ZUNGUL ELECTED TO NATIONAL SOCCER HALL OF FAME
There are so many reasons why the great Steve Zungul deservedly and belatedly was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
Yes, he totaled a ridiculous number of goals and assists, setting indoor standards and the bar sky high.
But he was much more than just numbers.
He was a winner many times over.
One game stands out in my mind - the 1981 Major Indoor Soccer League championship game between the New York Arrows and St. Louis Steamers before 17,206 enthusiastic supporters at the Checkerdome in St. Louis that March 29.
In the final minute of the winner-take-all one-match final, the game was tied at 5-5.
Quite appropriately, two of the best players in the league were pitted against one another.
Steve Zungul vs. Slobo Ilijevski.
A perennial MVP forward vs. a two-time MISL goalkeeper of the year.
Countryman vs. countryman.
Up until then, Zungul had accrued three goals and assisted on a fourth, living up to one of the greatest nicknames in all of sports,
The Lord of All Indoors. He had one more magic moment in him.
As with many indoor goals, the deciding tally happened so quickly.
Defender David D'Errico stripped a Steamers player of the ball at midfield. He passed to Luis Alberto, whose goal tied the match at 5-5 with 3:30 remaining in regulation. Meanwhile, Zungul worked his way free of his coverage.
"They know if they stop me, they're going to win the game," Zungul said at the time.
Alberto then pinpointed a feed to the 26-year-old Yugoslavian native, who had only Ilijevski standing in the way of the Arrows' third consecutive MISL championship.
"I know he goes out," said Zungul, who moved slightly to his left. "I moved the ball on the side. It was essential."
Ilijjevski was desperate. He tried to do anything to stop Zungul, who was inside the penalty arc.
"He was alone," he said. "I had to catch him or the ball. I grabbed his shirt before he shot."
It didn’t matter.
The goalkeeper fell to the ground as Zungul, demonstrating his finesse, slotted the ball into the unattended net for a 6-5 Arrows advantage.
"It was a lucky goal," Ilijevski said.
"It was so sloppy," Zungul said.
Moreover, it also was the winning goal.
Thirty seconds later, the Arrows celebrated their third consecutive MISL crown in as many tries since the league started during the 1978-79 campaign. Zungul ran to the middle of the arena and dropped to the carpet from exhaustion.
A 2011 inductee of the Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame, Zungul scored prettier goals - indoors and outdoors. But in the long run, the aesthetic of a goal doesn't matter at all; as long as the ball goes completely over the goal line.
Scoring when it counted was the mark of a champion, the mark of a Hall of Famer.
Zungul's career numbers were off the charts.
For the record, Zungul played a big role on seven indoor championships teams. He celebrated four times with his Arrows teammates and on three more occasions with the San Diego Sockers. Combining his speed, power, a high soccer IQ and a talented supporting cast, the 6-foot, 175-lb striker was relentless, torturing many a defender and goalkeeper.
Zungul led the league in scoring on six occasions, earning The Lord of All Indoors nickname. He collected a record 108 goals (the Philadelphia Fever’s Joe Fink was next with 51) and 44 assists for 152 points in the 1980-81 campaign, surpassing that point total in 1981-82 (163 off 103 goals and 60 assists). He also had a mind-boggling 76-game point scoring streak from 1978-81.
By the time he retired after the 1989-90 season as a member of the Tacoma Stars, Zungul had scored 715 goals and assisted on 527 others for 1,242 points in 455 indoor matches. Those goals, assists and points records still stand to this day.
“Steve was scoring with every part of his body,” said Canadian Soccer Hall of Famer and former Canadian international Branko Segota, who played with Zungul on three teams. “He was always in position. He loved to score. It didn’t matter. He would dive in there just to score the goal.”
Major Arena Soccer League chairman Shep Messing, who backstopped Zungul's four MISL championship teams with the Arrows, never under-valued his teammate.
“Nobody was as good as Steve," he said. "He partied, he played hard, and he scored goals – and he was actually underrated in terms of his ability to be a playmaker. He was good in the air and lightning quick with his first step, can hit a ball with the inside out of that left foot, outside of the left foot, inside of the right, outside of the right, control it in a tight space. He was a champ.”
And oh yeah, Zungul was a pretty damn good outdoor player as well. Zungul recorded 36 goals and 25 assists with the Golden Bay Earthquakes during the 1983 and 1984 North American Soccer League campaigns. He was named MVP in 1984 after leading the league with 20 goals in 24 contests while adding 10 assists.
We don't know if Zungul will show up in Frisco, Texas for induction on May 6, 2023. He has been a recluse from the media, living in southern California these many years.
It will be a great shame if he is a no-show.
Steve Zungul deserves to be enshrined and enjoy the spotlight.
After all, the Lord of All Indoors has earned it and waited long enough to receive American soccer's most coveted playing honor.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. He wrote about Zungul back in the day. Lewis can be reached via email at Michael@FrontRowSoccer.com. 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.