American soccer writing, history & data.
The idea for a new American Soccer League was born in the summer of 1986 when the USSF passed legislation calling for the formation of regional leagues. The Western Soccer Alliance formed on the West Coast and the ASL was created in the northeast. The ASL's founding commissioner was Chuck Blazer, the executive director of the USSF. Originally planned to start play in 1987, with only five franchises ready that spring, the ASL moved its target date to April 1988. The organization had two major objectives: to be the next place for Americans to play after college; and the beginning of a permanent professional soccer league in the U.S.
In the summer of 1987, the ASL had five teams post the required $35,000 performance bond: Cosmopolitan Eagles of Paterson, N.J.; Albany Capitals; Maryland Bays of Baltimore, Md.; F.C. Washington Stars of Fairfax, Va.; and the Washington Diplomats. The latter club was a reorganization of the amateur Club España, a team from Washington, D.C. which had just won the 1987 U.S. Open Cup.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies, a former NASL team, also considered joining the league. The Rowdies had played a handful of outdoor exhibition games since the demise of the NASL and joined the American Indoor Soccer Association for its 1986-87 season.
In August of 1987, the ASL officially admitted F.C. Boston at its sixth franchise. It also provisionally admitted the Tampa Bay Rowdies and a Fort Lauderdale franchise which took the Fort Lauderdale Strikers as its name. Conditions for full admittance where that both groups had to complete the application process within 30 day and both agree to come in. The league owners did not want just one team in Florida. The two teams met those conditions and were fully admitted to the league.
In late October of 1987, the ASL held a three-day meeting. The Miami Sharks and Orlando Lions franchises were admitted as the ASL's ninth and tenth teams. Chuck Blazer was unanimously re-elected as commissioner. Other topics included league rules, divisional alignment, playoff format, player agreements and a league-wide budget. For the 1988 season the ASL teams would have a $50,000 salary cap. Games would have no overtime or tie games but would go to a penalty kick shootout. The top two teams from each division would make the playoffs. There would be two-game playoffs with a mini-game then penalty kicks if teams split games. The league would feature players who have completed four years of college eligibility. Teams could have three non-resident aliens in 1988 which would go down to two in 1989.
The Orlando Lions played their first season in 1986 as the top amateur squad within the F.C. Orlando organization. Ownership of the team was assumed by Soccer Services, Inc. in order for the team to gain entry into the ASL. Mark Dillon, president of F.C. Orlando and coach of the Lions, remained as coach and president of the Orlando Lions Soccer Club, Inc.
Although originally called Inter Miami, the Miami Sharks named Carlos Alberto, former Brazil National team and New York Cosmos player, as their head coach for the 1988 season. F.C. Boston took the name Boston Bolts, and the Cosmopolitan Eagles, formed to draw players almost exclusively from the New York-area Cosmopolitan League, became the New Jersey Eagles.
Even with a $700,000 budget and Rodney Marsh as its coach, the Tampa Bay Rowdies tied the Washington Diplomats on points and ultimately came in third in the Southern Division on tiebreakers and missed the playoffs. The Diplomats beat the Northern Division first-place New Jersey Eagles in the semifinals scoring a stunning four goals in the 30-minute mini-game on August 14, 1988.
Fort Lauderdale, first place in the Southern Division, easily beat the Maryland Bays in the other semifinal series. The Diplomats beat the Strikers 4-3 before 5745 at RFK Stadium in the first game of the ASL Championship on August 21. Six days later the Diplomats completed the upset beating the Strikers 3-2 at Lockhart Stadium before 4257 to become the season champions.
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