Rochester as usual is running amok. In an effort to save cash, the Lancers will field loaners from the New York Arrows, the indoor-soccer-league team that Lancer Coach Dragan Popovic has been directing for the past few months. The Lancers originally supplied most of the Arrows' players. Figure that one out. Rochester scraped together $125,000 to buy Shep Messing, who is currently keeping goal for the Arrows. The Lancers are masters of the offside trap, a delicate maneuver designed to draw the opposition offside. They did it 181 times in '78, but they will have to come up with some new tricks this year.
In his first coaching job, former Cosmos player Keith Eddy, an Englishman, will depend on English loaners in Toronto , while jettisoning a host of Croatians who have been the backbone of the team for years. A change of ownership and name is involved. Old name: Metros Croatia. New one: The Blizzard.
Another Englishman, ex-player Alan Hinton, will direct the Tulsa squad. The Roughnecks' only luminary this year is a training-camp walk-on, Iranian World Cupper Iraj Danaifard, who found himself in Tulsa with no reason to go home because the soccer season there had been canceled on account of the revolution.
So awed is the management to be bringing soccer back to Atlanta after five years that the Chiefs haven't done much of anything except get together a squad that will show up on opening day, which in their case happens to be April Fools' Day. Most of the players are holdovers from last season when the franchise was in Colorado, as is Coach Dan Wood. "I read that the Rowdies offered Mike Flanagan $1.4 million," Wood says. "We could run our whole franchise for two years on that." If it's around, that is.
Considering all the money that's been spent and the caliber of players signed on, Fort Lauderdale should sweep into Soccer Bowl-79 as conference champion. Minus retired English Keeper Gordon Banks but now with Gerd Muller, Teofilo Cubillas and possibly George Best as a forward line and Arnie Mausser in goal, the Strikers will be an international street fair of styles and a joy to watch. The Brooklyn-born Mausser, who played last season with the Colorado Caribous, is one of the most talented American keepers—by themselves a group of exceptional merit, even by world standards. But Coach Ron Newman is not sanguine. "Every team looks 60% better on paper this year," he says. "The trick is to get the paper onto the field."
The biggest surprise in the league last year was provided by Chicago , which got off to a rousing 0-10 start. When the Sting's record reached 2-14, management fired its English coach and hired Willy Roy, a German. Roy unloaded a bunch of English players and brought in half a dozen German, Dutch and Danish athletes. The result, considering the circumstances, was a remarkable 12-18 season. The Sting's German-based offense was potent last season and should be again. The defense is a question mark, as are the two keepers, neither of whom has yet played an NASL game. Roy, however, is optimistic.
The New England Tea Men, an expansion club that started from scratch last year, finished an astonishingly strong 19-11, tying for first in their division on points and achieving the second-best record in the conference. A large part of their success can be laid at the feet of Mike Flanagan, an English loan player who scored 30 goals and was named the league's MVP. But Tampa Bay is trying to buy Flanagan's contract outright and New England may well have seen the last of him. Thomas J. Lipton Inc., which owns the team, has a ton of money; it recently offered to fund the entire U.S. Olympic soccer effort. The Tea Men have also gone international, acquiring Salif (King) Keita and three other Portuguese stars from Sporting Lisbon, but the loss of Flanagan would really hurt.
When Trevor Francis finally arrives in Detroit after the English season is over (whenever that will be this year), the Express will pick up steam. Last season he scored 22 goals in this country, and his transfer fee was the highest ever in England. The Express' 20-10 record in 1978 was best in the conference. They will be very good again, when the finest player in the league gets there.
Last year's Soccer Bowl loser, Tampa Bay , is rebuilding. Says Coach Gordon Jago, "We should have done it last year, but we were busy trying to win the championship." In typical NASL style, the Rowdies, who have a public relations style all their own, are on the verge of a host of signings, including that of a pair of Peruvians and a brace of Yugoslavs. Well set in the backfield, the Rowdies need to shore up their front line, where semi-official team hero Striker Rodney Marsh, now 34, is slowing down. The acquisition of Flanagan would make a decisive difference here. Without him, or someone of his caliber, the Rowdies could finish behind New England and Detroit.