Best of a dying breed: The 5 icons who mastered the game both indoors and out

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Life on these shores used to demand a mastery of both. Here are five players who were the best of soccer's renaissance men. 

Appropriately for a sport that does substitutions on the fly, indoor soccer has seen several players go back and forth between its leagues and the outdoor game.

The indoor version was effectively the top level in North American soccer in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. That all changed when Major League Soccer debuted in 1996, but indoor’s influence lingered. Here are the most memorable players who starred both indoors and out.

Preki

“Another [Howard] Kendall signing, Preki Radosavljevic, arrived in America in 1992. Yugoslav-born, he had been raised on US Indoor Soccer and, though undeniably skilful [sic], he was usually out of breath after an hour. Of the 46 games he played for Everton, 24 were as a second-half substitute.”

So reads the Rough Guide to English Football’s 1999-2000 edition. And by that time, Preki had indeed returned to the indoor game with the San Jose Grizzlies to rack up more hat tricks in the new Continental Indoor Soccer League (1993-1997).

Then a funny thing happened. Major League Soccer launched in 1996, which was bad news for the summer-schedule CISL, but good news for the indoor soccer wizard, who became a Kansas City Wizard of some distinction. He was named league MVP in 1997 and did it again in 2003 at age 40.

And he wasn’t just beating up on weak defenses in the early days of MLS. He became a U.S. citizen and scored a legendary national team goal –- a skillful and powerful strike that lifted the USA past Brazil in the 1998 Gold Cup semifinals.

Brian Schmetzer

USA Today Sports-Denny Medley

USA Today Sports-Denny Medley

The Seattle Sounders hired Schmetzer as their head coach in 2016, but his history with the Sounders and other Seattle-area clubs spans many decades and many leagues.

Schmetzer started straight out of high school, signing with the Sounders in 1980. In those days, the NASL was a year-round operation -– outdoors in the summer, indoors in the winter -– and the indoor game was a good place for a young American player to have an impact.

With the NASL’s demise in 1984, Schmetzer played most of his professional career indoors in the Major Indoor Soccer League, spending a few years in San Diego and St. Louis sandwiched around a stint in Tacoma. He retired from the MISL in 1991, citing shoulder problems, and switched from bouncing soccer balls off walls to knocking down walls as a home remodeler.

But Schmetzer wasn’t done in soccer, and his second act as a player launched his coaching career. He came out of retirement to play for two more Seattle teams in two more leagues -– the reborn Sounders in the APSL (later A-League) and the indoor SeaDogs in the Continental Indoor Soccer League. With the latter, he also served as assistant coach. A few years later, he joined the Sounders’ coaching staff and has been there ever since.

Fernando Clavijo

USA TODAY Sports-Richard Mackson

USA TODAY Sports-Richard Mackson

The Uruguay-born Clavijo was capped 61 times for the U.S. men's national team, most notably playing the full 90 in the legendary 2-1 win over Colombia in the 1994 World Cup. He’s also an accomplished coach and now technical director of FC Dallas, overseeing a lauded youth academy.

He was also a legitimate indoor soccer star, having been named to the MISL All-Star team 12 times. After starting his U.S. playing career in 1979 with the New York Apollos and New York United of the (outdoor) American Soccer League, he started his indoor career with the New York Arrows. He later played for the perennial power San Diego Sockers, along with the Los Angeles Lazers and St. Louis Storm.

And he played in another World Cup: the 1992 Futsal World Cup, where he lined up alongside Jeff Agoos, Jim Gabarra and Andy Schmetzer (Brian’s brother) to reach the final before falling to Brazil.

His coaching career started in the CISL before he moved on to MLS and national teams, and he was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010.

Desmond Armstrong

The defender was a classic example of a player whose prime years unfortunately fell between major outdoor leagues in the United States. He finished his college career at Maryland in 1985, soon after the NASL’s collapse, and left top-tier competition before MLS launched in 1996.

The bulk of Armstrong's professional career was spent indoors with the Cleveland Force and the Baltimore Blast. But he continued to play outdoors in the APSL and USISL, and he was sent to Brazil on loan to play for Santos, Pele’s club.

He was also a consistent starter with the U.S. men's national team, earning 81 caps in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, including the 1990 World Cup. But he was surprisingly cut from the roster before the 1994 World Cup.

Armstrong finished his indoor career in 1995 with the Washington Warthogs, then played a final outdoor season with the USISL’s Charlotte Eagles, a club with an evangelical mission, in 1996.

Mark Simpson

Once MLS launched in 1996, most players gave up their indoor careers. Some players opted for year-round play, bouncing between the A-League and the indoor NPSL, but MLS players were generally not released to play elsewhere in the offseason.

Simpson was an exception. The goalkeeper spent the early 1990s the same way many of his contemporaries did, floating between indoor teams and APSL/USISL teams each season. Then he joined D.C. United and took over the starting spot partway through the team’s championship season in MLS’ debut year of 1996.

Then he promptly went back indoors with the Buffalo Blizzard of the NPSL. A contract conflict kept him away from United for the first few games of 1997, and he suffered a knee injury and infection that kept him out of action for more than a year.

Simpson returned to action as a part-time starter for the next few seasons before going into coaching with D.C. United and others.

Even in his later years, he maintained an interest in indoor soccer, remaining in the U.S. Futsal player pool.

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