Leagues' merger tipped scales, enticing Tatu back for final act

Chance to finish in MISL irresistible for striker, 40

Soccer: MISL Preview

October 04, 2002|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

He has accomplished everything possible in 20 years of indoor soccer, had the chance to leave the game a winner and will honestly tell you his legs have been pretty much gone the past couple of seasons.

For Tatu, the gifted, 40-year-old striker who has totaled 1,536 points, the original plan was to retire after he helped lead the Dallas Sidekicks to the World Indoor Soccer League championship last winter.

Then came an unexpected gift, to Tatu and all the followers of the indoor game.

When the Major Indoor Soccer League announced a merger with the WISL - one that would bring back the franchises of the Sidekicks, San Diego Sockers and St. Louis Steamers (expected to rejoin the MISL next season) - Tatu couldn't resist.

How couldn't there be one more season left in those tired, but still effective legs?

"For me, it's my last go-round and I want to enjoy it," said Tatu, who also is the Sidekicks' head coach. "It's a great opportunity to go back to Baltimore, go back to Kansas City, go back to Cleveland one last time. I have a tremendous amount of respect for those towns - those teams have been there since Day 1."

The addition of the Sidekicks and Sockers - hugely successful franchises from the original MISL days of the 1980s and early '90s - helps justify the "Major" in the new MISL and also extends the league from coast to coast.

"I'm excited about it because they're two storied franchises of indoor soccer," said Milwaukee Wave coach Keith Tozer. "It shows that we're a national product. And it shows that we're expanding and that indoor soccer is now underneath one umbrella."

The eight-team MISL, which opened the 2002-2003 season with two games last weekend, consists of two conferences.

The Blast, which opens tomorrow night at home against the Cleveland Force, will compete in the Eastern Conference, along with the defending league champion Philadelphia KiXX, Cleveland and the Harrisburg Heat. The Western Conference has the Sidekicks, Sockers, Milwaukee Wave and the Kansas City Comets.

With the KiXX as defending titlists, a proud franchise in Cleveland looking to get back in the playoffs after missing out the past two seasons and major changes in Harrisburg - starting at the top with new coach Erich Geyer - Blast coach Kevin Healey sees the Eastern Conference picture as a season-long race. The same could be said for the Western.

"Absolutely. There's no doubt that there's a lot of parity in this league," said Healey. "I know that's said a lot, but it's a true evaluation of the league this year."

The KiXX goes into the season as the team to beat, earning that right by beating two-time defending champion Wave in Milwaukee for the title last year.

"I think we've proven over the past couple years that we're one of the better teams in the league, and then winning it, now I think the respect factor is even higher," said KiXX player/coach Omid Namazi.

"We feel we need to get back to the finals and, if we don't, it would be a disappointment and unsuccessful season. Therefore, everybody has to work that much harder, especially with the fact that every team is going to be geared up to play us."

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