Tommy Ord enjoyed a magical 1975 season. (Photo courtesy of the Buffalo Stallions)
By Michael Lewis
On Feb. 6, 1975, a soccer neophyte got the opportunity to cover his first professional soccer game.
It wasn’t the traditional outdoor variety that has produced passionate supporters at all four corners of the globe, but the indoor game.
The event was the NASL Indoor Qualifying Tournament, one of four regional competitions that would lead to a national championship. The North American Soccer League wanted to start an indoor league to help teams supplement the players’ meager incomes. And the indoor game had more goals. The lack of goal-scoring was the bane of many American sports fans on why they did not find beauty in the beautiful game.
Rochester, N.Y. was chosen as one of the regional tournaments at the Community War Memorial.
This 22-year-old writer knew very little or nothing about the game but was grateful the indoor game was akin to hockey. So, there would be something to write about – i.e. goals and goal-scoring opportunities.
The Rochester Lancers dropped a 4-3 decision to the Boston Minutemen that Thursday night.
Given that I was on deadline and needed to talk to players ASAP, I decided on ones from English-speaking countries. That included Andy Rymarczuk of the United States and Tommy Ord of England.
Rymarczuk was no problem. Ord? That was an entirely different manner. The 22-year-old striker spoke with a Cockney accent and with my ear not accustomed with that tongue at the time. Not surprisingly, it had problems communicating that to my brain. I did not quote Ord in the story because I didn’t need to be sued for misquoting a player in my first soccer article (I had been assigned the Lancers’ beat only a few weeks prior).
Flash forward to the outdoor season. For a team that finished with a pitiful 6-16 mark, Ord turned into the lone shining light for the Lancers. He tallied 14 goals and four assists in 18 matches on a side that found the net but 29 times in 22 games. That was a remarkable scoring rate, with little help from his teammates filling the net.
We’ll get to that in a moment.
As a first-year soccer writer, I was a sponge, and the learning curve was steep.
I got a lesson on watching the play away from the ball when the Cosmos played the Lancers at Holleder Stadium just after Pele signed with the team that June. Pele had not trained with the team yet, so he did not play.
While the Cosmos were on the attack on the west side of the field, I noticed a battle royal between Cosmos captain and central defender Werner Roth, who someday would be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame, and Ord, though there was no ball, on the east end.
Roth took Ord by the neck while the Lancers’ striker elbowed his marker in return. And on it went. They seemed to be jockeying for position and superiority even though the ball was light years near them. It gave me a greater appreciation of off-the-ball play because it is easy to get hypnotized by following the bouncing ball.
What a fighter he was, even when he didn’t have the ball.
Thanks for the lesson, gentlemen.
As it turned out, Ord had the last laugh, scoring twice that day to lift Rochester to a 3-2 victory. Less than two months later, the two rivals were teammates.
As for the phrase last laugh, Ord was not one to gloat about scoring. He was soft-spoken and polite. I don’t remember having any problems with Tommy. I don’t recall him taking his teammates to task, except when admitted he was tired of being the lone target man. I didn’t blame him. Of course, when you’re scoring at that clip, the likelihood of getting asked tough questions was a longshot. Then again, what was there to criticize?
Ord passed away Tuesday at the age of 68. It hit a lot of people hard because he was well liked and respected. It hit home with me because he was only six months younger than me. More than being an entertaining soccer player, he treated me well. His death also was a reminder to put life into perspective and on how short time we have on this planet.
I mourn for Ord and send by deepest sympathies to his family and friends.
Like I said, Ord had a wonderful season as a one-man show for the Lancers in 1975. The club could never find him a scoring partner as the Lancers tried six players on a revolving tryout basis. They brought in players spanning five countries from three continents on a one-game tryout basis, for the most part.
The team had hoped to team Nigerian Yakubu Mambo with Ord, but they lost him to a preseason knee injury.
Jacrist Leroy, a Jamaican international, was brought in and he played in the final minutes of a 4-3 loss to the Miami Toros that May 2 and subsequently was released.
