By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Actions, as the saying goes, speak much louder than words.

We can say we respect someone, but not necessarily always show it.

Then there is Jim Pollihan, who earned that respect and then some.

When he played with the Rochester Lancers during the early days of his distinguished soccer career, Pollihan was given the ultimate respect by both coach and colleagues.

Don (Dragan) Popovic named the St. Louis native his team captain, as a very young age.

At the same time, Pollihan was selected team player representative for the fledgling North American Soccer League Players Association in the late seventies.

Just wondering how many players held the same title at once.

Now, that’s what I call respect.

It was easy to give Jim Pollihan respect. He was straight forward as a person. On the soccer field, he used his talents to the best of his ability.

Pollihan, a former member of the U.S. men’s national team who played indoor and outdoor soccer, passed away on Sunday night. He was 68.

RIP, JIM: Pollihan, former USMNT defender, 1st pro player to score an indoor goal in the USA, passes away

Jim Pollihan, before a Harrisburg Heat game in 1993. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com)

Not surprisingly, he was respected and beloved by friend and foe.

“R.I.P. 🙏🏻 Jim was a great player and a better person on and off the field,” former U.S. men’s national team teammate Steve Pecher, who played against Pollihan when the former was with the Dallas Tornado (outdoors) and St. Louis Steamers (indoors). “Grew up with him in St Louis and played on the USMNT together.”

That was one of the many tributes for Pollihan that were written on Facebook:


Known as the first professional player to score a goal in indoor soccer for the New York Arrows in the Major Indoor Soccer League’s inaugural game on Dec. 22, 1978, Pollihan also performed the Houston Summit and Baltimore Blast in that league. He went on to become a Blast assistant coach and then head coach of the Harrisburg Heat.

He also wound up on the cover of the first issue two prominent publications in the seventies – with Pele in the Soccer Digest and Soccer Week, a weekly publication that covered the beautiful game at all levels in the New York and New Jersey area.

May be an image of 2 people, people playing sports and text that says 'Soccer 1978 May $1.00 PREMIER ISSUE NASL Digest 56387- PREDICTIONS '78 PRO SCHEDULES PDC 2 A Farewell To ele Soccer' S All-Time All- Greatest Star'

As a young reporter for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, I dealt with Pollihan on a regular basis – as team captain and player rep. I had to ask him tough questions during a sometimes tumultuous period, given the controversies the Lancers occasionally in which they found themselves, and the Players Association efforts to be recognized by the NASL.

Pollihan seemed to know the right thing to say to the media, without antagonizing or infuriating teammates, the coach, club owners or the league.

As a player, Pollihan showed great versatility. He was drafted by Rochester out of Quincy College (now Quincy University), as the third overall selection of the 1976 NASL draft, as a lethal striker. Most NASL teams did not give many young promising American forwards an opportunity to play much back then. So, Popovic switched Polly, as he was known by teammates and friends, to left back.

He took to it quickly and became one of the top players to play at that position. He was rewarded as finalist for the 1976 NASL rookie of the year award; Glenn Myernick won that honor. Pollihan received a bigger accolade that year; he was selected to the U.S. men’s national team. He made his international debut against Canada in a World Cup qualifier later than year.

Pollihan made 15 appearances for the USMNT through 1979, during an era when the team did not play as frequently as it does today.

After retiring as a player, I saw Polly several times, including at the 2010 Lancers reunion, which the Rochester Rhinos graciously hosted at one of their games in 2010.

May be an image of 2 people, people standing and outdoors

Jim Pollihan (left) and Jim May at the Rochester Lancers reunion in 2010. (Joy Rubenstein/FrontRowSoccer.com)

It was so much better than the high school reunions in which I attended for so many reasons.

Two other times stood out.

In 1992, I had a brainstorm of an idea to cover the Harrisburg Heat of the National Premier Soccer League for a three-day road trip to the Midwest. The squad was to play three games in less than 72 hours, and with so many players from New York and New Jersey on the team, I thought it would be a perfect story for Soccer Week.

He said yes.

These days, it was quite difficult to get access to players on many pro soccer teams, as some clubs guard them from the media as though they are the crown jewels.

Jim Pollihan gave me access to the entire Harrisburg Heat team.

I sat in the back of the bus, tried to keep a low profile and still found time to interview as many players as I could throughout the trip. Of course, with Pollihan being the coach, I probably pestered him more often than not for comments about this and that, but he never complained.

As it turned out, the Heat embarked on a history-making journey in Ohio and Michigan, becoming the first NPSL team to record three victories in as many days on a trip.

I chronicled those special moments – the mundane off the field events and the games themselves – in a 4,000-word story in Soccer Week, including a few sidebars.

It was one of the most favorite stories I have ever written.

Jim Pollihan before a Heat road game in 1992. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com)

A year later, I penned a sequel of sorts, covering the Heat during a weekend at the Farm Show Arena in Harrisburg. Of course, the team gave me another fabulous story on a silver platter, as the Heat defeated the National and American Division leaders within 48 hours. And the cherry on top was that the Heat not only blanked the Wichita Wings in the Sunday encounter, but goalkeeper Joe Mallia of Syosset, N.Y., scored a goal. He became the first NPSL goalie, to outscore the opposition. Certainly no mean feat in the high-scoring indoor game.

As a writer, I love to write about history, especially when it was front and center.

During my two trips, I was introduced to many icons of the indoor game, some of which I still write about today.

The seemingly endless list included Doug Miller, Danny Kelly, David Bascome, Franklin McIntosh, and Lee Tschantret, among others, and Pittsburgh Riverhounds head coach Bob Lilley, Harrisburg City Islands head coach Bill Becher, New York Red Bulls Denis Hamlett, Lee Tschantret, Richard Chinapoo, Joe Mallia, the late Todd Smith, the former New England Revolution general manager, and Mark Pulisic, whose son, Christian, is a member of the U.S. men’s national team.

I will be forever grateful to Pollihan for allowing me to write about the Heat on those two occasions.

Moreover, I appreciate Pollihan for allowing me to me his friend, at least from a writer’s standpoint. He was a class act on and off the field, and a great guy.

RIP, Jim Pollihan.

You went way, way too early.

Over the next several days, FrontRowSoccer.com will post both stories of the Heat’s Midwest sojourn (1992) and memorable homestand (1993).