Championship Season

A Brief History of the Chicago Sting: Part 5

1981: The addition of Pato Margetic to the Sting front line – Margetic had joined from the Detroit Express – showed coach Will Roy’s attacking intent for the coming campaign, indeed the club would finish as the NASL leading scorers with 81 goals.

The turning point in the season came at the end of the June when a new club record crowd of 30,501 turned out at Wrigley Field to see the Sting beat the New York Cosmos 6-5 after a shootout. This signalled the start of an eight game winning streak.

The Central Division title was confirmed as the Sting completed the regular season with three straight home wins. The Dallas Tornado were beaten 3-1, the Minnesota Strikers by a 7-2 margin and the Tulsa Rough¬necks 5-4 to end the campaign with a 23 wins and 9 defeats.

In the first round of the playoffs the Seattle Sounders were beaten by two games to one and the Sting advanced to round two and a date with the Montreal Manic. A record soccer crowd of 58,542 in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium saw the Manic take the first game 3-2, but the Sting bounced back to win games two and three both by a 4-2 margin, game three being won despite being 2-1 down with nine minutes left to play.

The San Diego Sockers now stood between the Sting and a first Soccer Bowl appearance. Two late goals by the Californian side gave them first blood and a 2-1 win, but the Sting won game two by the same scoreline in front of 21,760 at Comiskey Park. Five days later 39,623 Chicagoans saw the Sting take the series with a 1-0 overtime victory at the same venue. The Sting were heading for a Soccer Bowl showdown with the New York Cosmos.

Chicago Sting 10 Tampa Bay Rowdies 9

14-02-1982 Chicago Sting 10 Tampa Bay Rowdies 9 (NASL Indoor) Chicago Stadium, Chicago, Illinois

Sting v Rowdies

I have many fond memories of watching professional sports in Chicago and grew quite attached to three of the cities main sports venues, namely Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park and the Chicago Stadium while I was living in Illinois. Of those three only Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, remains. Comiskey Park, built in 1910 and the home of the Chicago White Sox for the next eighty years, was replaced by the less jauntily named US Cellular Field in 1991, and the Chicago Stadium, home of the Chicago Blackhawks (ice hockey) and the Chicago Bulls (basketball) was bulldozed in 1995 – to make way for the United Centre – after sixty-five years of service.

The Chicago Sting played their outdoors games at Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park but for the indoor campaigns the “Madhouse on Madison” was the place it called home and what a pleasure it was to watch them in action there. My first visit to the Stadium was shortly after I moved to the Windy City in the autumn of 1981 to take in an ELO concert. The thing that you couldn’t help but notice was the surrounding area – this is the ‘hood make no mistake, located on 1800 West Madison Street on the city’s near west side. At an English ground I always look for street parking, if I can find it, rather than going for a potholed car park and paying a fiver for the privilege. At the Stadium you always played it safe and headed for the ‘secure’ parking lots adjacent to the entrances. This was not an area to went off to explore before the match.

The Sting's Tasso Koutsoukos scores

At the time of its construction it was the largest indoor arena in the world and although built as the home for the NHL expansion team the Chicago Blackhawks it would host political conventions, boxing matches (both Sugar Ray Leonard and Cassius Clay – later Mohammed Ali – fought under its roof), cycling, American Football, basketball, civic funerals, concerts (rock, pop, country, jazz) and, in its latter years, indoor soccer. Getting tickets for a Blackhawks game was nigh on impossible in the early 80’s, but basketball in Chicago at the time was very much in the doldrums so much so that the Chicago Sting out averaged the Bulls attendance wise for a couple of seasons until, that is, a certain Michael Jordan came along in 1984.

One of the games that helped push those attendance averages upwards was the final 1980-81 indoor season game between the Sting and the Tampa Bay Rowdies – that both teams needed to win to advance to the playoffs – that drew an incredible 19,398 fans. Incredible in many ways not least of which was the official seated capacity at the time was around 17,000, meaning that the extra 2,398 paying customers had to squeeze in where ever they could. At the time this was the largest ever crowd to watch an indoor game in the USA (and quite possibly the world too), but more on the game in a paragraph or two.

Chicago Stadium

The exterior of the stadium – although essentially just a very large concrete box – was quite imposing. Under the eaves of the roof on the west and east facades were great limestone bas-relief sculptures showing athletes in classical poses, and on the north and south sides large electric signs that blazed out the name ‘Chicago Stadium’. The stadium’s original seating capacity was around 19,500, but could be increased by a further 6,800 during boxing matches and concerts when the arena floor could be used for temporary seating.

Unlike many British stadiums built during the same era the Stadium had no posts to obstruct spectators view, the huge roof supported by a system of girders in the outer walls. These spectators were accommodated in three balconies, the centre balcony being half the width of the first and third balconies, with just under twenty rows of seats (I had season tickets on this level for three seasons). Entry to each balcony was by separate turnstiles at street level to prevent fans moving between levels during a game, and those with tickets for the cheaper upper tier gaining access to the more expensive lower tier.