The club then signed Alvaro (Nene) Antonio Teixeira, reportedly a member of the Brazilian national team. He played the second half of Rochester’s 2-0 win over the Boston Minutemen and was dropped after the May 9 game.
Lee Newlyn, a 6-3 forward-defender from England was signed. He played one game as a substitute in the 5-0 away loss at the San Jose Earthquakes June 6.
The Lancers looked to the British Isles for some help. They thought they had some from Glasgow Celtic’s Jim Johnstone, but the Earthquakes signed him first.
Allen Taylor, a former teammate of Ord’s at Chelsea, had difficulty obtaining a visa and then had to return to England when his mother passed away.
The seventh and final player was Willie Berrington of Montrose, then of the Scottish second division.
Needless to say, this took its toll on Ord because the opposition knew who to double team game in and game out.
“I can’t do it myself,” he told me June 30. “As a striker, I’m up front myself. Most teams have two strikers.”
Yes, those were in the days when teams used two and sometimes three forwards.
In late July, the Lancers sold Ord for a then NASL record sum of $75,000 to the Cosmos. They had three games remaining in the season and Eli Durante was second to the English forward with three goals. The Lancers closed out the season with three consecutive defeats during a six-game losing streak. Ironically, George Gibbs tallied twice in a loss to the Philadelphia Atoms (Norm Wingert, the father of future Major League Soccer defender Chris Wingert backstopped the winners in the net) to finish the season with four goals. That was good for second place behind Ord.
Like I said, quite a season.
Unfortunately for Ord, he never quite rediscovered the scoring magic he enjoyed with the Lancers.
Oh, in his first Cosmos game, he struck twice in a 2-0 triumph to eliminate Rochester from playoff contention. That story you could not make put, not even by the greatest irony writer of them all, O. Henry.
Ord did have his moments. After he was traded by the Vancouver Whitecaps to the Seattle Sounders during the 1977 NASL season, he went on a tear, scoring nine goals in 10 games. He connected for Seattle’s lone goal in a 2-1 loss to the Cosmos at Soccer Bowl, Pele’s final competitive match. That encounter gave Ord a unique double as the only player to participate in the game in which the Black Pearl scored his first NASL goal (1975) and in his final match (not counting Pele, of course).
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And one last thought about that indoor tournament:
Sometimes you don’t know who you’re going to meet or watch playing at various stages of their career. In other words: treat people you don’t know with respect because you don’t know what sort of impact they will make or when their paths will cross in the future.
In that competition, Shep Messing played in goal for the Boston Minutemen. Hmmm, wonder whatever happened to him? Seriously, among his teammates was Carlos Metidieri, the only player in NASL history to win back-to-back scoring titles and MVPs (when he was with the Lancers), and Josef Jelinek, who played for Czechoslovakia, which reached the final four in the 1970 World Cup.
The Hartford Bicentennials had U.S. international goalkeeper Arnie Mausser and Len Renery, who starred with current Cosmos owner Rocco B. Commisso when they attended Columbia University.
The Cosmos boasted Jorge Siega, Joe Fink, who once scored seven goals in a Major Indoor Soccer League game for the Baltimore Blast, Freddie Grgurev, who became an MISL scoring sensation, and Angelo Anastasio. Anastasio played with future U.S. men’s national head coach Bruce Arena on the Nassau Community College team that finished fourth in the 1970 junior college nationals. He worked for Reebok USA, Fila and adidas, and currently is the owner of ANASTASIO MODA, which produces and sells fashion shoes and accessories.
The coaches were legendary – Boston’s Hubert Vogelsinger, who forged his reputation at Yale University and was one of the early soccer summer camp pioneers; Hartford’s Manfred Schellscheidt, a future National Soccer Hall of Famer who had successful career at Seton Hall University; the Cosmos’ Gordon Bradley, one of the early driving forces in professional soccer in the USA who helped form the Massapequa Soccer Club (Long Island Junior Soccer League), and Rochester’s Ted Dumitru, a Romanian refugee who became a coaching guru and legend in Africa, particularly in South Africa.
At one time or another, I have either written stories about these men or quoted them in others.
You never know who you’re going to meet.
It’s a small world.