INSIDE THE INDOOR GAME WITH MICHAEL LEWIS
Like it or not, Steve Zungul will find himself in the spotlight one more time when he is inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame on Saturday, May 6, 2023.
Given his reticence to speak or to be seen in public or to seek the limelight since he retired after the 1989-90 Major Indoor Soccer League season, it would not be surprising if he is a no-show for the ceremonies at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas.
Saying that, I will celebrate the greatest indoor soccer player one more time.
Some 37 years ago, I penned a pair of columns delineating Zungul's scoring feats and some of his "failures," through the 1986-87 season.
Here are some of the best of the best of Slavisa (Steve) Zungul:
A few basic facts
Before we get into some of the heavy stuff, there are some basic facts you should know about Zungul. He has won six scoring titles, including five in the MISL. He also earned five regular season MVP awards, four playoff MVPs, and three triple crowns while leading the league in goals, assists and points.
Entering the 1986-87 season, he had 550 goals, 346 assists for 896 points in 253 indoor games, including 482 goals, 278 assists and 760 assists in 205 MISL games.
For his entire career, which Included stats from the North American Soccer League and MISL, Zungul scored 715 goals and added 527 assists in 455 regular-season games. In the playoffs, he was just as lethal, connecting 113 times and contributing 76 assists in 77 appearances.
The Triple Crown
Zungul was the first player in the MISL to have won the triple crown. In fact, he accomplished that feat three times: 90 goals and 46 assists for 136 points in 1979-80, 103 goals and 60 assists for 163 points in 1981-82 and 68 goals and 68 assists for 136 points in 1984-85.
(Preki, playing with the Tacoma Stars, pulled off the feat in 1988-89, although he shared the assist crowd of 53 with the Wichita Wings' Chico Borja with 53 each. Preki finished that season with 51 goals and 53 assists for 104 points).
Getting the record straight
Zungul held these records (through 1987):
* Most goals (487)
* Most assists (290)
* Most points (777)
* Most power-play goals (57)
* Most game-winning goals (58)
* Most hat-tricks (87)
* Most goals in a season (108)
* Most assists in a season (68)
* Most points in a season (163)
* Longest goal-scoring streak (26 games)
* Longest point streak (76 games)
* Tied for most goals in a game (seven)
* Tied for most points in a game (nine)
* Tied for most goals in a quarter (four)
With the length of the MISL campaigns differing slightly, how do we measure Zungul's finest season. When he recorded 108 goals and 152 points in 1980-81, Zungul averaged 2.7 goals and 3.8 points a match. When he finished with 103 goals and 163 points in 40 contests in 1981-82, he averaged 2.57 goals and 4.07 points a match.
Back in the day, I projected which game he would reach the magic 1,000-point total. If he continued at his pace of 2.42 points per game, I said that Zungul should crack the 1,000-point career barrier on March 22, 1987, as the Tacoma Stars hosted the Baltimore Blast. That match was scheduled to be televised on March 23 by ESPN. So, how did I do? Zungul did not reach the 1,000-point barrier, although he scored twice in a 6-4 loss. He did hit the milestone in the Stars' 7-2 home win over the Los Angeles Lazers on Dec. 12, 1987. The Lord of All Indoors had a goal and two assists, doing all of his damage in the fourth quarter. He assisted twice within a 66-second span early in the period before registering his goal after the visitors pulled their goalkeeper with 6:36 remaining in the contest. That overshadowed Preki's fine performance of a hat-trick and an assist. Zungul's closest career point rival at the time? The great Fred Grgurev, who had accumulated 544 points in nine seasons.
No goals, no assists, no points
Up until 1987, that occurred only eight times in his career. The first time as a New York Arrows came against the Houston Summit on Jan. 2, 1979, and most recently as a San Diego Socker against the Los Angeles Lazers on Nov. 1, 1985 (see tomorrow's story for more details).
Sorry, I haven't done the research after the 1986-87 season, but given the fact that Zungul had to battle injuries, it was likely he had a few more matches without a point.
Zungul was the only player to have scored 100 or more goals in a season, achieving that twice - 108 in 198-81 and 103 in 1981-82.
