Rowdies Replay: Spinning it at ’78

I didn’t intend to add yet another APBA game to my universe. In fact, I’d always thought I wouldn’t even try APBA Soccer until the company created card sets for the 1970s/80s-era North American Soccer League.

Well, they weren’t going to do that – it makes little sense financially – and I was looking for a change of pace, so I picked up the game. I like it, but neither European soccer nor MLS really resonate with me at the moment, so, with the help of a guy online who’s played far more APBA Soccer than I have and who has studied the alchemy behind the cards, I set out to create a card set for the NASL of 1978.

I chose 1978 for a few reasons, practical and emotional: that was the first soccer season I paid attention to, one that saw my hometown Tampa Bay Rowdies capture my heart and the conference title on the way to Soccer Bowl, the league’s championship game. (Spoiler alert: they lost.) It was also the first of (the only) two seasons in which the NASL kept the same teams in almost the same places in the same alignment. That meant statistics could be collected, and they’re obviously critical for the card-making process.

There are some rudimentary NASL stats online, and books like Colin Jose‘s excellent NASL- A Complete Record of the North American Soccer League offer game results and lineups. But I needed more – a lot more.

Often the best place to find a previous year’s individual statistics for a team is the next year’s media guide, so I set out to find all the 1979 NASL team media guides I could. Through the secondary market, I have been able to acquire all but one (the Portland Timbers – if you see one, let me know), and was able to get their stats from a game program from the playoffs that year. Those gave me most of the numbers I needed to be able – with some guesswork and extrapolation – to create individual cards for the 450 or so players from the NASL’s 1978 campaign. (You’ll also see those numbers en toto here on this site eventually.)

As of this writing, I’ve created prototypes for cards for four teams and I’m testing them out by starting a replay of that 1978 Rowdies season. In real life, the team started quickly (3-0), hit a rough patch and was mediocre by midseason before catching fire in the second half and making it all the way to the final. How Rodney Marsh and the boys will perform on paper1Well, card stock. will be seen as we go along.

The 1978 Rowdies opened their season with three consecutive matches against expansion teams, beginning with the Memphis Rogues visiting Tampa Stadium on April 1. Here’s what happened:

Rogues spoil Rowdies’ opening-night party, 2-1

TAMPA, Fla. (April 1, 1978) – Despite having been together for just over two weeks, the Memphis Rogues made a stunning debut in the North American Soccer League by beating the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-1 in a shootout Saturday night in front of 26,233 disappointed fans at Tampa Stadium.

Second-half substitute Roman Rosul tallied the winning shootout goal, and rookie goalkeeper John Houska2Who, sadly, just passed away recently. – who replaced an injured Tony Burns less than 30 minutes in – stopped Rowdies star Rodney Marsh on the final shootout attempt to give the expansion Rogues the win in their first-ever NASL match.

“The players have done me proud,” said coach Eddie McCready, who took over the Rogues on March 17 after the club’s first coach, Malcom Allison, was fired in February. “You’ll hear a little from the Memphis Rogues3An actual quote from McCready after the real match, won by the Rowdies 2-1..”

Tampa Bay dominated the first half, outshooting Memphis 15-2 and scoring with just six seconds left before halftime. After Memphis’ Tony Field fouled David Robb about 22 yards from goal, Robb sent a free kick into the box that Wes McLeod one-timed into the back of the net to give the home team the lead.

But that goal was all Houska gave up in nearly 76 minutes of work in his NASL debut. The 21-year-old out of Loyola (Md.) University made six saves in regulation and kept the Rogues in it until his teammates could finally break through. That came when Field curled a direct free kick past Tampa Bay goalkeeper Paul Hammond for the first goal in Rogues history at 73:254One of the many things the NASL did differently was stop the clock after goals and for substitutions and injuries, so there was no stoppage time and events were noted to the second, rather than the “74th minute” you’d see in today’s game recaps..

Marsh had two excellent scoring chances in the final 10 minutes of regulation, but Houska came up with big saves both times. Robb’s header over the bar with three and a half minutes to play and Mike Connell‘s curling attempt in overtime that just missed the post were Tampa Bay’s last two shots before the Shootout.

“We missed enough chances to keep us from winning handsomely,” said Rowdies coach Gordon Jago, who was also making his outdoor debut with the Rowdies. “But, give Memphis credit5Jago actually did say that after the real game, though he could afford to be gracious because his side won..”

Hammond made two point-blank saves on Rosul during overtime, and parried Fields’ first shootout attempt away. But Neil Smillie and Henry McCully beat him, and McLeod and Robb scored for Tampa Bay to level the tiebreaker 2-2. With a chance to put the Rowdies up 3-2, Steve Wegerle faked Houska to the ground but his shot on the open net bounced off the post and out, leaving an opening for Rosul to score the game-winner6Wegerle had actually missed an excellent scoring chance late in regulation of the real game on April 1, 1978, before Marsh scored late to give Tampa Bay the win..

The Rowdies’ season-opening run of three games against expansion teams continues Sunday in Foxboro, Mass. Against the New England Tea Men. Memphis plays its first-ever home game Saturday night at the Liberty Bowl against the Philadelphia Fury.

          1  2 OT1 OT2 SO - F
Memphis   0  1  0   0   1 - 2
Tampa Bay 1  0  0   0   0 - 1
TB - McLeod 1 (Robb) 44:54
MEM - Field 1 (unassisted) 73:25
   1   Goals       1
  11   Shots      25
   4   SOG        14
  13   Saves       3
   3   Corners     5
  19   Fouls      12
   2   Offsides    0
Cautions - Faulkner (M) 33:07, Marsh (TB) 60:33, Auguste (TB) 68:24, Bennett (M) 100:36
Memphis - Burns (Houska 29:07), Thomson, Faulkner, Beal, D'Agostino, Smillie, Bennett, 
O'Neill, Field, McCully, Husband (Rosul 72:30)
Tampa Bay - Hammond, Crudo, Connell, Papandrea, Auguste, Smethurst (Paddon 5:50), 
Marsh, McLeod, Wegerle, Robb, Alston
A - 26,233

Despite the result, I enjoyed the game – it played like real soccer, with a requisite amount of scoring chances, goals, near-misses and controversy. It took me quite a while to play (over three hours) as I’m new to the game and (not surprisingly) take copious notes and stats while playing. I didn’t have any issues with the game engine or rules7Unlike APBA Hockey, which is, quite frankly, a mess., and it was fun.

The match also gave me a chance to try out my home-brewed Shootout Chart. The NASL used the tiebreaker for the last eight years of its existence and MLS used it for its first four, but APBA has no way to replicate that. So I created a chart that takes the shooter and the goalkeeper into account and should get close to the historic NASL average of 40 percent success. We’ll see, but it was good to get to test drive it.

So, yes, we are off and running on yet another replay, which may or may be completed before I finally shuffle off this mortal coil. But this one means a lot to me, so you’ll probably have the chance to read more about it in the near future.

Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch