Soccer Almanac

American soccer writing, history & data.

WSL 1989 season

Feb. 18, 2022 |  Categories:  APSL   WSA-WSL  

At the end of the 1988 season, the Western Soccer Alliance began to work seriously towards becoming a fully professional league. In late July of 1988, the league granted an expansion franchise to the Phoenix-area, Arizona Condors, which would begin play in the 1989 season. Its owner, Tony Koleski, planned to initially fill the team's roster with junior college players but hoped to turn the team professional by 1994 when the U.S. played host to the World Cup.

That month, the USSF had proposed to combine the WSA and the recently-formed American Soccer League. The two leagues were widely recognized as the premier semi-pro leagues in the nation and the USSF hoped to combine them into a professional league that would be the first truly professional outdoor league in the U.S. since the NASL folded after the 1984 season.

This was all part of a three-year plan that the WSL adopted after the 1988 season. Players were to receive only expenses during the 1989 season, the league was to achieve semi-pro status for the 1990 season, and become a full-fledged professional league by 1991. The WSL would be affiliated with the ASL and one or two other yet-to-be-determined leagues. Those leagues would comprise separate divisions in the USSF. Teams would play regionally to save on travel expenses with the top teams from each league meeting in playoffs.

On August 1, 1988, WSA commissioner, Bill Sage, announced that the league had begun to lay the groundwork for a future national professional outdoor soccer league which would follow the master plan set down on July 30 in Philadelphia by the USSF's ad hoc committee detailing the framework for America's planned national professional league. That committee was made up of Sage, USSF president Werner Fricker, USSF International Games Committee Chief Sunil Gulati, USSF general secretary Keith Walker, and ASL commissioner Chuck Blazer.

Sage also announced that the WSA would become a fully professional league starting with the 1990 season. In late November of 1988, the organization officially changed its name to the Western Soccer League. Before the fall league meetings, the San Jose Earthquakes dropped out of the league. Along with the Arizona Condors, four other teams were added as members: Real Santa Barbara; San Francisco Bay Blackhawks; F.C. Sacramento Jazz; and Salt Lake City. The latter franchise would sit out 1989 and join the league for the 1990 season.

The WSL was classified for the 1989 season as a Division III regional (amateur/semi-professional) league within the USSF's proposed three-tiered "Professional League" set for operation by 1992. The league planned to move up to Division II professional states for the 1990 season. It was understood that the USSF's First Division would be comprised of those Division II franchises that are financially solvent enough to participate in a fully national professional program. The USSF's national plan included competition in three divisions. Its rules allowed up to 32 teams in Division I, four regions of 12 teams each in Division II, and eight leagues of 12 teams each in Division III.

In order to upgrade the San Diego Nomad's franchise with WSL's mandate to move toward a professional league, one option for the club was to convert their franchise from a non-profit, amateur entity into a limited partnership. Prior to the 1989 season, the Nomads was bought by Jerry Burwell. He moved to double the club's budget to be more than double that in 1988. The league dictated that, in 1990, the team's budget to be three times what is was in the 1989 season.

With nine teams, the WSL split into North and South Divisions. In late March, a month before the season began, F.C. Sacramento Jazz had its franchise revoked because of its owners' difficulty in financing the team. The team had been admitted to the WSL on December 6, 1988 after an 11-month lobbying effort by its owners. A week later, a community-based organization devoted to youth soccer development took over the Sacramento franchise. Nine area investors posted a $ 35,000 bond and resurrected the Sacramento Senators name. The league granted the team a one-year franchise as an emergency replacement for the F.C. Sacramento Jazz.

In an attempt to raise interest in the team F.C. Portland renamed itself the Portland Timbers. The heavy dose of nostalgia worked and the team broke club attendance records when 6209 attended the April 28, 1989 home opener at Civic Stadium against the California Kickers.

The San Francisco Bay Blackhawks, owned by Dan Van Voorhis, president of the Blackhawk Corporation, had an estimated operating budget of $500,000. The team made an immediate impact winning the North Division over second-place Portland Timbers. The San Diego Nomads continued their run of good play easily winning the South Division over second-place L.A. Heat.

The nomads and Blackhawks each won their semifinal matches. On August 12, the Nomads won their second WSL title beating the Blackhawks 1-0 in the American Airlines-WSL Championship before 5200 at the Aztec Bowl in San Diego.

During the 1989 season, the WSL and ASL announced plans for a merger and a national championship. Anheuser-Busch pledged $30,000 to sponsor a national outdoor championship match pitting the winners of the two leagues. On September 9, 1989, the San Diego Nomads faced the Fort Lauderdal Strikers, champions of the ASL, in the 1989 National Pro Soccer Championship. The Strikers won the match 3-1 before 8632 at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Cali.

©2022 by Daniel Creel. All rights reserved.