Appreciating 100, again
In the MISL's first eight seasons, the 100-point barrier was cracked only a dozen times, five by Zungul, Only Pittsburgh's Stan Terlecki had broken the century mark more than once.
Zungul scored three goals within a 37-second span for the New York Arrows in an 8-6 victory over the Baltimore Blast on April 2, 1982.
The Lord of Outdoors, too
Zungul also scored a few goals without a roof above his head. During the 1983 North American Soccer League season with the Golden Bay Earthquakes, finished third in the scoring race with 16 goals and 15 assists for 47 points. In 1984, he led the league with 20 goals and 10 assists for 50 points and was named league MVP.
And Lord of the Playoffs
Zungul never had been shutout in points in 34 playoff games. Not surprisingly, he was the all-time playoff scoring leader at the time, with 77 goals and 44 assists for 121 points.
The only year
There were only two MISL seasons (through 1986-87) in which Zungul didn't win the scoring title: 1978-79, when he finished second to Philadelphia's Fred Grgurev, and 1983-84, when he didn't finish at all. He was playing for the Golden Bay Earthquakes in the NASL. He led that league in scoring that year, anyway. By the way, Baltimore Blast forward Stan Stamenkovic won the scoring crown in 1983-84.
They're number two
If Zungul wasn't around, perhaps they would have been scoring champions:
* 1979-80: Philadelphia's Fred Grgurev, 64 goals, 40 assists, 104 points, 32 points behind Zungul
* 1980-81: New York's Brank Segota, 38-45-83, 69 points behind
* 1981-82: Pittsburgh's Stan Terlecki, 74-43-117, 46 points behind
* 1982-83: Baltimore's Stan Stamenkovic, 55-65-120, two points behind
* 1984-85: Chicago's Karl-Heinz Granitza, 64-53-117, 19 points behind
It paid to play with Zungul, and not just to inflate one's assists or goals total. In 253 indoor games in which he had participated prior to the 1987-88 season, Zungul's teams had recorded a 182-71 mark, a .719 winning percentage. And he also played on five championship teams as well.
A winner when he scores
And speaking of records, there was a correlation that when Zungul didn’t score, the better chances you have of defeating his team. For example, Zungul's teams had a 2-7 record when he was denied any points, 11-13 when he was shutout from scoring a goal. However, his sides had a 49-24 mark when he did not assist on a goal.
There was more. Zungul's teams were 49-24 when he scored one goal, 125-27 when he tallied at least two goals, 81-16 when he registered at least a hat-trick, 39-5 when he scored four or more goals and 21-0 when he collected at least five goals.
Zungul almost missed out on the 1982-83 scoring title. Trailing Stamenkovic by several points entering the final day of the season, Zungul registered one goal and five assists to win yet another scoring crown.
The longest drought
It may be difficult to believe, but Zungul once went 144 minutes and 21 seconds between goals. It occurred over a span of four matches. He scored a goal at 6:52 of the third period against the Pittsburgh Spirit on Dec. 28, 1978. He was blanked in the next two games he played, a 9-1 loss in Houston on Jan. 2, 1979, and in an 11-4 setback in Houston two days later. After missing New York's 8-5 win over Cincinnati on Jan. 5, Zungul finally broke the streak, recording an unassisted goal at 1:13 of the first quarter in an 11-7 victory over Pittsburgh. According to research, the longest time between points was from Dec. 28, 1978 to Jan. 5, 1979 - 121 minutes and 32 seconds.
There's a first time for everything
Here are the dates and particulars for some of Zungul's famous MISL firsts:
* First goal - At 5:55 of the second quarter of the very first MISL game for the Arrows against the Cincinnati Kids at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. on Dec. 22, 1978.
* First assist - At 10:37 of the first period, setting up Tibor Molnar's goals in Pittsburgh on Dec. 28, 1978.
* First hat-trick - On Dec. 22, 1978. In fact, he scored four goals in that contest.
* First power-play goal - At 5:06 of the fourth quarter in the Arrows' 10-9 defeat to Philadelphia on March 4, 1979. It was his 32nd goal of the season.
* First penalty - At 6:35 of the fourth period, for boarding, in a 10-5 victory over Cincinnati on Feb. 25, 1979.