Chicago Stadium

As you would expect for what was primarily an ice hockey arena, the main arena floor was a sheet of ice, which would be covered over by a wooden floor when the Chicago Bulls were at home, and by a green baize when the Chicago Sting were playing. Quite often an over zealous sliding tackle would result in the baize being peeled back from the ice and a ‘timeout’ would be required while the arena staff repaired the damage. This was just one of the quirks of watching a game here.

As well as being the first major arena to be equipped with an air conditioning system the Stadium also boasted a built-in 3,663-pipe Barton Organ. The organ had a multi-tiered keyboard and an awesome cathedral-like sound that boomed out during games. Much of its pipe work was actually built into the framework of the Stadium roof. When the stadium was demolished the organ and as much pipe work that could be salvaged was shipped off to the home of millionaire Phil Maloof, a one time New Mexico state senator, in Las Vegas. If memory serves me correctly I think the name of the in-house organist at the time was Nancy Faust. Football purists may be shocked to hear that every minute of an indoor game was accompanied by music but Nancy had a way with those keys that would most certainly have had the most ardent among them clapping along.

Sting v Rowdies

Nancy Faust would be tickling the ivories too when Wayne Messmer, another Chicago sporting legend, sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” before each home game, along with “Oh, Canada”, if the opposition were one of the NASL’s Canadian franchises. These were moving experiences. Messmer would also sing at White Sox and Cubs games too. The Stadium also had a horn that would be sounded whenever a goal was scored. This was even louder that the organ at full blast and I would imagine many an unsuspecting spectator would have dropped his beer and hotdog when a Sting player hit the back of the net.

Back to the Sting v Rowdies game and fast forward to the fourth quarter. As the game entered the final 15 minute quarter the Sting were losing by 8 goals to 4 and a seventeen winning streak at the Stadium was in jeopardy as well as the aforementioned playoff berth. Five different home players – Karl Heinz Granitza, Pato Margetic, Tasso Koutsoukos, Greg Ryan and Mark Simanton – all scored to put the Sting ahead for the first time in the game, before the visitors levelled to send the game into sudden death overtime (this was years before FIFA and UEFA dreamt up the concept of the golden goal) with just 73 seconds remaining. Charlie Fajkus hit the winner 3 minutes and 26 seconds into overtime to bring the crowd noise to an ear-splitting crescendo. I don’t think I’ve ever heard noise like that when a goal has been scored (even at a full Wembley or Nou Camp). Electric stuff.

This truly was the “Madhouse on Madison”.

[Footnote: Exterior Stadium photos from here and here.]

Willy Roy appointed coach, On the brink

A Brief History of the Chicago Sting: Part 4

1979: At the end of the 1978 NASL season Willy Roy was appointed head coach. The Sting were on their way to becoming one of the best sides in the league and to insure continued success Roy brought in four new players who would all play their part in the franchises best season yet: Wim van Hanegem arrived from Dutch side AZ, Luigi Martini from SS Lazio, Thomas Sjoberg from Malmo FF along with former Feyenoord man Peter Ressell.

All number of club records were broken as the Sting scored 70 goals – Karl-Heinz Granitza weighing in with 20 – and the average home attendance increased to a respectable 8,000, 21,000 plus turning out at Wrigley Field to see the New York Cosmos defeated 3-1. The Fort Lauderdale Strikers were beaten in the first round of the playoffs (the Sting winning the best of three series by two wins to none) but the San Diego Sockers proved to be too strong for Chicago and booked a place at Soccer Bowl ’79 with a 2-0 win in California followed by a 1-0 victory at Wrigley Field.

1980: Phil Parkes, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers ‘keeper, became the Sting’s number 1, moving to Chicago from the Vancouver Whitecaps where he had played for the past three seasons and established himself as the NASL’s top glovesman. Also joining the Sting line-up were Ingo Peter (once of Borussia Dortmund) and Franz Mathieu, a Haitian defender, who joined from FC St. Pauli.

The Sting took the Central Division title with a 21-11 record, 16 of those wins coming in their first 19 games. Karl-Heinz Granitza was again leading marksman with 19 goals and 26 assists, while Arno Steffenhagen took second place with 15 strikes and 15 assists from midfield.

The 1980 campaign, and the 1980-81 Indoor Season that followed (the Sting’s first foray into the world of the indoor game), were major turning points as far as the Chicago public were concerned and the club started to attract large crowds on a regular basis. 26,468 saw the Sting take on the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Wrigley Field, 18,112 watched the Washington Diplomats home fixture, and two other matches drew crowds in excess of 16,000, while indoors 16,257 packed the Chicago Stadium for one game as the Sting’s reached – but lost – the NASL Championship finals.