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Former Spirit star Stan Terlecki dead at age 62

| Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, 1:24 p.m.

Stan Terlecki, the prolific goal-scoring star of the Pittsburgh Spirit indoor soccer team in the 1980s, died Thursday in his native Poland at age 62, according to a release from the Polish Football Association and multiple European news reports.

A flashy striker who scored seven times in 29 appearances for the Polish national team, Terlecki came to Pittsburgh in 1981 and scored a franchise-record 184 goals in four seasons. His time in Pittsburgh coincided with the height of popularity for the Major Indoor Soccer League and the Spirit, which regularly drew larger crowds to the Civic Arena than the Penguins before the arrival of Mario Lemieux in 1984.

A cause of death was not announced by the Polish Federation, but a Radio Poland report said Terlecki had battled a long illness.

“I kept up with him and with his two sons, but it was becoming more and more difficult because of his illnesses,” Robert Morris women's soccer coach and fellow Poland native John Kowalski said. “I just spoke with his son, Maciej, and he said (his father) died last night in his sleep, most likely from some kind of heart condition or heart attack.”

Born in Warsaw on Nov. 13, 1955, Terlecki began his professional career at age 17 and played for three clubs in the Polish top division. He was first selected for the national team as a 21-year-old, but his career for Poland was cut short due to his activism off the field.

Openly critical of the communist governments of Poland and the Soviet Union, Terlecki was twice suspended by the Polish federation for attempting to form a player's union. In November 1980, he was one of the key figures in a public incident between coaches and players in a Polish airport, and later that month, he arranged a meeting between players and Pope John Paul II on a trip to Italy, despite warnings from the federation and government that such a meeting was forbidden.

Kowalski, a former MLS and Riverhounds coach, was coaching the Spirit at that time, and he helped orchestrate a move for his out-of-favor countryman to Pittsburgh.

“He was a little bit rebellious toward authority, especially communist authority,” Kowalski said. “A player had been kicked off the team for rules violations, and he stood up for the player who got suspended. That's what got him kicked off the Polish national team.

“During that time, he got into the Solidarity movement, which was very anti-communist, and he eventually moved to Holland. ... I was able to help him out and organize for his family to come to Pittsburgh from Holland.”

“He was really pretty radical to come here from Poland. I could see Stan making waves like that, because of the way he would get his mind set on things,” said Paul Child, Terlecki's teammate and one of the Spirit's best-known players. “He was a smart guy and spent a lot of time at home, educating himself, learning the language. He really wanted to be part of this country.”

Terlecki and his family settled in Pittsburgh, where he played from 1981-83 and 1984-86. He was the MISL co-MVP in 1982, and also played stints with the MISL's Golden Bay Earthquakes and the North American Soccer League's New York Cosmos before returning to Poland in 1986.

He finished his career in his homeland in 1993, but he was never selected for a return to the national team. Kowalski said Terlecki remained involved in soccer after his playing career by getting his coaching license and working with a high-level youth club in Poland.

“All I thought when I first met Stan was what a great player,” Child said. “We got on well, but we had two totally different styles. He had a lot more skill than I did; I was more a battler and made sure to be in the right place at the right time for him.

“My prayers go out to his family and kids, who were good players in their own right. It's a sad loss for the game. He was definitely an icon for the Spirit.”

Matt Grubba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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