American soccer writing, history & data.
In September of 1993, the United States Interregional Soccer League gained sanctioning as an Division III professional outdoor league by the U.S. Soccer Federation. The league grew from 43 teams in 1993 to 70 in 1994.
While the league itself was granted official professional status, individual teams had the option to go professional and forego college-eligible players or retain amateur status and be able to used college players. The league reached an agreement with the NCAA for granting college players permission to play in the USISL. Under this agreement the USISL, in relation to the NCAA, realigned its divisions to be divided into Professional and Amateur sections. As such, the USISL kept two different standings: one with all it's teams divided into regions; and another divided by Professional and Amateur then subdivided into regional divisions.
Around half of the league opted for professional status and were formally sanctioned via the USSF while the other half retained amateur status and were sanctioned via the USASA. The league had a $50,000 per team salary cap for the 1994 season. The USISL planned on formally splitting into separate men's professional and amateur leagues starting in 1995. It also decided to launch a women's league that year and set up a pilot women's season in 1994.
FIFA tested several rule changes in the USISL for the 1994 season. Most were designed to increase offense and all were approved by both the USSF and MLS as the USISL hoped to serve as a minor league to the yet-to-be-launched Division I league. Each division would not be subject to all of the changes but would be assigned a set of them. Experimental rules included: 30-minute halves with the clock stopped for goals, penalties, out-of-bounds, plays, and injuries; a team foul count with penalty shootouts awarded for the seventh foul in each half; an individual foul count with players disqualified after four individual fouls; a kick-in option instead of throw-ins; larger goals; instead of a shootout, tie games awarded as wins based on the number of corner kicks for each team; and taking corner kicks closer to the goal. FIFA would decided after the season which rules to incorporate into MLS. In addition, every team was scheduled two "Designated Make-up Games" to cover any games that might get canceled for any reason.
The USISL played an 18-game season. Most of the Southeast Division only managed to play 17 games because the Jacksonville Fury folded during the season. The Memphis Jackals only managed to play 11 games and the San Diego Top Guns only played half of their schedule. The remainder of the teams in the league completed their full schedules for the most stable season in the USISL to date. During the season, Albany, Rhode Island Stingrays, Puerto Rico Islanders, and Monteregy Bay Jaguars were approved as members to start play in 1995. The Jackson Chargers were also admitted as members and played a provisional schedule in 1994.
The top four or five teams from each division made it into the divisional playoffs with each of the eight winners making it to the Sizzlin' Nine Playoff. Greensboro Dynamo automatically made the playoffs as the ninth team by way of hosting the Sizzlin' Nine tournament and winning the league in 1993. The teams were actually divided into three groups and played a round robin in three venues: Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C.; Stoney Field in Charleston, S.C.; and Broughton High School in Raleigh, N.C.
Greensboro beat the Dallas/Fort Worth Toros and Birmingham Grasshoppers to advance out of the Greensboro group. Charleston Battery beat the Cocoa Expos and Chico Rooks to advance out of the Charleston group. Each team in the Raleigh group ended with one win and one loss. The Minnesota Thunder, who went undefeated in division play beat Long Island Rough Riders 4-2 but suffered their first loss of the season by the Los Angeles Cobras in a shootout. The Rough Riders then beat the Cobras 8-2. Under point system, the Minnesota Thunder won the group because the points they received for the shootout loss was enough to push them top the top.
Cocoa, Long Island and D/FW Toros each tied for the wildcard spot into the semifinals with 11 points each (six points for a win and one point for each goal up to three per game). Long Island took the wildcard on a tiebreaker due to having the most goals over the two games: ten for Long Island; eight for Cocoa; and six for D/FW.
At the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the Greensboro Dynamo edged the Long Island Rough Riders 2-1 in overtime in one semifinal. And, in the second, the Minnesota Thunder easily handled the Charleston Battery 5-0 before 5000 in Charleston. The final was also held at UNC-Greensboro. The 5159 in attendance got to see a classic. Mike Gailey scored in the 10th minute to put Greensboro ahead. But, Gerard Lagos scored in the 46th minute to even the score. Neither team scored in regulation or overtime sending the final to a shootout. Greensboro took the shootout two goals to one to win back-to-back USISL titles.
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