THIRTY YEARS ON: A history making night at the Farm Show Arena
Third of three parts
Thirty years ago this week, Michael Lewis decided to spend a weekend with the Harrisburg Heat to discover what a team does on and off the pitch. This story is a sequel to Lewis' 1992 story of the Heat becoming the first indoor team to win three road matches in as many nights (actually within 48 hours). That story was posted on MASLsoccer.com. This story was originally published in the Jan. 30, 1992 edition of Soccer Week, a publication that covered the sport in the New York/New Jersey area, and is used with permission. There are several names you certainly will recognize from indoor and outdoor soccer, including Dan Kelly, Doug Miller, Mark Pulisic, Jim Pollihan and Kim Roentved, among others. All photos with the piece were taken by Lewis.
HARRISBURG, Pa. - After polishing off the Baltimore Spirit on Friday night, the Harrisburg Heat was hoping to make it a weekend sweep of division leaders as the National Professional Soccer League team hosted the Wichita Wings, who were atop the National Division.
Little did either team realize that the Heat was on the verge of making some unique history that Sunday night.
It's game day once again
Farm Show Arena
Was that a roosters call that we just heard?
It sure was.
Wasn't the Farm Show held here several weeks ago?
It sure was.
It seemed several dozen prize-winning birds - chickens, roosters and ducks - were quarantined in the arena because of an outbreak of influenza. Officials were awaiting test results. If they came back positive the birds might have to be destroyed.
The birds were housed adjacent to the Heat locker room, and you could certainly tell they are not happy campers with all the noise emanating from the room. The roosters seemingly made the most commotion.
"You would be too if you were caged up like that all day and next chickens," an arena worker said.
One by one, six Heat players took the field for the optional practice - Joe Mallia Todd Smith, Mark Pulisic, Franklin McIntosh, Bill Becher and Scott Henderson.
"Baltimore got whacked again last night," McIntosh said.
"Really?" a teammate replied.
It was a relatively light practice a 3-on-3 game as former Baltimore blast player David McKenzie, who brought his two sons along, joined in. Pulisic, who has missed four games with a strained right calf muscle, ran by himself on the other side of the field.
Head coach Jim Pollihan explained why he did not like to hold practice between weekend days, or sometimes on game days.
"At home, if we have a week to prepare, you don't have to come out in the day of the game," he said. "I don't want to force them to come in. I'd rather have them have the option of being here or not being here."
On the road, the players can use the exercise and extra stretching.
"On the road, I want them to get on the turf in the arena, so they become accustomed to it," Pollihan said. "When you're in a hotel room, you tend to sleep more, eat and lay on the bed."
After the kick around, Pulisic asked Pollihan if he could play that night.
"Maybe tonight," Pollihan said. "We'll reassess it later. Our concern is not to pull it again. I don't want you to come back too early."
Pulisic said: "It feels good. But I'm still favoring it a little bit. It's the one I push off of. The one time you really are going to need it, it will be at a crucial time."
To which Pollihan replied: "Most likely you're out."
Pulisic left and Pollihan returned talking to a reporter. "We need him back," the coach said. "He's having a good year. We've had only minor injuries so far."
Heat locker room
An equipment manager's job is never done, as Mike Butala can attest. He was putting the last-minute touches for tonight's game. It seemed that Butala was living at the arena because he put in so many hours - from washing the team's uniforms, to setting up the locker room for practice and games.
He was there practically every day, and it wasn't his full-time job. Butala was a lab specialist in a computer drafting and design at nearby Harris Community College.
So, what did Butala get for all his hard work and hard-earned time? A total of $15 and that went to washing and drying the uniforms.
And he wasn't complaining one bit.
"I just enjoy it," he said. "I enjoy the camaraderie with the guys. It's so much different from what I do for a living. This is a different excitement."
Butala's staff? Easy. His family.
His wife Pat, and daughters, Christy (17), Tammy (16) and Brandy (15) work with the Heat on game day. Pat ("She's a jack of all trades. She sort of oversees everything," Mike said) is in charge of the visitors' locker room while his daughter's run errands.
"Without my family, there's no way I would do this," Butala said.
Butala worked here on Saturday to prepare for Sunday's game. The work included picking up the laundry and setting up both locker rooms.
"I believe Jim is the coach and he needs to concentrate on the coaching he said they don't have time to do all the day-to-day, nagging things that has to be done."
Farm Show Arena
It would be difficult to keep up with all the pregame activities. There was special birthday party for young Heat fans, which was attended by Pulisic and Henderson. Nearby, fans found out how hard they shoot in miles per hour, thanks to a radar gun for $1 a pop by firing a ball into the net.
