This year is the 45th anniversary of the first season of the North American Soccer League’s San Antonio Thunder, which began play in April of 1975. Texas Soccer Journal is publishing a series of articles to bring this team back to life over the next few months.
Bright Prospects for the Thunder First Season Confronted Expansion Team Reality
Before the season started, San Antonio Thunder head coach Alex Perolli talked about championships and claimed that the expansion Thunder would be one of the most competitive NASL teams. There was a basis for the optimism. Perolli had won two NASL Championships, including the previous season when he guided the Los Angeles Aztecs to the title. He built the Thunder with a core of veterans from his previous title winning rosters.
Unfortunately, Perolli learned the hard lesson of many professional clubs, that past recent performance does not translate into success the next year. Nine games into the season he was gone, replaced by a college coach from Northern California who had been a finalist for the job when owner Ward Lay made the initial hire. Don Batie was able to turn the team around to a certain extent, but the brutal 1-8 start, roster upheaval, injuries, and the reality that many teams were better caught up with them at the end. The Thunder completed the season with 6 wins, 16 losses, 59 points, and a negative 18 goal differential. This finish was last in the Central Division and the Thunder ended with the fewest points in the entire league.
1975 Season Storylines
- Before Alex Perolli was let go, newspapers reported dissatisfaction with him among the players. The lack of any visible playing style and little lineup consistency were a couple of the reasons cited for the locker room issues. Offseason roster turbulence continued into the season and two key players were released a few weeks before Perolli departed. This was the final straw for Assistant Coach Ricardo Ordonez, who resigned and he and one of the released players publicly called out Perolli in the media. Unhappy with the results on the field, turmoil, and poor attendance, owner Ward Lay took control of all business and soccer operations in late May. Fans circulated a petition in the stadium that gathered over 1,000 signatures asking for the return of Ordonez in the weeks leading up to Perolli’s departure. Bizarrely, the club agreed to host a public presentation of this petition to owner Lay on the field one hour before the Tampa Bay match.
- A week after Batie took over as head coach, he took the team away to Chico, CA (where he coached his college team) for a reset and to rebuild team spirit. They played an exhibition match against a Chico State University team and then traveled from there to Portland for their next league match.
- The first Thunder road win in Baltimore on July 9th came after the team arrived late at the team hotel only a few hours before the match. A swim to shake off the airplane stiffness and a quick meal was all the time available before heading to the stadium. They also won the next game in Philadelphia a few days after, the only two road wins of the season.
- The Texas Challenge Cup, sponsored by the athletic club of a San Antonio synagogue, was won by the Dallas Tornado. Though the Thunder won two of the three games played, the winner was determined by goal differential (plus 3 for Dallas).
- In addition to the typical promotions U.S. soccer teams have always used, the Thunder added a couple of unusual half time activities. Midfielder Jim Doherty was married at halftime in one of the matches, with teammates standing as his wedding party. Since the team was being soundly beaten at the time, apparently many of the players decided not to play along and stayed in the locker room. In another unique promotion, 200 local high school kids were inducted into the U.S. Army in a ceremony. The most unusual though was when the Thunder reserve goalkeeper Tom Eidson was asked to participate in a half-time stunt. A company called Soccer-Roo would award 100 “skins” to contestants who could beat Eidson in a penalty shot. According to reports, some did.
- Eidson was the first native Texan to ever play for a South Texas-based professional soccer club. A native of Huntsville, he was part of the University of Houston club team and played on trial for the Thunder in preseason. Eidson arrived in mid-May and only featured in one match, when he had to replace the starting goalkeeper who had been sent off late in the second half in a loss at Vancouver. He was the only Texan to play for the Thunder and I cannot find any record of him playing professionally again.
- General Manager Mike Boyle, in response to San Jose Earthquakes GM Dick Berg calling San Antonio a “one-horse town,” said he would give the Earthquakes a horse if the Thunder lost a home match to San Jose on May 16. The Thunder lost, but fortunately San Jose did not take him up on the bet. After the loss, Boyle said he had trouble sleeping the previous week because the Appaloosa (below) was expensive, the owner left him on his own to pay for it and he also learned after making the bet that the Earthquakes best player had a ranch near San Jose.
