by Michael Lewis


After inheriting a team that recorded but one victory last season, new head coach Ed Puskarich realizes he has his work cut out for him.


How much?


When he was asked what areas of the team needed improvement, Puskarich replied, "Probably in the attack and defense."


He then laughed.


But Puskarich wasn't kidding when he talked about his challenge and what he wanted to accomplish this 2023-24 Major Arena Soccer League season.


"I can't tell you how excited I am with the opportunity," he said during a recent interview. "It's quite a unique challenge. As you know, we won one game last year. I will guarantee you that we will be a fiery young bunch of guys that will compete every second of every game and we'll carve out some victories.


"No one's going to enjoy playing the Dallas Sidekicks. That I can promise you."


The Sidekicks finished dead last in the league with a 1-20-3 record.


Puskarich also knew something or two about that. He was the analyst for the team's home matches that were streamed online last year, along with announcer Matthew Thornton.


Even the best teams won't win every game. So Puskarich is ready for whatever criticism is thrown his way.


"It's a lot easier in the booth I'll tell you that right now," he said. "You can be an armchair quarterback and you can also point out some obvious mistakes after the fact. I'm sure I criticized a lot and pointed out some things.


"I'm sure my ex-broadcast partner, Matthew Thornton, who's probably the best play by play guy in the league, is going to be critical at times to me, but that comes with territory. The wins and losses will help dictate how critical people are of us. You lose a couple of games, and they think they can do it better. I'm used to that, and I expect that I get that. I get that from parents on the sidelines of my youth games that I coach."


Even before Puskarich held his first training session earlier this month, he realized that he needed to change the culture and hold the players accountable.


For the team's 8 a.m. practices, he locks the door of the facility. That should get everyone there on time.


"If they're late to practice, they don't train," he said. "It's just a whole culture thing that we've got to get used to. It all comes underneath one word and that's professionalism. I don't care if you make $1 or if you make $10,000, you're a professional athlete and you have to live your life like that and plan accordingly and time manage.


"When you win some games, everything's great. Your wife's cooking tastes pretty good. Your dog isn't going to the bathroom in the house. You get better gas mileage. When you lose and go on a losing streak there's trade rumors, your car breaks down and you're arguing with your kids.


"It's a whole mental and positive outlook when you win games and I want to win games."


To start off, Puskarich felt that it was important to have training at the same time.


"I was adamant that we train at the same time,” he said. “Every day, your body has to get used to a routine. It's not fair to train either at six o'clock in the morning, or at nine o'clock at night, because your body has to be at top peak performance. If your body's used to training at eight o'clock every day, you can adjust your meals. You can adjust your work schedules, you can adjust your sleep patterns, and your body reacts accordingly. It's all back to that whole word, discipline. I'm big on discipline."


Given that Puskarich has either played or coached for virtually his entire life, he realized how monotonous training could be. So, to make the Sidekicks' preseason interesting, he brought the team to Lake Lavon to practice.


"We do a lot of plyometrics. We do a lot of Navy SEAL-type training," he said. "We ran into water and thigh-high water forwards and backwards. We had races in the water and used medicine balls over their heads in the water, water and on the land. We did push-ups in the mud.


"No one likes to just run around a track to get fit. You want to make practice sessions unique. You want to make them different. You want to make a player excited come to practice. What do we have planned today? Sometimes we'll play keep away or dodgeball or whatever the case may be to change the mood and to get the guys working together. That creates team bonding.


"I'm real big about unity. Our new team chaplain came in last week and talked to the guys about fighting for each other and being united. One of our mantras this year is 'Love thy brother.' You get you know 16-18 22 guys on the same page, they're going to be awful hard to beat. It's not about me, it's about the guys."


Puskarich has been around the soccer block and back a few times. He has acquired some great wisdom through experience, learning to savor the moment, to overcome difficult moments and understanding that there was another day to play or coach. During a 19-year career, he played for 13 teams in seven leagues. That included the Houston Dynamos (original United Soccer League in 1984), Rockford Raptors, Dallas Burn, Texas Spurs and Texas Rattlers in the great outdoors, before hanging up his boots for good in 2003.


He tried out for the Dallas Sidekicks in 1983 but didn't make the cut. It was disappointing because Dallas soccer was in his blood. Puskarich was a ball boy at Dallas Tornado games in the original North American Soccer League and attended Southern Methodist University.


"I have a letter from Gordon Jago [then head coach] - they couldn't spell my last name - I think that basically said, 'Thanks, but no thanks,'" Puskarich said. "That was my first introduction to the Sidekicks indoors."


Twelve years later, Puskarich received an opportunity play at the highest level of professional outdoor soccer in the United States with another Dallas team, when he was selected by the Burn (now FC Dallas) in the very first Major League Soccer draft in February 1996


On the first day of the draft, Puskarich wasn't selected. He thought he wasn't going to be chosen. On the second day, he ignored it and went out for dinner with his family.


When he returned home, there was a phone message waiting from Burn general manager Billy Hicks and head coach Dave Dir.


"Basically, it said, 'Eddie, we had drafted you on round 15,' " he said. "I actually videotaped the recording. That was a great achievement for me personally. It was the pinnacle of my playing career. That first year was great."


