I arrived in Las Vegas, checked in, and got all my stuff together... and still arrived at the welcome reception earlier than everyone else. After a while I saw a few people that I recognized as Kai Haaskivi passed by, along with John Louis (trainer from the Chicago Sting). After a while, the doors opened and we all went in. I got to talking for a bit with someone I later found out was Brad Smith. He actually remembered that I wrote to him, and also signed three more cards I had with me. He asked if Ralph Black was coming-- he wasn't unfortunately.
I laughed at his mentioning of Black, asking "Gonna have round two out in the hallway here?" referring to their 1991-92 season fight in Tacoma. Smith laughed and said "You know, after all that we're actually really good friends now." It's like Darren McCarty said about hockey fights: you go and pound each other's faces in, and then after the game you buy each other a drink.
|A trio of cards from Brad Smith
After a break for some food, a chance to talk to a few fans who showed up (notably Cowboy Salazar from San Diego and Joey Thomas from Dallas who was getting a lot of cards signed as well; Sockers fan Gabriel Clum showed up the next day as well with a binder full of photos to get signed) and to just stand back, take it all in, see these guys all interact with each other, I started making the rounds. Guy Newman came by to talk to Cowboy and signed a photo for me.
Oh yeah, I had a few guys from the Philadelphia Fever (including 76ers broadcaster Marc Zumoff) see my Cleveland Force shirt and apparently had to settle a bet among them that I wouldn't be able to answer their question: Who was known as Ruben Twelve Letters?
Now, going back to my hockey broadcasting days I was known as "The Schwab" because of my trivia prowess and the ESPN show Stump The Schwab where amateur trivia gurus go up against ESPN statistician Howie Schwab in an all-out trivia battle royale. So whoever bet against me lost when I quickly named Ruben Astigarraga, former forward for the Force and the ASL's Cleveland Cobras.
Dave MacKenzie was next up, signing nine cards for me and laughing about the card of Mike Sweeney from 1988-89 that depicts him instead of his fellow countryman. His wife asked to see the cards I had with me so I got the binder of the entire set project for her to check out. At the same table were Billy McNicol and Norman Piper, who each signed a photo.
|Nine cards from Dave MacKenzie, AKA Not Mike Sweeney
Alan Mayer was one of the newest inductees into the Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame (two members of the Class of 2019 came out for the weekend, Roy Turner being the other). His son and grandson both came with him and were around at events the entire weekend. He signed seven cards and a photo that I had with me. I also spent some time chatting with Dave D'Errico about what he's been up to in the business world-- he's been working on a project that's like a pumped-up version of LinkedIn that has a ton of potential. He also signed a photo for me.
|The Kamikaze, Alan Mayer
Juli Veee was a major one I was hoping to meet. The aforementioned Greg Suttie helped me out in getting my set cards signed for me a while back so I was pretty much all set on him, but I agreed to help out a couple of local collectors in Dave and Brian (both of whom have been mentioned on here before) as they've helped me out a lot in the past with player ID'ing at Sidekicks events and hooking me up with cards when needed. I also printed up a photo of Veee as well. He signed all of them, and even said he had never seen the photo before, asking me to email it to him when I had a moment. He said it's been tough to find color photos from the MISL. Veee also brought along prints of some of his artwork for everyone to take with them. A lot of the players were even having each other sign them to commemorate the reunion.
Over the weekend, we had a late addition to the list in Godfrey Ingram. Luckily, I had success in mailing to Ingram, sending to an address in the UK, and getting it back with a US stamp and a San Diego postmark. Attempts from other collectors to addresses in San Diego and St. Louis were unsuccessful, so he's been a tough one to get a hold of. Fortunately in-person he was incredibly personable. I had a ton of cards with me and he was excited to sign them all, saying that he had never seen a few of them before.
Godfrey saw the cards and photo I had of Gordon Jago and it stopped him dead in his tracks. So he went with me over to Gordon saying he wanted to show that one off to him and presents it to Gordon's table with a "Long long ago... in a galaxy far far away..." and turns over the photo showing a young Gordon Jago at the Meadowlands in New Jersey when he was Tampa Bay's coach. Gordon signed it and three other cards I had with me.
|I'm surprised I had any cards of him left!
Perry Van der Beck was another late addition that I found out about a day or two before the event, but I was able to pull a few cards of him. I had gotten most of mine signed at the NASL event back in the fall, but fortnately I had a couple and Brian came through with a bunch. I followed that up with Nick Megaloudis signing a photo.
|I had about five more of the 1991-92 card, but I felt this was plenty
The last two for the night were Gerry Gray and Zoltan Toth. "Gerry with a G, Gray with an A" as he put it is a member of the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame's class of 2001.
|Seven cards from Gerry Gray
Zollie the Goalie was great-- lots of stories about the Sockers' championships in the 80s and 90s. Apparently the team owner was upset at their 1988 sweep of the Cleveland Force for the championship-- by not winning in five in the home arena, that was a potential for one more huge crowd that he lost out on. He signed a bunch of cards I had as well, including finishing the dual with him and Victor Nogueira from the 1990-91 set. I had one signed by each, but now I finally have a completed one.
I haven't posted the photos yet since I took a shot of them all together. Back about a year ago, I printed business cards for myself in the style of the 1989-90 Pacific set, since it was my favorite design of the MISL sets and easy to replicate. So I reused my Photoshop template for it, enlarged it to 4x6, and printed off photos for several of the players to sign. I had to take some liberties on the colors of the name box: several of the teams weren't around when the sets came out, so I took a guess at what color they likely would have used.
