Why the San Diego Sockers-Dallas Sidekicks game will matter in 2013

The San Diego Sockers have won 45 straight games, which is a professional sports record. Yes, you may quibble over the term “professional” in the PASL, and you may argue that the Sockers face even less competition in that league than Celtic faces in the Scottish Premier League. Peter Wilt, no stranger to indoor and other soccer, raised exactly that objection on Twitter. (MLSSoccer.com’s Andrew Wiebe sums up Wilt’s Tweet and a video from Fox Soccer.)

In the 2010-11 season, they lost two games in December and dominated the rest of the way, winning their last 13. That includes a couple against lower division teams in the Open Cup. Last season, the Sockers had two overtime games early, then won the rest by two, four, five, six … maybe 12 goals. After those 16, they won two more in the playoffs, taking the streak to 31. This year, they’ve opened with eight straight, all by at least six goals.

(Wait a minute: 13 in 2010-11, 18 in 2011-12, 8 in 2012-13. That’s 39. Where are the other four? Ah, here we go — the FIFRA Club Championships, the indoor-with-boards version of the World Club Cup. And actually, they count two more games for a total of 24 last year, which must have been the Open Cup. So if you really want to quibble, you could discount maybe 4-5 games against non-league teams, but I honestly don’t know whether those teams are “pro.” One Open Cup opponent, the Las Vegas Knights, appear in the PASL Premier, not the pro league, but the Sockers count those games.)

FIFRA? Yes. The Federacion Internacional de Futbol Rapido is functioning. They held a Euro 2012 this year.

Meanwhile, the MISL’s affiliation is totally different. The MISL is now part of the USL. The Sockers won many MISL titles when the MISL was huge, but they were reborn in the PASL.

Got all that? No? Let’s back up with a quick indoor timeline:

– 1978-1992: The original Major Indoor Soccer League rules. Players like Preki and Tatu are semi-household names. A few teams average more than 10,000 fans. The pregame pyrotechnics pave the way for a lot of what we see in NBA and NHL games today. Teams play up to 56 games in a season. The NASL tries to head off the competition by also playing a few indoor seasons, but the MISL outlasts them and absorbs several NASL teams — including the San Diego Sockers. Another league, the AISA, springs up and forces the MISL to face more competition. (Also existing but not competing — the SISL, which would become the outdoor/indoor USISL and then the mostly outdoor USL.) The AISA changes its name to the NPSL and survives. (As always, Dave Litterer has the complete history to this point, and he has a complementary history by Steve Holroyd.) San Diego dominates the last years of the MISL, winning eight of the last 10 titles. The exceptions: The Baltimore Blast in 1983-84 and the Dallas Sidekicks in a whirlwind 1986-87 season documented in all its feathered-hair, synth-music glory.

Of course, for sheer video goodness, we have to see this one again:

– 1992-2001: The NPSL goes on as a low-key but relatively stable enterprise, absorbing two MISL teams and settling with an average attendance in the 5,000s. Meanwhile, two MISL teams — San Diego and Dallas — move on to the CISL, which plays in the summers when arenas have more open dates. The CISL also averages 5,000-plus.

– 1997: San Diego folds before the season. After the season, the CISL morphs into the PSA, which includes Dallas.

– 1998-2001: After one year as the PSA, the summer league becomes the World Indoor Soccer League (WISL), intending to have international divisions. Those don’t materialize. The attendance still hovers in the 5,000s, led by Dallas. In 2001, San Diego returns.

– 2001-08: Under aggressive new commissioner Steve Ryan, the NPSL reclaims the classic MISL name. And then they merge with the WISL, welcoming Dallas and San Diego back to the fold. And it looks a bit like the old MISL, with the Baltimore Blast and Kansas City Comets among other long-standing names. The league still keeps attendance near the 5,000 mark, but neither Dallas nor San Diego survives.

Ready? Now it gets interesting….

– 2008-09: Three leagues! Several MISL teams form the National Indoor Soccer League. Others go in a completely different direction with the Xtreme Soccer League (XSL). One team, the California Cougars, go to the Professional Arena Soccer League (PASL-Pro), the new pro effort by the decade-old Premier Arena Soccer League (PASL-Premier). The XSL lasts one year. The NISL name lasts one year, as the league goes back to the MISL name and re-absorbs Milwaukee from the XSL.

– 2009-11: The MISL limps along with five teams. Meanwhile, San Diego is reborn in the PASL-Pro. (The Sockers also maintain a reserve team.)

– 2011: The USL, which had been planning to revive its long-dormant indoor league, absorbs the MISL and keeps the name.

And that’s where we stand now. The MISL isn’t the old Preki-Tatu-Zungul league with sellouts in large arenas. But it’s relatively healthy, with the long-standing Baltimore Blast helping the average attendance stay up over 4,000.

The PASL, on the other hand, is a low-budget alternative. The record attendance is 5,909, set by …

… the reborn Dallas Sidekicks in early November.

Such attendance is not typical. But Dallas and San Diego are drawing well. And they give MLS nostalgia freaks a chance to see Chad Deering and Paul Wright in action.

And San Diego and Dallas are dominating the competition. You’ll see more competitive games in the MISL, which streams its games online.

But remember Jan. 27. That’s when San Diego will likely take its win streak of 48-ish games to Dallas, waking up the echoes of long MISL rivalries. And they’ll play again Feb. 1 in San Diego. Both games are streaming, but it’ll cost you.

So the accounting may be dubious. Still should be one of the most interesting matchups you’ll see. And with Dallas in the PASL, at least San Diego has a Rangers to its Celtic.