American soccer writing, history & data.
The USISL A-League expanded from 24 to 28 teams for the 1998 season. The league added the Albuquerque Geckos (1997 USISL D3-Pro League champions), the San Francisco Bay Seals (promoted from the D3-Pro League due to the club's success in the 1997 U.S. Open Cup), the Cincinnati Riverhawks (promoted from the USISL PDSL), and the U.S. Pro-40 Select team. The latter team was made up of players in MLS' Project-40 roster and would play all their matches on the road. The first six games of the league schedule also served as qualifying for the USOC.
The Carolina Dynamo went on hiatus for the 1998 season and the Orlando Sundogs folded following their 1997 season. They were replaced by the Hampton Roads Mariners who returned after a year's hiatus and the Staten Island Vipers. The Mariners new soccer-specific stadium, the Virginia Beach SportsPlex, was completed in early July. The first match was an exhibition match against D.C. United which saw the Mariners win 2-1 before a home crowd of 7133. The Staten Island Vipers was the renamed New York Fever who left the original A-League after the 1996 season and played as an independent during 1997.
Other franchise changes in the offseason included the New Orleans Riverboat Gamblers being renamed the New Orleans Storm after that franchise was sold to the owner of the New Orleans Zephyrs minor league team. Plus, the Colorado Foxes franchise was sold and moved to become the San Diego Flash.
The Rochester Raging Rhinos, Hershey Wildcats, Worcester Wildfire, and Hampton Roads Mariners would qualify for the U.S. Open Cup from the A-League's Eastern Conference. The El Paso Patriots, Nashville Metros, Milwaukee Rampage, and Orange County Zodiac would qualify from the Western Conference.
Those eight A-League clubs would enter the Second Round of the USOC to face the eight winners from the USISL D3-Pro League, USISL PDSL and USASA clubs which played in the First Round. Only two upsets of A-League teams occurred in the Second Round. The Hershey Wildcats lost 3-2 in sudden death overtime at home to the Chicago Stingers of the D3-Pro League and the Orlando Nighthawks of the D3-Pro League beat the Milwaukee Rampage 2-1.
The Third Round saw the eight qualifying MLS teams enter. Only one of the six A-League teams made it through to the Quarterfinals. The Nashville Metros stunned the Kansas City Wizards 3-1 before 1248 at HCA Columbia Soccer Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. Rochester took Columbus Crew to sudden death and Hampton Roads took the MetroStars also to sudden death but both MLS teams prevailed. The Worcester Wildfire made it all the way through overtime tied 2-2 with the Tampa Bay Mutiny but was edged 5-4 on penalty kicks. Nashville's run ended in the Quarterfinals when the team lost 5-1 to the Dallas Burn on July 22 before 3812 at the Cotton Bowl.
In June, halfway through the season, the A-League removed Atlanta Ruckus owner Vincent Lu from control of that franchise. Lu had failed to send the team on a road game against the Long Island Rough Riders. According to the league, Lu repeatedly refulsed to pay bills, did virtually no marketing or promotions, and failed to meet routine legal financial obligations and other requirements for holding franchise right. The A-League took over operations of the club while it looked for new ownership for the franchise.
At the end of June, John Latham and Robert Glustrom took over ownership of the "A-League Atlanta" franchise. The team would use that nickname for almost the entire 1998 season. On September 4, the team's new nickname, the Altanta Silverbacks, was announced at Zoo Atlanta. The Atlanta franchise played their final regular season match under that name beating the U.S. Pro-40 Select squad 3-2 at Roswell Stadium on September 6 before 2482 fans.
The top four teams from each of the four divisions would play in the knockout Conference Quarterfinals. The four winners would play best-two-out-of-three Conference Semifinals and those winners would play in best-two-out-of-three Conference Finals. The Rochester Raging Rhinos would win the Eastern Conference Final two games to none over the Hershey Wildcats. And the Minnesota Thunder would take the Western Conference Final in two games as well.
The 1998 A-League Championship match was held October 17 at Frontier Field in Rochester, N.Y. The 13,772 in attendance would see their home Rhinos win the A-League title by a score of 3 to 1 over the Minnestoa Thunder.
©2023 by Daniel Creel. All rights reserved.