Day Two started off with an Uber over to a soccer facility to go out and kick it around a bit. It's pretty cool getting to just sit back and listen to Gerry Gray, John Louis, and Kai Haaskivi just talking soccer. At one point Louis asked Kai if he was Danish, and Kai responded that no, he was Finnish. So Louis apologizes, saying he didn't mean to insult him if he accidentally did, and I said "It could be worse, you could have said Swedish," to which Kai deadpans in typical Finnish fashion "He would have to get out and walk if he had said that."
I wasn't planning on playing at all, just maybe kick it around a bit and then sit back and watch. But as I was standing getting ready to take pictures, Cowboy comes running off the field and gets into his goalie gear. I asked if they need another goalie and he said they could use one since the other team didn't have one. So I scrambled to get my shirt and gloves on and jumped in on a team with Gray, Ingram, D'Errico, Kenny Mayer (Alan's son), Dallas fan Joey Thomas, Sydney Nusinov of the Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame, Doc Lawson, and Bob Bozada. A few minutes in, the first shot comes rolling in on me... and I manage to mishandle it right into the net, leading D'Errico to shout "Who the hell gave us the Swiss National Team's keeper?!" But after letting that one in, I played pretty well with a couple decent saves. We lost 4-3 with 1980 Rookie of the Year winner Jim Sinclair sniping me upper 90 just moments after a free kick. No one could have stopped that one-- absolutely perfect placement on it. Alan Mayer said "You really should have had that winner. I mean, all you had to do is jump about five feet in the air, stretch out as far as you can, and get about eight inches taller, that should have been an easy one!" Juli Veee said I played well in goal: I'll take praise from an Indoor Soccer HOF member over the win ANY day.
After the game, Gus Mokalis signed the cards I had plus a photo, Sinclair signed his photo (shown above) and Bozada signed an index card since I had nothing else for him as a super-late addition. I rode back with Mayer, Sinclair, and MacKenzie, hearing a few more stories, with Mayer lamenting the fact that players used to always use Vaseline on their knees to prevent rug burn from the turf and it would get all over the ball and make it tough for a goalie to handle. I told them I was using that as my excuse on that first goal. Did you know MacKenzie played both soccer and hockey at Colgate? He left the school as the hockey team's fifth leading scorer all-time and still goes back for their alumni game.
|In hindsight, I should have asked Sinclair to add "MISL40 Game Winner"
Later that night, we had the Hall of Fame dinner, where Doug Verb thanked everyone for attending and teamed up with Nusinov for the induction of the newest class, recognition of past inductees who were in attendance, and a memorial recognition of HOF members Ron Newman, Earl Foreman, and Fernando Clavijo, all of whom passed away in the last twelve months. I also was able to get the last two players I had cards of to sign theirs: Doc Lawson and Kai Haaskivi. Len Bilous, 1980 co-Coach of the Year winner, also signed an index card for me.
If you've never met him, Doc is one of the nicest people you could ever meet (well really, I haven't met any bad people in the indoor soccer world). He does a lot of work with youth sports in his native country of Liberia. One of the best stories I've heard from his playing days was close to the end of his playing career. Richard Chinapoo, previously of the Dallas Sidekicks, had just signed with Baltimore and moved his family halfway across the country to play with the Blast. Late in the season, the Sidekicks were appearing likely to be out of playoff contention, but they wanted to give Doc one more chance at a championship before he retired, and were all set to send him to the defense-hungry Blast in exchange for Chinapoo. But Doc vetoed the trade. He believed it wouldn't be right for Chinapoo to have to uproot his family yet again.
You'll have to pardon any over-pontificating I do of Haaskivi. Being half Finnish myself, I follow a lot of Finnish athletes. Finland is usually best-known for hockey, ski jumping, pesapallo, and eukonkanto. We aren't well represented outside of those sports in America: in the NFL there was Tyler Varga; basketball only has Lauri Markkanen, Erik Murphy, Hanno Mottola, and Drew Gooden; in baseball it's only Jeff Lahti, Kevin Tapani, Luke Putkonen, Chad Mottola, and Will Ohman. The soccer team has yet to ever qualify to play in a World Cup or UEFA Euro Championship, recently was promoted to the B Division of the UEFA Nations League, and only qualified for the Olympics in 1980, 1952 as the host country, and 1936 where they finished 14th ahead of only Luxembourg and Turkey.
So to have not only an indoor soccer Hall of Famer, but one who played in my homeland of Cleveland? You're damn right I'm a fan. I actually met Kai when I was about two years old-- my family attended a Finnish church near Cleveland and he made a few appearances there. I remember getting a card of him in the first pack of soccer cards I ever got when I was about six or seven years old from the Dairy Mart up the road from my house. So getting to meet him at the NASL50 event back in the fall and again at MISL40 was great.
Typically I try to limit to no more than a single page of cards for a player to sign. This is one event where I made an exception: seeing as I was helping out Dave and Brian with some cards and also considering I didn't know if I'd ever have a chance to see some of these guys again, I felt it was reasonable to do so. And no one seemed to mind either-- these guys got a kick out of seeing the cards and photos and would have sat and signed and recounted stories all day. I figured it would be like that-- so many players I've mailed to have written notes back, which you rarely ever see in other sports.
Here's to hoping we'll see a MISL50 event in another ten years!