December 14, 2016
Twice in a lifetime is twice too much
By Michael Lewis
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- I was sitting in the front row in Room 280 of the New York State District Court of Nassau County Wednesday afternoon and I had a deja vu feeling.
I would up in a court room a few times that year as I watched the demise of a soccer team that I had covered for six years.
On Wednesday morning, I was waiting for the start of the Cosmos' office back rent situation.
They Cosmos were summoned into court to pay back rent for $55,280.55 for their Long Island offices in Garden City, N.Y. to Quentin Roosevelt Associates, LLC. As it turned out, the case was adjourned to Jan. 5.
While I was waiting, I started thinking about the demise of the Rochester Lancers.
It began with a feud between the Rochester and New York factions of owners. It certainly made for intriguing politics and showdowns. The Rochester faction of Charlie Schiano, Pat Dinolfo and Nuri Sabuncu had the majority votes while John Luciano and Bernie Rodin pumped in the fresh money.
Not surprisingly, a battle ensued, which affected the soccer team on and off the field.
A day after the Lancers recorded a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blizzard at Holleder Stadium to boost the hosts to a 3-4 record, their best start in years (Rochester was forced to play many of their early-season games on the road because of the harsh weather), head coach Ray Klivecka was summoned to the Rochester owners’ offices.
They told Klivecka he was doing a fantastic job and that he was the best coach the Lancers ever had.
And then they fired him as the Rochester faction fired a shot across the bow of the New York duo.
Alex Perolli, who was axed as coach midway through the Lancers’ first NASL season in 1970, was brought in to coach the team. Some of his training methods were considered ancient school (not old school) by several players.
Rodin and Luciano gained their revenge by not putting any fresh money into the team and a downward spiral occurred – all the way soccer hell.
The players considered boycotting the Cosmos game at home because they were owed money but decided against it.
Teen phenom Branko Segota, then 18, threw his shirt at Perolli after he was replaced in a game.
The team entered an elevator and pushed the down button and finished at 12-20.
The IRS went after the club because it hadn't paid its taxes.
Electricity was turned off at Holleder because the team -- which had was operating the much-maligned stadium for the city for a $1 year -- had not paid its electric bill.
And on and on and on the nightmare went.
Now I can't predict that the Cosmos will come close to duplicate the Lancers' fate, although it doesn't look very good now.
The team has losses of $30 million and is more than $4 million in debt in 2016.
The players, who were under contract until the end of the year, were released en masse and won't get paid for December, just in time for the holiday season.
Most of the staff has been put on furlough.
I thought that sounded familiar. I found my clip book from the 1980 North American Soccer League season (back in those days I would cut out my stories from a newspaper; you still remember what a newspaper is, don't you?).
The headline in the Aug. 27, 1980 Rochester Democrat & Chronicle said it all:
'Vacations' for Lancers' staff
The lead to my story:
Seven members of the Rochester Lancers front office have been sent on vacation "with pay to follow" for at least two and a half weeks, club spokesman Wayne Fuller said yesterday.
Hmmm. Does that sound familiar?
The move was made by the Rochester-based owners because there is little or no money to support a full front office for the financially beleaguered soccer team. The staff will be on vacation for at least 2 1/2 weeks or until the New York faction buys out the Rochester owners.
It never happened.
The 24-team NASL terminated the franchise, along with the Washington Diplomats and Houston Hurricane on Nov. 24 that year. Those three clubs did not post their $150,000 bonds that was required by the league.
It got uglier.
The Rochester contingent went court hopping, trying to find a judge in six courts to give them a permanent stay of execution. They got temporary lifelines but nothing for the long haul. The team went to the great outdoor soccer league in the sky.
Unfortunately, I went (and wrote about) this rodeo before and it did not turn out very well for the home team.
I fear the same fate awaits the Cosmos.