Steve Zungul and the New York Arrows indoor soccer squad have an unusual story. However, given the period in which he and the club were active, it isn’t entirely outlandish. In 1978, professional soccer in North America was on the rise. The North American Soccer League (NASL), the top-tier league, has grown to a record 24 clubs. The average attendance per game was 13,000 fans. It exceeded 14,000 the next year.
NASL had experimented
Earl Foreman, the previous owner of the Washington Whips outdoor soccer club, met Ed Tepper, a real estate developer from Philadelphia, amid this spectacular surge in soccer’s popularity. The two came up with the concept of organizing an indoor soccer league. The NASL had experimented with the concept in a series of indoor tournaments a few years prior.
Indeed, indoor soccer has been present since 1930, when Uruguayan gym instructor Juan Carlos Ceriani created Futsal, which is still popular today. In 1941, Madison Square Garden tried a few times to build an indoor game in America, but the results were not promising.
Ceriani created his game on a basketball court. The NASL, and subsequently Foreman and Tepper’s plan, asked for a hockey rink covered in artificial turf to be used (sometimes directly over the ice). The usage of the boards, off which the ball may bounce, was also introduced.
The Major Indoor Soccer League, or MISL, was born, and Foreman and Tepper sold six franchises for $25,000 each. The Cleveland Force, Houston Summit, Pittsburgh Spirit, Philadelphia Fever, Cincinnati Kids, and New York Arrows all made their debuts in December 1978. At the Nassau County Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, the latter two kicked off their debut season.
Baseball legend In a last-minute deal, Pete Rose, co-owner of the Kids, kicked out the first ball. The Arrows agreed to swap one of their players, Mario Garcia, to the Kids just before the game in return for Rose kicking the opening ball.
Steve “Lord of All Indoors” Zungul, the Arrows’ captain
While that fortunate bit of marketing benefited both clubs and the league, Arrows GM Mike Menchel had severe reservations before Rose on the field. He was worried that one or more of the players might trip and suffer a catastrophic injury. Since the astroturf had been hurriedly placed over the ice (the venue also hosted the NHL’s New York Islanders).
The game, on the other hand, went off without a hitch. The Arrows defeated the Kids 7 to 2 in front of 10,386 supporters after Rose’s ceremonial kick. Steve “Lord of All Indoors” Zungul, the Arrows’ captain, would go on to become indoor soccer’s best player.
Steve Zungul came into contact with the Arrows via chance.
He was a celebrity in his home Yugoslavia until defecting in the fall of 1978. Steve Zungul planned to play in the NASL, but his old squad filed a complaint with FIFA, the sport’s international governing body. The NASL cooperated with the judgment that Zungul could not play for another team since it was FIFA sanctioned. The MISL, on the other hand, was not bound by FIFA regulations. Zungul moved to work for his previous team, the Arrows, and its coach, Dragan Popovic, a Yugoslav native.
The rest of the Arrows’ squad was made up of Rochester Lancers players from the NASL. Bernie Rodin and John Luciani controlled both teams, and they simply sent the majority of the outdoor squad to Long Island for the winter. It didn’t appear like the players were exhausted after a full season of outdoor soccer. The Arrows finished the season with a 16-8 record. They were tied for second place in the rankings with the Cincinnati Kids, their first-round opponent.
The Lancers had only 14 wins and 16 losses in the NASL’s 1978 season, and it was Zungul who made all the difference. Indeed, in his initial spell with the MISL, Zungul played five seasons, breaking records and helping the Arrows win the league’s first four titles. Only a few players played year-round, and the two clubs eventually had distinct rosters.
NASL’s Golden Bay Earthquakes
In 1983, Steve Zungul was moved to the NASL’s Golden Bay Earthquakes (located in San Jose), who was also playing in the MISL during the winter, as part of a cost-cutting move thinly veiled as a strategy to Americanize the Arrows. Because his FIFA restriction had ended, he was able to play outside again. He hadn’t taken a step back. Zungul was an All-Star for Popovic in San Jose in 1983 and won the scoring title in the NASL’s last season, 1984.
That was also the New York Arrows’ final season. The squad would have crumbled without Zungul’s scoring prowess. The earthquakes, on the other hand, continued. The squad, and Zungul, continued to play in the MISL when the NASL disbanded. There he continued to set records and add trophies to his collection. In 1984, Zungul became a full-time member of the San Diego Sockers. They have migrated from the defunct NASL to the MISL. He was purchased by the MISL’s Tacoma Stars in 1986, but he returned to San Diego in 1988. After the NASL folded in 1990, he continued his career with the Sockers, who played entirely indoors in numerous leagues.