Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1975-1978 Toronto Metros-Croatia

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North American Soccer League (1975-1978)

Born: 1975 – The Toronto Metros merge with Toronto Croatia.
Re-Branded: February 1, 1979 (Toronto Blizzard)

Stadiums:

Team Colors: Red, White & Blue

Owner: Sam Paric, et al.

Soccer Bowl Champions: 1976

 

Toronto Metros-Croatia was an anomaly within the North American Soccer League during the NASL’s boom years of the mid-to-late 1970’s.  The club formed in 1975 through the merger of the NASL’s Toronto Metros (1971-1974) and Toronto Croatia of Canada’s small-time National Soccer League.

To the chagrin of league executives and observers, the merged club played up its ethnic identity, coming up with the awkward “Metros-Croatia” moniker and filling its management (entirely) and roster (largely) with ethnic Croats.  In 1977, Tampa Bay Rowdies beat writer Ken Blankenship from The St. Petersburg Times published a long screed against the Metros-Croatia organization (and, by extension, the NASL for tolerating the club).  Blankenship’s hackles were raised by a miserable experience trying to cover a Rowdies road game in Toronto.  The writer described the Metros-Croatia as essentially an insular “neighborhood soccer team” lacking the most basic professional standards of operation and promotion, and existing solely for the amusement of a tiny bad of expatriate supporters: owner “Sam <Paric> and his Yugoslavian pals”.

Blankenship wasn’t a lone voice in the wilderness either.  League officials purportedly directed broadcasters of the 1976 Soccer Bowl to refer to the club only as “Toronto”.  At 1976 NASL meetings held during the Soccer Bowl championship in Seattle, influential New York Cosmos President Clive Toye introduced a motion to ban “ethnic names” from the 20-team league – a pointed jab at Toronto.  The Croatians who backed the team pointed out that their name (and their money) was good enough for the NASL when they stepped in to bail out the failing Metros franchise in 1975.

But whatever Metros-Croatia lacked in professionalism off the field, they were a competitive club.  Despite a chaotic 1976 season that featured a seven-game scoreless streak, the mid-season sacking of autocratic coach Ivan Markovic, and constant financial problems, Metros-Croatia got hot at the right time and actually won the 1976 Soccer Bowl championship of the NASL, defeating the Minnesota Kicks 3-0 at the Seattle Kingdome on August 28, 1976.

Although the club was typically categorized as a “Croatian” or “Yugoslav” club, Metros-Croatia’s 1976 Soccer Bowl run was helped by the acquisition of Portuguese legend Eusebio and German midfielder Wolfgang Sunholz from the NASL’s financially distressed Boston Minutemen franchise.  Eusebio led Metros-Croatia in scoring and placed eighth overall in the NASL in 1976, but was left off the league’s All-Star team, as were all other members of the championship Toronto side.  Eusebio also scored the decisive first goal in the Soccer Bowl ’76 final against Minnesota.

After the 1976 season, cash-strapped Metros-Croatia couldn’t afford to re-sign Eusebio or Sunholz.  Clive Toye’s move to ban ethnic names went nowhere and the rest of the NASL had to deal with the odd little Croatian club from Ontario for two more seasons.  Finally in January 1979 the club’s backers sold out to Global Television Network, who re-branded the team as the Toronto Blizzard a month later.  Under Global, the Blizzard also left Metros-Croatia’s humble home at the University of Toronto and moved into new giant modern Exhibition Stadium for the 1979 season.  Toronto Croatia re-joined the semi-pro National Soccer League.

Fans of modern day Major League Soccer may see many parallels between the Toronto Metros-Croatia story and the controversial ethnic identity and employment practices of MLS’ Chivas USA club in Los Angeles.

 

==Toronto Metros-Croatia Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other

1976

1976 8/20/1976 @ Chicago Sting  W 3-2 (PK) Program

1977

1977 8/13/1977 @ Rochester Lancers L 1-0 (SO) Program

1978

1978 4/15/1978 @ Seattle Sounders ?? Program

 

==YouTube==

Toronto Metros-Croatia at Tampa Bay Rowdies highlights.  NASL Conference Championship (playoff semi-final). August 24, 1976.

 

 ==Links==

Retro T.O.: Toronto Metros-Croatia, unlikely Soccer Bowl champion“, Jamie Bradburn, The Grid, August 2012

North American Soccer League Media Guides

North American Soccer League Programs

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Written by AC

January 28th, 2014 at 11:13 pm

August 13, 1977 – Rochester Lancers vs. Toronto Metros-Croatia

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1977 Rochester Lancers PlayoffsRochester Lancers vs. Toronto Metros-Croatia
North American Soccer League quarterfinal playoffs
August 13, 1977
Holleder Stadium
Attendance: 10,556

North American Soccer League Programs
52 pages

 

Great cover photo of the might Pele from the final season of his storied career with the New York Cosmos in 1977.  This edition of KICK Magazine was sold throughout the North American Soccer League during the early playoff rounds of the 1977 season, a fitting send off to the retiring King of Football.

This particular match was a quarterfinal joust between the defending Soccer Bowl champions, Toronto Metros-Croatia, and the Rochester Lancers.  The Lancers hosted Game One of the two-game series, with the finale set for Varsity Stadium in Toronto three nights later.  It was a wild series.

Pele 1977The first game in Rochester finished scoreless and went to the NASL’s unusual method for settling ties – the shootout.  The Lancers won the shootout to take a one-game lead.  Meanwhile, the injury-riddled Toronto squad filed a protest with NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam.  During regulation time the match officials issued two-yellow cards to Rochester’s Francisco Escos but neglected to send him off from the game.  The Lancers should have been forced to play a man down, but continued to play at full strength.  Woosnam acknowledged the mistake but refused to overturn the result.

Three nights later in Toronto, the Lancers did have to play short-handed.  They lost two men to red cards for fighting in the first half.  Despite playing two men down for the entire second half, the Lancers tallied the game’s only goal on a breakaway by Portuguese midfielder Ibraim Silva with fourteen minutes left to eliminate the defending champs.

 

Links

Rochester Lancers Home Page

Toronto Metros-Croatia Home Page

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