By Jeff Kassouf
Faithful fans of the Major Indoor Soccer League can give you a list longer than their arms of what is wrong with the league. Or, they could just give you a list of the league’s defunct teams.
Unfortunately, the MISL has been plagued by poor expansion teams whose market cannot support a team. This year, three new expansion teams – the New Jersey Ironmen, the Orlando Sharks, and La Raza de Monterrey – joined the league to bring it to nine teams for the season.
While Monterrey is finding at least some success off of the field for the MISL’s standards, Orlando is already amidst a great deal of turbulence in its freshmen campaign.
The team is 0-7 on the year, and an embarrassing attendance exemplified by last week’s poor crowd on national television is rumored to have caused the Sharks’ organization to consider moving the team in the middle of its first season. The Sharks presently play at Amway Arena in downtown Orlando, home to the NBA’s Orlando Magic, and may be seeking a smaller arena in the surrounding suburbs.
So, it would only be natural for a fan of the indoor game to assume the league still cannot figure things out. Don’t be too quick to pull that trigger.
While Orlando is struggling on and off the field, the New Jersey Ironmen are proving to be the most promising sight to MISL fans in years. Backed by the New Jersey Devils’ (NHL) ownership team of Jeff Vanderbeek and Michael Gilfillan, the Ironmen are supported by the strongest group of owners in the league.
Unlike Orlando’s arena woes, the Ironmen are reaping the benefits of having NHL owners, as they play in the brand new Prudential Center in downtown Newark, NJ, built specifically for the Devils. Last night marked the inaugural home game for the franchise – which, by the way, entered the game with an impressive 3-1 record – and provided glimpses of what the MISL could be: a prosperous league.
The evening kicked off with a ceremony dedicated to the night’s honorary captain, the great Pelé, and some Brazilian themed entertainment. Surely, there were a large number of people in the crowd that just wanted to see the legend himself, but a crowd of 13,249 was a promising sight to Commissioner Steve Ryan and US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, both of whom were in attendance.
The crowd packed into the beautiful new arena saw everything from Pelé to Samba dancers to a marriage proposal in the crowd, and even had the wave going around the lower bowl of the arena for an extended period of time. A group of approximately thirty young men circled the arena corridor for the entirety of the game, stopping at different sections to chant for the Ironmen.
The game between New Jersey and the Detroit Ignition was not the best the MISL has ever seen, but it was still a quality game with a good deal of excitement – shots off the post, an amazing goal-mouth scramble where Ironmen Goalkeeper Tony Meola came up with three successive saves, and even a shootout penalty kick for New Jersey.
Though there was some late drama, the Ironmen made sure that they sent their first ever Prudential Center crowd home happy with an 8-6 victory, putting them in second place in the league behind the Chicago Storm with a game in hand.
Ryan has seen all too many teams fail during his tenure, but surely he felt something different on this night. This was something the MISL hadn’t experienced before. This was what the MISL needed.
Jeff Kassouf is a staff writer for The New Paltz Times and a freelance writer who covers soccer, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org