1975 San Antonio Thunder Match Results
San Antonio Thunder 1975 season (home team listed first)
Total record: 6-16 Home: 4-7 Away: 2-9
April 12: Thunder-2 Dallas Tornado-1 (OT) SA: Peter Filotis, Jim Doherty DAL: Ilija Mitic (PK) ATT: 5,142
April 26: Los Angeles Aztecs-3 Thunder-0 LA: Uri Banhoffer, Julie Veee, Bobby Sibbald (PK) RC: SA: Raul Forteis ATT: 7,747
May 3: Thunder-0 Washington Diplomats-2 WA: Leroy DeLeon, Garry Darrell ATT: 5,370
May 9: Thunder-2 St. Louis Stars-3 (OT/3-2 penalties) SA: Jose Berico (2) STL: John Hawley, John Carenza ATT: 1,853
May 16: Thunder-1 San Jose Earthquakes-2 SA: Jose Berico SJ: Archie Roboostoff, Boris Bandov ATT: 3,853
May 21: Thunder-1 Chicago Sting-2 SA: Jim Doherty CHI: Russell Allen, Gordon Hill ATT: 3,711
May 24: St. Louis Stars-1 Thunder-0 STL: John Hawley ATT: 2,831
May 31: Thunder-0 Tampa Bay Rowdies-4 TB: Derek Smethurst, Clyde Best, Randy Garber, Farrukh Quraishi RC (2): SA: Ned Hasanbegovic, Daniel Califano ATT: 4,619
June 5: Vancouver Whitecaps-3 Thunder-0 VAN: Glen Johnson-2 (1-PK), Gary Thompson RC: SA: Trini Cavallero ATT: 7,514
June 14: Thunder-2 Dallas Tornado-1 SA: Jose Marcio, Mori Diane DAL: Kyle Rote, Jr. ATT: 5,542
June 21: Portland Timbers-1 Thunder-0 (OT) PTL: Willy Anderson ATT: 14,080
July 2: Denver Dynamos-6 Thunder-2 DEN: Kaizer Motaung (2), Chaka Ngcobo (2), Ace Ntsoelengoe, Mike Flater SA: Jose Marcio, Cres McTavish ATT: 2,848
July 4: Thunder-4 Chicago Sting-0 SA: Cres McTavish, Renato Costa (2-PK’s), Mori Diane ATT: 5,432
July 9: Baltimore Comets-2 Thunder-3 BALT: Peter Silvester, Alvin Henderson (PK) SA: Jose Marcio (2), Pedro Martinez ATT: 1,781
July 11: Philadelphia Atoms-2 Thunder-3 PHI: Chris Bahr, Bob Hope SA: Own Goal (Manny Matos), Jose Marcio, Luis Marotte ATT: 4,012
July 18: Thunder-1 Denver Dynamos-0 SA: Jose Berico ATT: 5,993
July 25: Chicago Sting-2 Thunder-1 (OT/3-2 penalties) CHI: Gordon Hill SA: Jose Marcio ATT: 6,412
July 26: St. Louis Stars-1 Thunder-0 STL: Al Trost ATT: 7,129
August 1: Thunder-1 Miami Toros-2 (OT) SA: Dan Counce MIA: Steve David (2) ATT: 3,837
August 3: Denver Dynamos-2 Thunder-1 DEN: Peter Short, Ace Ntsoelengoe SA: Dan Counce ATT: 2,165
August 6: Thunder-0 Seattle Sounders-1 SEA: Jim Gabriel ATT: 3,194 (Rescheduled from 6/27)
August 9: Dallas Tornado-5 Thunder-0 DAL: ATT: Mickey Moore (2), Richie Reynolds, Bobby Moffat, Alty McKenzie ATT: 5,221
1975 Thunder Statistics:
Two Brazilians-Jose Marcio and Jose Berico-tied for the team lead with 5 goals. Marcio added 3 assists and, based on the total points awarded for both goals and assists, was officially the scoring leader. He was sent off late in the blowout loss to Dallas in the final game of the season and never played again for the Thunder.
The Thunder were outshot 425-271 in their 22-match season. In some of the games, the total shot difference was brutal. Goalkeeper Sergio Blanco, who spent time with the Uruguayan National Team in the past, arrived at midseason and at times was the main reason the Thunder were competitive. The club, who planned to keep a roster between 15 and 18 players, used 29 over the course of the season. Scottish midfielder/forward Jim Doherty, who was one of the first players signed by Perolli, was the only player to see the field in each game. In addition to being co-goals leader, Jose Berico, who played much of the season as a center defender, led the team in shots on goal and minutes.
Jose Berico was named as the 1975 Most Valuable Player in a ceremony at the final home match
Thunder 1975 Roster
Sources for this article include: (1) San Antonio Light newspaper archives (sourced online from Genealogy.com) (2) San Antonio Express newspaper archives (sourced online from Newspapers.com) (3) Excellent reference material courtesy of Dave Morrison at http://www.nasljerseys.com
Logo courtesy of Chris Creamer’s Sports Logos and San Antonio FC