Puskarich was a 34-year-old rookie.


"It was unique because we were all rookies in that league at the time," he said. "I had the blessing to play with Leonel Alvarez from the beginning. He was a Colombian midfielder who might have been the most professional soccer player I met my life; the way he took care of his body. I thought I was pretty good till I met Leo. He was just a unique individual. We had [former Mexican international striker] Hugo Sanchez, who came to us right from Real Madrid. In Dallas, Hugo is the second step from being in heaven. So, he was a unique individual. Great teammate. We used to play soccer-tennis. He would do bicycle kicks, like you and me, and head the ball. What a great experience playing with him."


An ACL injury ended Puskarich's MLS career and dream, but his soccer career wasn't finished.


His indoors resume included the Columbus Capitals, Fort Wayne Flames, Los Angeles Lazers, Memphis Storm, Chicago Power and Milwaukee Wave.


"One of the things that I think was important for me is as a player, I knew my role," Puskarich said. "I never had more than a one-year contract in my entire 19-year career. What that made me do was, was stay fit, stay sharp and take care of my body. I think you'll see it in some of the NFL and NBA guys when they're in a contract year you they have their best year. In essence, every year I play it was in a contract year. There's a lot to be said about having one-year contracts. Not much job security, but it kept you sharp and kept your drive alive."


He also learned some things that helped off the field.


"Playing indoors, I killed penalties,” he said. “I also had the fortune to do a lot of community appearances throughout the city at my time in Columbus, Ohio," Puskarich said. “Come game day, I was mobbed for autographs. I may have played two minutes the whole game. The veterans wanted to know, 'Why are they getting your autograph? You hardly played in this game.' It's the guy who did all the community service work with the kids. I learned at a young age, the value of being in the community, giving back.”


The 61-year-old Puskarich also has coached at several levels, including youth, college (North Central and Aurora), and Burn (as an assistant). He began his coaching journey as a senior in high school.


"Forty-three years later, I'm still coaching," he said. "Throughout my playing career, both indoor and outdoor, I was good with kids. I have always had a good connection with kids. Coaching helped my game improve because you work on your fundamentals and you work on your simple skills, and you progressively get better at that."


Puskarich has turned into a man for all soccer seasons, wearing so many hats over the years. He also learned what transpired off the field as director of coaching with the Texas Spurs youth club, which eventually entered a team in the United Premier Soccer League.


In 1987, he started Stars ’N Stripes International Tours, which opened the door for youth teams players to play against club sides overseas. It was another level of education.


"It gives you a different understanding of all the makings of the game, the admin side of it, the preparation side, the booking of buses, and flights and all that stuff that goes into it, what players don't really give a lot of credence," Puskarich said.


And to add to his long resume, Puskarich is a Video Assistant Referee with MLS.


A former player working VAR? Hey, that sounds pretty cool.


Puskarich has been involved with the process for seven years, including a recent MLS Cup Playoff game.


"Since COVID, my role is remote, so I get to do it from my home office," he said. "I'm on the headset with the referee crew and the guys in Atlanta and help them make the calls and review the communication properly. It's a lot of fun. I've really enjoyed that part. It helps you understand the game from a different perspective as well, which all helps performance education. VAR, whether you like it or not, isn't going anywhere. It's here to stay.


"It's unique. It's almost like you have to celebrate [a goal] twice. Get the original goal then you have to wait to see this confirmed, check complete and then off you go for a second celebration. I know from a fan's standpoint, it's a bit frustrating. But if we can get it right, I think it works out in the long run."


Puskarich noted that the MASL has its own video review in which coaches can throw a challenge flag, as referees can check a call.


"That's a good addition to the league," he said.


Before he challenges a referee's call this season, Puskarich has been more concerned about molding the team into a winning side this month.


The Sidekicks won't kick off their season until they play at the Monterrey Flash on Sunday, Dec. 3.


"I think, what better way to start your season to play the worst team in the league last year who everybody picks to be the worst in league this year as well," Puskarich said. "We're excited about that challenge. Monterrey is a really good team. They've got a unique size field, one of the smallest fields, if not the smallest fields in the league. They're a very technical team, very gifted, talented players on that team. So, it's going to be a challenge for us right off the bat."


Dallas' home opener is set for Saturday, Dec. 9 at the Credit Union of Texas Event Center in Allen, Texas, against the Texas Outlaws (formerly the Mesquite Outlaws).


Prior to the start of the season in every sport, coaches talk about winning the league championship. That's understandable.


Given what the Sidekicks endured last season, their goals aren't as lofty, at least not in late November.


"We want to be a fortress at our home facility," he said. "We want to make everybody be very aware that the Sidekicks are in town, get ready for a war. There are some internal goals, but I think one of the best goals we can try and strive for is to make the playoffs. I think that would be a good starting point for us."


Puskarich and the rest of the indoor soccer universe will find out soon enough.



Michael Lewis, the editor of, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. Lewis can be reached via email at He has written two books" Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers and a sequel, STILL AND ALIVE AND KICKING: The story of the 21st century Rochester Lancers. It has many features about indoor soccer and MASL players. Both books can be purchased at