You haven’t made it in the Major Indoor Soccer League until you’ve earned a suitable nickname.
There was Stan ‘The Pizza Man’ Stamenkovic, so called because of his love of beer, pizza and cigarettes.
‘The Pizza Man’ might have been a touch on the heavy side but he was never found wanting for agility, as the three defenders dazzled to the ground in the build up to his 1983 MISL All-Star goal know only too well.
Then there was Brazilian forward Antonio Carlos Pecorari- once of Sao Paulo- whose goalscoring exploits for the Dallas Sidekicks were accompanied by the nickname Tatu, or ‘The Armadillo’ in English.
But when it comes to the Ronseal award for doing exactly what it says on the tin, you need look no further than Slavisa Zungul, aka the ‘Lord of Indoors’.
Of course, before we go any further, you’re probably wondering what the Major Indoor Soccer League actually is.
Between 1978 and 1992, 24 teams from Baltimore and Buffalo to Tacoma and Wichita competed in indoor arenas across America in a bid to be crowned champions of the MISL.
While it’s easy to turn your nose up at indoor soccer, average MISL weekly attendances peaked at around 9,000. That’s more than most League One clubs, including former Premier League sides Coventry City and Blackpool, get through the door. An average of 12,514 fans turned up for playoff games in 1987, more than Brentford, Hull City, Wigan Athletic and Luton Town are currently getting in the Championship.
If you were to switch on the MISL’s equivalent of Match of the Day between 1978 and 1990, it wouldn’t take the North American Gary Lineker very long to mention Zungul’s name. After all, you don’t get the nickname ‘Lord of Indoors’ without wreaking sustained havoc.
Across 12 seasons playing for the New York Arrows, San Diego Shockers and Tacoma Stars, Zungul was named MVP six times, Scoring Champion six times and Pass Master- for the league’s most assists- four times, on his way to winning eight MISL championships.
His tally of 652 goals and 471 assists sees him sit comfortably atop of both MISL records and makes him arguably the most dominant (indoor) footballer you’ve never heard of.
But Zungul’s talents weren’t always confined to the indoor arena. In answer to the question ‘could he do it on a real football pitch?’, the answer is an emphatic yes.
Zungul started his footballing career as a teenager with Croatian club Hajduk Split, where his goalscoring prowess was evident from the off.
The striker, capped 14 times for Yugoslavia, scored 176 goals in six years at the club to power Hajduk to three Yugoslav First League titles. He also played a major part in a memorable 2-1 UEFA Cup win against Arsenal in 1978.
But, at the age of 24, he defected from Yugoslavia in a bid to capitalise on the riches of professional football in America. A resulting FIFA ban saw him blacklisted from the North American Soccer League and left with no option but to turn to indoor football in order to make a living.
NASL’s misfortune was New York Arrows’ gain.
Arriving at the Arrows in 1978, Zungul won four-straight MISL titles. His standout campaign was his second season in New York, in which he scored 108 goals in 40 games- a full 58 goals ahead of his nearest competitor.
Needless to say, Zungul was named MISL MVP in three of his first four seasons at the Arrows.
Unable to scratch his 11-a-side itch, Zungul finally got his break in the NASL in 1983, representing the Golden Bay Earthquakes.
Two NASL All-Star campaigns resulted in Zungul being awarded the league’s MVP in 1984, following in the footsteps of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff.
In fact, Zungul would prove to be NASL’s final MVP, with the league’s collapse heralding a return to indoor football via San Diego Sockers, another two seasons leading MISL’s top scorer charts and a further two titles.
In 1986 Zungul was sold to the Tacoma Stars, based in Washington, where his incredible run of league titles was finally ended in the MISL Championship Series by a Dallas Sidekicks side containing the aforementioned ‘Armadillo’.
A return to San Diego in 1988 marked the final chapter of Zungul’s career and, two years later, he called and end to a 19-year career spread across two different countries, two different formats of the game and five different clubs.
Good enough to represent his country at a European Championships and- had politics not been involved- a World Cup, Zungul nevertheless retired as an indoor football legend.
Nowadays he’d be christened ‘The Messi of indoor football’, but Zungul is good enough to dine off his own name.
That being said, the ‘Lord of Indoors’ had a nice ring to it.
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