American soccer writing, history & data.
In April of 1989, the American Soccer League and the Western Soccer League formally agreed to negotiate toward a merger of the two organizations. A joint resolution adopted by the WSL and ASL boards stated that the leagues would immediately begin to finalized details of the merger and set the criteria required for their teams to join the U.S. Soccer Federation's new "Professional Division".
The two leagues also announced an intention to devise a joint plan for developing regional divisions in the middle of the country. The USSF's three-tiered national league system, as proposed the last July 30 called for a 32-team continental Division I program, four eight-team regional Division II semi-professional leagues, and eight 12-team sub-regional amateur leagues.
It was understood that the impending merger all but created the forerunner to the USSF's proposed Division I "Professional League" set for operation by 1992 in anticipation for the 1994 World Cup. The WSL had previously announced it wanted to move to full professional Division II status for the 1990 season. Those franchises in the ASL and WSL under the present Division III amateur/semi-pro regional league classification would be in line to eventually jump to the Division I league. Both the WSL and the ASL had indicated the regional leagues in the Southwestern U.S. (Lone Star Soccer Alliance and Southwest Independent Soccer League) and the Midwest (Heartland Soccer League) were vital to any type of proposed national professional league.
During the USSF's annual meeting held in August of 1989, the federation put the national league system and professional league on hold. Further discussion of the idea was tabled after an open session provoked in-fighting. A power struggle for the leadership of the USSF was understood to be underway.
The two leagues continued merger negotiations during the offseason. On February 22, 1990, the leagues announced they had officially merged to form the American Professional Soccer League. The leagues immediately unified their business and marketing operations. The old WSL would form the West Conference and the old ASL would form the East Conference. Each conference would play separate schedules with the conference winners to meet for the league championship. League co-chairs were Bill Sage, president of the Seattle Storm, and Clive Toye, who headed the New Jersey Eagles franchise. Sage stated he thought the APSL qualified for USSF's Second Division and had applied for professional division status.
The APSL instituted a $125,000 entrance fee for clubs. Those clubs would have to be able to sustain three years of losses and have budgets averaging between $300,000 to $400,000. At the time of the merger, WSL teams had a salary cap of approximately $95,000. The APSL had no salary cap but had guidelines of $100,000 per team.
Eight teams from the 1989 WSL season moved to the APSL's West Conference: Portland Timbers; Seattle Storm; California Emperors (formerly the California Kickers who had moved to Redlands); L.A. Heat; San Diego Nomads; Arizona Condors from Mesa; Real Santa Barbara; and the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks who would play most of their games in Newark, Cali. Three WSL expansion teams would round out the 11-team West Conference: Colorado Foxes from Lakewood; New Mexico Chiles from Albuquerque; and the Salt Lake Sting.
The ten teams from the 1986 WSL season moved to the APSL's East Conference: Albany Capitals; Boston Bolts; Fort Lauderdale Strikers; Maryland Bays from Columbia; Miami Freedom (formerly the Miami Sharks); New Jersey Eagles from Jersey City; Orlando Lions; Tampa Bay Rowdies; Washington Diplomats; and Washington Stars. The expansion Penn-Jersey Spirit from Ewing, N.J. filled out the 11-team East Conference. North Carolina's Research Triangle area also received an expansion franchise to begin play at some point in the future.
The APSL limited rosters to two foreign players. The APSL games tied at regulation would go to an overtime consisting of two 7.5 minute periods. A shootout would be held if teams were still tied. The season was scheduled for 20 games starting mid-April and running through early August with playoffs after the regular season. The league points system was 6 points for a win in regulation or overtime, four for a shootout win, two for a shootout loss, and one point for each goal in regulation or overtime up to three.
That June USSF president and CEO, Werner Fricker, announced that he expected a national professional soccer league of 12-16 clubs to be in place by the 1993-94 season at the latest. The stated that the USSF would start preparing for the new league in the next 12 months by setting up three or four national teams to play against tough international opponents. These would gradually be transformed into club sides.
The APSL's regular season ended during the USSF's annual meeting held in early August. Bill Sage hoped to see the APSL become the bona fide successor to the North American Soccer League. A stumbling block to achieve that status was the APSL's designation as a regional professional league by the USSF. The Major Soccer League (which changed its name from the Major Indoor Soccer League just a week before) was the only national professional league recognized by the USSF at that point in time.
The East Conference ended its regular season first. The top two teams from each division met in the conference semifinals. Both division winners, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Maryland Bays, won their best-of-three game semifinal series and met in the conference championship. The Bay won the match-up two games to none.
The top three teams from each division in the West Conference made it into the playoffs. The first round saw the second and third place teams meeting each other to win the right to play the two division winners in the semifinals. While the first round was a best-of-three game series, the West Conference semifinals were determined by one knockout match. The South Division final saw an upset as the L.A. Heat took out division winners, California Emperors. by a 2-0 score. The San Francisco Bay Blackhawks edged the Colorado Foxes 2-1 in the North Division final.
The L.A. Heat split the first two games of the West Conference championship sending it to a 30-minute mini-game. Dominic Kinnear scored in the 22nd minute to send the Blackhawks to the APSL championship. On September 22, the Blackhawks faced the Maryland Bays at Nickerson Field in Boston before 4881. Scott Cooks scored first in the 74th minute to put Maryland up. But in the 83rd minute, Peter Isaacs scored for the Blackhawks to tie it up. The game went to a shootout which the Bays won 4-3 to claim the inaugural APSL title.
On September 28, the Bays met the Vancouver 86ers in the first annual North American club championship for the Pepsi Cup. The 86ers beat Maryland 4-3 in extra time before 2643 at Swangard Stadium in Vancouver.
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