A Soccer History Of Houston
Soccer fans of the mid-70’s wax nostalgic for the memories of the North American Soccer League. Often, they talk of great teams like the New York Cosmos, Tulsa Roughnecks, Minnesota Kicks and Chicago Sting.
The Houston Hurricane is a team rarely mentioned, and even less people remember the first incarnation of soccer in South Texas, the Houston Stars. Houston has known big-time professional soccer, but it has never been combined with the massive youth soccer programs there to make it a commercial success.
In 1967, when the United Soccer Association debuted, one of the entries in the league was the Stars. The Stars were one of the teams that were wholly imported from another country to play in the new league. While some cities got glamorous teams at the time like the Washington Whips (Aberdeen of Scotland) and Cleveland Stokers (Stoke City of England), the Stars were made up of Brazilian champions Bangu despite not having a particularly large Brazilian population.
The Stars actually led the league in attendance with over 19,000 based on some of their first games at the Astrodome which drew more than 30,000 fans. The team led by 1966 World Cup veteran defender Mario Tito, Paulo Borges, Aladim Luciano and Carlos Cabralzinho finished 4-4-4, but they were not long for the United States.
By 1968, the USA and the National Professional Soccer League merged into a 17-team league called the NASL. Like every other team, the Stars had to come up with new players with Bangu returning to Brazil. What resulted was a motley crew of Eastern Europeans led by head coach Geza Henni that may have resulted in the first ever American professional team with three players named Tibor (Magyar, Szalay and Vigh).
Still, in the Astrodome but with significantly less attendance, the Stars’ mix of Yugoslavians, Austrians, and Hungarians finished second in the Gulf Division. With the league hemorhaging cash, the NASL shrunk to six teams in 1969 and the Stars were not one of them.
The Brazilian team would come back to play friendlies against NASL teams in 1971.
By 1978, there was a fervor of interest in American soccer because of the effect Pele had on the NASL. Four more teams were created that year including the Houston Hurricane who were back to playing on Astroturf in the Astrodome. The Hurricane were one of the last teams to be created so they had less than three months to put together a team. The Hurricane struggled after a successful start, hobbled by injuries and finished at 10-20, out of the playoffs. Young goalkeeper Keith Van Eron was a player on that team who would later become a star in the MISL.
In 1979, the Hurricane put on a much better display in front of Coach of the Year Timo Liekoski. They had the second best record in the league without any star players. The no-name Hurricane were led by Paul Hammond and former German star Horst Hertl, Eduardo Marasco and Nino Zec. Unfortunately, they were stunned in the play-offs against Philadelphia in the first round.
Many of the Hurricanes players played indoors during the off-season as well as the Houston Summit in the newly formed Major Indoor Soccer League. Just like they would be in the summer though, after finishing first in the league, they were dumped out of the play-offs by the Philadelphia Fever. The Summit’s star player that season was a young Finnish forward named Kai Haaskivi who would become one of the greatest indoor players of all-time.
1980 saw the Hurricane finish second in the division and lose in the play-offs to the Edmonton Drillers. The Hurricane would fold after their third season in Houston. Once again, the Summit were much more successful indoors behind Haaskivi, Paul Hammond and John Stremlau. They fell in a one-game final to New York 7-4. Without an NASL team to anchor it, the Summit moved to Baltimore and became the Blast.
Houston was back in business outdoors in 1984 with the new United Soccer League (USL). It was basically the now-defunct American Soccer League with four teams from the ASL and six expansion franchises including the Houston Dynamos. With veteran Jose Neto leading the league in scoring, Tony Johnson and former ASL defender Glenn Davis, the Dynamos went to the USL Championship game only to lose to the Fort Lauderdale Sun in three games. Depsite that, the Dynamo were one of six teams to fold and the league barely made it to the 1985 season.
A second incarnation of the Dynamo returned in 1987 in the semi-pro Lone Star Soccer Alliance. The league played just six games with the Dynamo losing to Dallas in the final, 5-3.
In 1988, there were two Houston teams in the league with Houston Alianza joining the LSSA. The Dynamos once again lost to Dallas in the final, 5-3. As a sign of the growing acknowledgement of the hotbed of soccer activity in Houston, the U.S. National Team played for the first time in Houston losing to Ecuador 2-0 on June 10.
Alianza and Dynamos played again in 1989, and they were joined by the indoor Houston Express, in the burgeoning Southwest Indoor Soccer League (SISL). The Express lasted two seasons before succumbing under the weight of a 2-22 record in 1990.By 1991, both Houston clubs, including Alianza’s leading scorer Louis Morales were out of the LSSA. The SISL would morph into the USISL by 1991 which created too much competition in Texas and Oklahoma for the LSSA to survive past 1992.
Professional soccer retuned to Houston in 1994 with the birth of the Hotshots in the Continental Indoor Soccer League. The summer league did well without any competition from a professional outdoor league yet. Nebo Bandovic led the team in scoring, but they still finished a disappointing 7-21. By 1996, the team was much improved behind Bandovic and Paul Dougherty losing the league final to Monterrey in two games.
In 1997, Dougherty led the league in scoring but once again, the Hotshots could not provide the city with a soccer championship losing to Seattle in a two-game final. After competing with MLS all summer for players and interest, the league folded in December of 1997. However, outdoor soccer re-emerged with the Houston Hurricanes joining the D3 Pro League for three seasons
The Hotshots awoke their indoor franchise in 1999 in the newly named World Indoor Soccer League but finished in last place. They decided to sit out the 2001 season, but never joined the MISL with the other teams from the WISL.
The outdoor version returned when the relocated San Jose Earthquakes became the Houston Dynamo in 2006. The club plays at The University of Houston's Robertson Stadium and are back-to-back MLS Cup champions.