The Pennsylvania room was filled with sponsors, team management and press eating a pregame meal. Upstairs, the Heat Booster Club held a pregame get together. Sunday also was dessert night with virtually every baked good imaginable. The club was 576 strong while zeroing in on last year’s 602 members. The season is still young. Besides being a social gathering, the club is also a support group for players. It has an adopt-a-player program.
"If he has any problems, there's a family you can go to," said membership chairperson Sharon Bolognese.
Some players were fine for parking and speeding, and the booster club helped pay those tickets by selling chocolate house-to-house," Bolognese said.
Just being a fan is important.
"It [the Heat] means a lot to us," Nancy Casey said. "It meant a larger circle of friends to us being with the Heat ... Good times. Good friends."
Before the match, Dr. Rex Herbert, the Heat owner asked the crowd to give a moment of silence for Greg Hartman, the 11-year-old boy who died in that traffic accident on Friday night. He was trying to cross Cameron Street but was hit and killed by a car.
The somber mood didn't last too long for the second time within 48 hours the Heat surprised a first-place team.
This time, however, the team actually surprised itself with a stunning 13-0 victory over the Wichita Wings, who were a top the National Division. The result was incredible considering the firepower the Wings had, including a pair of players who performed for the U.S. 5-a-side team that finished second in in the FIFA tournament in Hong Kong in 1992 - defender Terry Woodberry and forward Dale Irvine.
The star of the evening was goalkeeper Joe Mallia, who not only turned away 28 shots made some history as well.
In fact, Mallia lived out the goalkeeper’s ultimate fantasy. He outscored the opposition in perhaps the rarest of indoor soccer feats. The Syosset, N.Y. native shut out the opposition and scored a goal in the process.
He became the first goalkeeper to accomplish both feats in the same NPSL match and became the first keeper to record a shutout in almost two years. The most recent had been by Atlanta Attack goalkeeper A.J. Lachowecki blanked the now-defunct Hershey Impact, 11-0, on Feb. 3, 1991.
What made the result doubly sweet was that the Wings, off of a 15-6 victory in Baltimore on Friday, brought in the best record in the league and boasted the two best players and the Wings also had the most dangerous attacking defender in the league and veteran defender Kim Roentved (who eventually was inducted into the Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame).
The match meant a lot personally to Mallia, who had struggled in his second season in the league after he was voted the top rookie keeper in the 1991-92 campaign. His goals against average, however, ballooned this season from 10.72 to 12.92.
"Every player goes through some doubts," he said. "I know I am capable of getting the job done. It's only one game. I'm not out of the woods yet."
On this night, Mallia was sharp from the opening kickoff. A decent number of his saves came from being positioned at the right place at the right time, which 23-year-old keeper came up big on several occasions.
He punched out a shot by Roentved, who fired a blast the top of the box at 9:39 of the opening period. He denied Eddie Henderson's shot with his chest at 8:10 of the second quarter, and he knocked Woodberry's left-sided shot out of bounds at 11:17 of this fourth period.
"For a goalkeeper, you make the first couple of saves and you get a bounce. It's enough to carry you the rest of the game," Mallia said.
He was also lucky.
Eric Eichmann, a former member of the U.S. men's national team, fired a shot that hit the post and bounded to Mallia at 10:10 of the final period.
"He had a great game," Pollihan said. "He came up with the big save. The whole team played great defense. We stifled them a little bit. It took away a shot in crucial areas."
One that almost got away was a long-range blast by Roentved, who had replaced goalkeeper Kris Peat as the sixth attacker late in the third quarter. Mallia caught the shot and threw the ball the length of the field just wide right.
He got another chance with 1:30 left in the match, throwing it unimpeded into the net.
Asked what gave him the greatest thrill - the shutout a goal, Mallia, who scored one earlier this season, replied, "The shutout, definitely. If I got a hat-trick, it would be nice to top it off."
As the club did against Baltimore, the Heat controlled tempo of the match. While Harrisburg did not roll up a big first-quarter lead, it built it slowly, but surely.
Doug Miller gave the home team all the scoring it needed 1:33 into the match, knocking home Dan Kelly's penalty-box cross for a two-point goal. McIntosh doubled the score at 5:31 of the first quarter on an unassisted goal.
Kelly (shootout goal at 7:02) and Lee Tschantret (power-play goal at 10:52) gave the Heat a 6-0 halftime advantage. John Abe and Miller struck at 1:21 and 8:58 of the third period, respectively, for 10-0 lead before Bill Becher's shootout goal made it 11-0 at 4:24 of the fourth quarter.
Then it was left to Mallia and the defense to hold off the Wings. Mallia admitted he was relieved. "For the last two or three minutes I wanted it,” he said.
And he had a special place in NPSL and indoor soccer history.
After the final buzzer, the Heat took another well-deserved victory lap around the arena. The message from Pollihan on the locker room blackboard said it all:
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. Lewis can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, recently was published. It can be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/2p8rzhpy.