Soccer came to South Amherst, Ohio in 1985 and my parents signed me up for it. It was the first organized sport I ever played, and following an age 5 season where we underperformed based on the expectations of sports writers and scouts alike, after about a year I took to the sport and ultimately became one of the best rec league players that South Amherst has ever seen. I realize it’s not cool to brag about elementary school achievements, but I need this, okay? It hasn’t exactly been downhill sledding since. I got heavily into soccer for the next 8 or 9 years, and since I was one of the more skilled players eventually I received an invitation to join a travel team, which I declined because I liked playing with my rec league team, and I was asked to play indoor soccer during the winter, which I ended up doing.
Indoor soccer was pretty big in Northern Ohio in the 1980s and early 1990s, much bigger than the standard version of the sport. The reason for this is that Cleveland had a team in the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) called the Cleveland Force. My rec league teammates and I loved the Force, and especially their star player, Kai Haaskivi. How many Northern Ohio Finnish soccer stars were you familiar with prior to reading this article? You’re welcome. We all loved Kai, and whenever we played a two on two on two on two etc. knockout game during practice or at soccer camp called Wembley, we’d argue about who got to pretend to be Haaskivi. I also once got to play on the field during halftime of a Force game once, which was amazing.
The Force folded in 1988, and the following year the Cleveland Crunch formed to take their place. The Crunch lasted for a long time as part of three different indoor leagues, and rebranded as the Force in 2002, lasting three more years before finally folding in 2005, and they were good. From birth until 2016 (thank you LeBron), no Cleveland professional team except for the Crunch won a league title. Despite this, they never captured my attention like the Force did. It was an earlier version of the return of the Browns in 1999. It just wasn’t the same.
Having established that indoor soccer in Northern Ohio occupied a pretty substantial niche, back to my league play. All of our games were at German social club in North Olmsted called Concordia. My two favorite things about the club happened following the games, but I’ll get to them after a cursory overview of the festivities. If you’ve never played or watched indoor soccer, it is much faster than the traditional game. It’s more akin to hockey, and later on in my teens I played indoor on a rink, but Concordia was even more compact. An official indoor soccer goal is 6 feet 6 inches tall and 12 feet wide. I can’t be certain, but my recollection is that these goals were even smaller than that. Play was very fast, and players who could ball handle well and execute quick cuts excelled. I could do neither of those things. I was a massive child, so much taller than everybody else that opposing parents used to yell about seeing my birth certificate as I laid waste to their tiny offspring. This size advantage meant that with my longer strides I could outrun everybody else and I could knock over tiny goalies with my strikes. Neither of these things translated well to indoor. When the field is half of a hockey rink, there’s nowhere to do any outrunning, and my physical advantages led to me slacking when it came to working on my dribbling. Indoor was a bit of a wakeup call, and it humbled me. I still had fun, and I did okay, but it was the first time in soccer where I was average, which I did not care for.
Thankfully, when the games ended I got to experience my two favorite things about Concordia. While my dad stuck around to watch the following games and learn things about our upcoming opponents like I should have been doing, I went to the concession area, got myself a frozen push up pop (lemon or cherry), and played the Final Fight arcade game located there. I always played as Haggar. I’m not sure I ever cleared more than a level or two, but I loved the game so much I now need to someday own or rent a house with a basement, so that I can get my own Final Fight cabinet. I’ll keep some push up pops in the freezer.
While writing this I just remembered the name of my team. It was the Excalibur Soccer Club, and according to the Internet it still exists and plays its games and the North Olmsted Soccerplex, which is also where the Concordia club teams now play.
What was your first organized sport? Were you a Kai Haaskivi fan? Let us know below or on Twitter.