With FC Dallas entering its 25th season, I’ve been thinking a lot about the history of soccer in the Metroplex, and during my research for a piece on crest design over at SocTakes, I dove down the rabbit hole of DFW teams of the past.
United Soccer Association
Professional soccer first came to Texas in 1967, with the creation of the United Soccer Association the year prior. Originally founded as the North American Soccer League, the USA included famous names such as Jack Kent Cooke, Steve Stavro, and the recent founder of the American Football League, Lamar Hunt.
The plans for this league initially called for a launch in 1968, and their plans received the approval of both the US federation (then called the US Soccer Football Association) and FIFA.
However, a rival group launched simultaneously as the National Premier Soccer League, ready to go for 1967. Scrambling, the NASL adopted the USA name and pushed its launch forward a year.
Lacking any teams or players other than franchise rights, the newly re-named USA elected to bring in European teams for the summer to play as the new league’s franchises.
For Dallas, Lamar Hunt imported Scottish side Dundee United, fresh off a 9th place finish in the Scottish Division One. Dundee would play as the Dallas Tornado for the 1967 season as one of 12 teams in the USA.
The league would follow much of the standard soccer conventions of the time, with 2 points for a 1, 1 for a draw, and ties decided by goal differential. Each of the 12 teams would play a 12 game from late May through early July, with the final on July 14. The league adopted a slight American touch by splitting into Eastern and Western divisions, with Dallas joining Vancouver, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in the West.
Dundee United’s season as Dallas started strong, with a 1-0 win in Chicago (Cagliari) on May 27, followed by a 0-0 draw at home versus Houston (Bangu) on June 3, likely the first professional soccer game ever played in Dallas, in front of a crowd of 20,375 at the Cotton Bowl.
However, fortunes and attendance both soon waned, with the Dallas Tornado finishing its inaugural season at the bottom of the Western Division with 3 wins, 3 draws, and 6 losses, and an average attendance of just 9,227.
Tornado World Tour
Following the inaugural season, the Tornado hired the Yugoslav Bojidar Kapušto, better known as Bob Kap, as its proper head coach. Kap then spent several months scouting players to form a true Dallas team ahead of the absurd world tour planned for the Fall of 1967.
From August of 1967 through March of 1968, the Dallas Tornado traveled around the world, through Europe, Morocco, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, and Central America, playing 49 games ahead of the 1968 season. The team ended up winning 10 games, drawing 10, and losing another 29 during the intense tour.
North American Soccer League
For 1968, the USA and NPSL merged to form the North American Soccer League, with 17 teams set to comprise the inaugural season. Dallas was placed in the Gulf division, alongside Houston, St. Louis, and Kansas City.
Despite optimism coming off of the tour, the 49 games with little rest left the squad exhausted before the season could even begin, and Dallas managed just 2 wins in 32 games, by far the worst record in the league.
What followed was one of the darkest spells in American soccer history, as 12 of the 17 teams folded before the start of the 1969 season.
With only 5 clubs remaining, the NASL brought back the imported clubs as part of a split season philosophy. The imported sides would play an 8 game round-robin for the International Cup, while the teams’ actual players would play a 16 game season for the NASL championship without playoffs.
Dallas brought back Dundee United for the International Cup, where they finished third, and then the Tornado themselves went on to finish third in the NASL standings. Ilija Mitic, the Serbian-American forward, finished the season as the team’s best scorer with 12 goals, making the All-NASL First Team.
The Tornado would continue in the NASL through 1981, winning their division on 4 occasions, and winning the 1971 NASL Finals Series against Atlanta to hoist the Soccer Bowl.
In 1971, the NASL also launched an experimental indoor tournament, creating a hybrid soccer-hockey sport the league called Hoc-Soc. Dallas, St. Louis, Rochester, and Washington all participated in the tournament in March of 1971, with Dallas beating St. Louis and Rochester to win the tournament. Mike Renshaw and Jim Benedek both scored twice for Dallas.
The NASL would stage additional indoor tournaments from the mid-70s onward, with Dallas finishing 3rd in 1975, 4th in 1976, and champions of the 1979 Budweiser Invitational. Jimmy Ryan, Kai Haaskivi, and Kenny Cooper, Sr. all gained reputations as early stars of the indoor game.
Dallas then participated in the 1980-81 NASL Indoor season, the second league-wide indoor season, but in a foreshadowing of their final outdoor campaign, underperformed and failed to make the playoffs. Dallas would limp through the 1981 season, short on money and fans, and ultimately merged into the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Major Indoor Soccer League
Dallas would only have to wait until the winter of 1984 for soccer to return. As the NASL collapsed, indoor soccer found itself primed for explosive growth, and by 1984, the Major Indoor Soccer League was thriving.
Ties between Lamar Hunt and Sidekicks/Mavericks owner Don Carter saw a number of former Tampa Bay Rowdies players join the Sidekicks ahead of their inaugural season, including a young Brazilian forward named Antonio Pecorari, who you might know better by his nickname, Tatu.
While the Sidekicks were underwhelming in their first season, things were looking up for year 2. The Kicks finished 25-23 and made the playoffs, and despite a quick exit at the hands of Minnesota, spirits were high. Off the field, however, was a different story.
Don Carter had enough with the team and was planning to cease operations after just two seasons. Shortly after the news spread that the team was folding a plan was put in motion.
Spearheaded by local businessman Stan Finney a new ownership group was assembled to save the team with Jan Rodgers and Joe Shea joining 34 other partners to keep the team alive. It was just a one-year deal enough to get through the next season but it left the future very much up in the air.
Their efforts would pay off in a massive way in 1986-87, as the Sidekicks improved to a 28-24 record, good for 3rd in the Eastern Division. Under the rallying cry of “Never say die”, Dallas came back from a 2-1 hole to win the final two games against the Baltimore Blast, beat Cleveland in 5 games, and advanced to the MISL Finals against the Tacoma Stars.
In the finals, the Kicks rallied back from a 2 game hole; forced a game 7 with a double-overtime, come from behind, home win; then came back again at the Tacoma Dome in game 7 after pulling their keeper late. Tatu stole the game in overtime to bring home the MISL Championship.
Dallas had gone from the verge of bankruptcy to hoisting the trophy in less than a year, winning the first championship for the city since the Cowboys in 1977, and the first soccer championship for the city since the Tornado’s only title in 1971.
CISL, WISL, MISL, and MASL
The Sidekicks would survive the folding of the MISL in 1992, founding the Continental Indoor Soccer League in 1993, winning the championship in 1993, then founding another league in 1998, the World Indoor Soccer League, and winning another two titles with Tatu as a player/coach before that league would fold as well in 2001.
The Sidekicks then joined a second incarnation of the Major Indoor Soccer League for the 2002-2003 season, but after their second season, the team once again ran low on money and, coupled with a declining Reunion Arena, would go dormant.
The trophies and banners were all locked in storage in the arena were left undisturbed for over 5 years until they were rediscovered ahead of the arena’s closure and demolition in 2008.
The artifacts of the team’s history were spared from demolition and kept until 2012 when the Dallas Sidekicks were reborn. Under new owner Ronnie Davis, Dallas brought back Tatu as head coach, Mike Powers as an assistant, and even a handful of players from the team’s final seasons.
That Sidekicks team, just like the original, has seen ups and downs, including a few ownership reshuffles, but still exists in the Major Arena Soccer League.
This concludes Part 1 of a look back at soccer’s history in DFW. In the next installment, I’ll be covering a few of the lesser-known teams from the late 80s through to just before the launch of MLS.