American soccer writing, history & data.
In mid-1996, the USISL incorporated in Florida as USISL, Inc. which led to a merger between the USISL and the Division II American Professional Soccer League (aka the A-League) which was completed in October of 1996. The new A-League would be a division of the USISL beginning with the 1997 season. The USISL A-League was sanctioned by the USSF as a Division II professional league and was the highest level of professional soccer in Canada.
Following the merger, the other leagues under the USISL umbrella were renamed and the names "APSL" and "Select League" disappeared following the 1996 season. The amateur USISL Premier League was renamed the USISL Premier Development Soccer League but better known as the USISL PDSL.
USISL founder and owner, Francisco Marcos, was the CEO of USISL, Inc. and commissioner of the new USISL A-League. He had the power to name commissioners for the other USISL leagues. USISL, Inc. was led by a board of directors comprised of five people.
Umbro was a major sponsor of both the USISL and the APSL and brought the two leagues together in negotiation. As part of the merger, Umbro and the USISL completed an agreement where Umbro became a 60% equity partner of USISL. The USISL, Inc. board of directors was formed from three representatives from Umbro, Francisco Marcos, and one person designated by Marcos.
For the 1997 season, the USISL PDSL included 30 teams split up into six divisions. The teams would play 16 league matches plus a few non-league matches which would only count in the standings if a league game was not played. Most divisions had five teams. The Central Division had six teams and the Southwest Division only had four.
Ten USISL PDSL teams entered to quailfy for the 1997 U.S. Open Cup. The teams were divided into two qualifying groups with the top two teams of each group advancing to the First Round of the USOC. Four USISL PDSL league matches would also count as USOC qualifying matches for each of these teams.
The Central Coast Roadrunners and Tucson Amigos qualified out of Group A. Tucson's final qualifier was suspended and was scheduled to be finished on July 5 after the USOC First Round dates. Tucson was tied on points with the San Gabriel Valley Highlanders (which had completed its four qualifying matches) but sitting in third place due to tiebreakers. But Tucson was advanced to the First Round due to USSF issues involving San Gabriel Valley's player registrations with the USOC. The Mid-Michigan Bucks advanced as winner of Group B and the second-place Lincoln Brigade also advanced.
All four USISL PDSL teams were matched up against USISL D3-Pro League teams in the First Round of the U.S. Open Cup. Two of those four advanced to the Second Round. The Central Coast Roadrunners beat the Albuquerque Geckos 4-2 on June 20, 1997 and the Mid-Michigan Bucks beat the Wilmington Hammerheads 3-2 on June 24, 1997.
In the Second Round, Mid-Michigan lost a thriller to the Rochester Raging Rhinos of the USISL A-League on July 8, 1997. Down 2-1, the Bucks tied the score in the second half and the match went into overtime. Jimmy Glenn scored in the 100th minute to give Rochester the match 3-2.
In an almost mirror image match, the Central Coast Roadrunners played the USISL A-League California Jaguars in their Second Round match. On July 7 on their home pitch of Mustang Stadium on the campus of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Central Coast quickly went ahead on a goal by Clay Harty in the first minute of play. But the Jaguars came back and scored two first half goals to take the league. In the second half, Harty scored again to tie the match at 2-2. The game went to overtime with Abel Gutierrez scoring in the 103rd minute to give the Roadrunner a 3-2 upset. The dream run would end there as Central Coast was beaten 5-2 on July 27 by the San Jose Clash on July 27, 1997.
After the regular season, the top four teams from each division held divisional playoffs. Because the Southwest Division only had four teams and the Central Coast Roadrunners of that division received a bye as host of the national semifinals and final, only the top two remaining teams played in that divisional final.
The six divisional winners met in three regional finals held on August 2, 1997. In the Central Region, the Mid-Michigan Bucks beat the Des Moines Menace 3-0. The Cocoa Expos beat the Jackson Chargers 2-1 in the East Region final. And, in the West Region, the San Gabriel Valley Highlanders beat the Spokane Shadow 1-0.
The three region winners plus the Central Coast Roadrunners met in the national tournament at Mustang Stadium on the campus of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. On August 8, in the semifinals, the Cocoa Expos beat the San Gabriel Valley Highlanders in a shootout after the teams went scoreless in regulation and overtime. The Central Coast Roadrunners beat the Mid-Michigan Bucks 2-0 in the other semifinal match. The next day, the Central Coast Roadrunners beat the Cocoa Expos 2-1 in front of 1600 fans at Mustang Stadium. It was the second straight USISL PDSL title for Central Coast.
During the offseason the expansion Cincinnati Riverhawks, which won the Mid-South Division regular season, was admitted to the USISL A-League for the 1998 season. And, the Miami Breakers were admitted to the USISL D3-Pro League for the 1998 season.
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