* First playoff goal - At 7:18 of the second period in the Arrows' 9-4 semifinal triumph over Cincinnati on March 20, 1979.
Like a birthday, it seemed to have happened just about once a year to Steve Zungul.
That's when he didn't record a goal or an assist in an indoor soccer game.
During the first eight Major Indoor Soccer League seasons of his Hall of Fame career, it occurred only nine times.
That’s how dominant and effective he was.
The Baltimore Blast and Houston Summit accomplished the rare feat of holding Zungul pointless within days twice during his Hall of Fame career (Zungul was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, Texas on Saturday).
"Zungul is a magnificent player," Blast head coach Kenny Cooper, Sr. said then. "We try to play him man-to-man. You have to realize he's going to get his opportunities. You've got to play a floating zone around him."
Zungul had played for the New York Arrows, Golden Bay Earthquakes, San Diego Sockers and Tacoma Stars (through the 1986-87 season).
Here is a quick rundown of the rarest of Zungul's pointless matches (through the 1986-87 campaign):
Houston 9, New York 1 (Jan. 2, 1979)
Only two games into his indoor career, Zungul was stopped cold, which happened to be the worst loss in Arrows' history. The game also happened to coincide with the debut of a 17-year-old forward named Branko Segota, who went on to enjoy a Hall of Fame career of his own (Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame and Canadian Soccer Association Hall of Fame).
Houston 11, New York 4 (Jan. 4, 1979)
Two games in a row? Believe it. It turned out to be the only time in Zungul's career, up until that point, that he was held without a goal in two successive matches. His pointless streak eventually was stretched to 144 minutes and 21 seconds.
Baltimore 4, New York 2 (Feb. 13, 1981)
These two games against the Summit Soccer must have motivated Zungul because it was more than two years - or 76 matches - before he was thwarted again. A 26-game goal-scoring streak also was snapped on - Friday the 13th.
Buffalo 8, New York 4 (March 7, 1981)
When they were in the league, the Buffalo Stallions used to give the Arrows and the Lord of All Indoors fits on several occasions, they limited him to one goal or an assist, or less. In this game, they hit the jackpot. Interesting note: The next day Zungul tied a league record by scoring seven goals in an 8-7 triumph over the Chicago Horizon.
Phoenix 5, Golden Bay 3 (April 8, 1983)
With the Earthquakes already eliminated from a playoff berth, Zungul had only personal goals to shoot for, such as a fourth consecutive scoring title. The only problem was that all of his shots were stopped in this game.
San Diego 4, St. Louis 3 (Dec. 7, 1984)
This is a rarity: Zungul's team winning a match while he was held scoreless. Zungul failed to write his name on the scoresheet for the first time in 44 regular-season contests.
New York 5, San Diego 3 (Dec. 21, 1984)
Can you believe it? The Cosmos, then a shell of its outdoor self, blanked Zungul, in San Diego, of all places. He took eight shots but wound up firing blanks.
Baltimore 3, San Diego 2 (Oct. 25, 1985)
Zungul once said, "You can't be perfect every night." No, you can't. Zungul failed to connect on seven attempts as Bruce Savage, Tim Wittman and Franz Mathieu took turns stopping him in the 1985-86 season opener in Baltimore. "Always, I'm making new record," Zungul said. As it turned out, Zungul was blanked in the same Baltimore Civic Center where he enjoyed one of his greatest moments when he collected seven assists in the Sockers' 14-2 rout of the Blast in Game Four of the 1985 MISL championship series.
San Diego 3, Los Angeles 2 (Nov. 1, 1985)
It seemed that Zungul's scoreless games seemed to come in bunches. This time he failed put the ball in the net in two of three matches. The only worse skid up until that time was in his initial MISL season. Zungul was limited by an ailing Achilles tendon. In case you were wondering, Zungul was at the top of his game in the match between those two contests, scoring twice and adding three assists in an 8-6 win over the Cleveland Force on Oct. 27.
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. Lewis can be reached via email at email@example.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.lk. His sequel, STILL AND ALIVE AND KICKING: The story of the 21st century Rochester Lancers, will be published soon. It will have many features about indoor soccer and MASL players.