Pete Rose and the Cincinnati Kids Indoor Soccer Team

January 07, 2019 3 Comments

Pete Rose Cincinnati Kids Soccer

Now soccer-mad Cincinnati was there at the beginning of a new version of the sport in the late 70s, though the Queen City’s initial involvement was brief. It was at a time when the game was gaining in popularity in the United States and was on the verge of becoming North America’s fifth major league sport.

By 1978, the North American Soccer League had grown to 24 teams, a number that would hold steady through the 1981 season, afterwhich is declined precipitously. In the late disco era, though, more and more fans seemed to be embracing soccer as a spectator sport fueled, in part, by a surge in youth soccer programs across the country.

A year earlier, Earl Foreman, along with business partner Ed Tepper, came up with the idea for indoor soccer, which essentially involved covering a hockey rink with AstroTurf and playing soccer on it with a reduced number of players.  Foreman had previously owned the Washington Whips of the NASL and knew a thing or two about the outdoor game and how to bring it indoors.

On December 22, 1978, the Major Indoor Soccer League debuted with 6 teams: The Cleveland Force, Pittsburgh Spirit, Philadelphia Fever, Houston Summit, New York Arrows, and the Cincinnati Kids. The latter two played the league’s very first game.

That match is remembered not so much for being the league’s inaugural contest but for the little bit of fanfare that preceded it. The first ball was kicked out by Cincinnati Reds great Pete Rose, though the game took place in the Arrow’s home arena in Uniondale, N.Y.

Rose was a part owner of the Kids, but the idea to have him kick out that first ball came from the Arrows. “The Kids wanted one of our players, Mario Garcia, I believe,” former Arrows general manager Mike Menchel told the Good Seats Still Available podcast in 2017 (Episode 15), “and they said, ‘what do you want for him?’ I said, ‘I’d like Pete Rose to kick out the first ball.’”

The Kids’ GM agreed. “He never checked with Rose just to be sure,” Menchel recalls. Rose flew in on a private plane, walked into the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum wearing a leather jacket, collared shirt, and casual slacks, and kicked out the first ball.

Many years later, Good Seats host Tim Hanlon went to a sports memorabilia store where Rose was signing autographs. Hanlon presented Rose with a picture of that first kick (above). “He looked at it kind of fuzzily,” Hanlon told his listeners and Menchel, “and then he started to sort of pick things out and said, ‘soccer. Cincinnati, right?’ And I think he might have mentioned one or two names, and then that was it. He didn’t regale me with any details.”

The Kids went on to a 16-8 record, good for third place and a playoff appearance. They lost to the Arrows 9 to 4 in the postseason, and folded shortly thereafter, the only one of the six charter teams not to continue on.

Why the Kids packed it in after only one season is a bit of a mystery. According to an event listing in the March 1979 issue of Cincinnati Magazine, Kids tickets at Riverfront Coliseum went for between $2.50 and $7.00. The team averaged 3,191 a game, which was more than Cleveland or Pittsburgh drew. Both of those clubs saw substantial increases in successive seasons.

During the 1978/79 season, the Coliseum’s other tenant, the World Hockey Association’s Cincinnati Stingers, drew just over 7,000 fans in their final campaign before being demoted to the Central Hockey League. They folded 33 games into the 1979/80 season, which would have left the Coliseum all to the Kids.

Oddly, months after the team had folded, they turned up as part of a storyline on WKRP in Cincinnati. Former Reds manager Sparky Anderson, hosting a talk show on the station, welcomes as his first guest a fictitious Kids player, team captain Derek Doogle, played by Andrew Bloch.

Anderson is actually quite funny in the exchange, asking Doogle to explain indoor soccer. “Oh, it’s beautiful,” Doogle responds. “It’s soccer played indoors, like in a hockey rink. Sort of soccer-hockey.”

“What are the rules?” Anderson asks.

“I dunno,” says Doogle, who then shrugs and adds, “I don’t care.”

The MISL continued to grow in popularity, while the outdoor NASL declined rapidly. At its height, the MISL had 14 teams and an average attendance of over 8,700 fans a game. Indoor soccer finally returned to Cincinnati in 1995 with the Silverbacks of the National Professional Soccer League, who stayed for three seasons.

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