Mark Madden: Pittsburgh Spirit’s Stan Terlecki finally honored by Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame
Indoor soccer barely exists anymore.
There’s a low-level “pro” loop, the Major Arena Soccer League. Some of its members trace their names back to the game’s peak in the ’80s: Baltimore Blast, Dallas Sidekicks, San Diego Sockers. But it’s not the same.
The Major Indoor Soccer League (1978-92) and North American Soccer League’s indoor version (competing sporadically during roughly the same time frame) featured top players, including a host of quality internationals. It was no UEFA Champions League, but it wasn’t chopped liver.
The U.S. was largely soccer-ignorant then. Indoor soccer combined the beautiful game and pinball. Six-a-side on a hockey rink. It was fast and exciting. America liked it.
Pittsburgh liked it.
The Spirit played in the MISL from 1978-80 and ‘81-86, owned first by local sports magnate Frank B. Fuhrer Jr. and then by Youngstown, Ohio-based Edward J. DeBartolo, who also owned the Penguins and San Francisco 49ers.
The Spirit averaged 6,351 fans per game in its seven seasons. It outdrew the Penguins in 1983-84. Then Mario Lemieux showed up.
There’s an Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame. It’s typical of the sport’s haphazard nature. There’s no building. This year’s class of inductees was the first since 2014.
But this year’s group finally got it right.
This year’s group included the Spirit’s Stan Terlecki.
Terlecki (1955-2017) played for the Spirit from 1981-83 and 1984-86. The Polish international was a true original as a player and as a man.
His playing style was electric, though he had limited interest in passing and none in defense. (In three of his indoor seasons, Terlecki didn’t register a single block.) But he fearlessly took on defenders one-on-one and had a rifle shot, a blurry release with either foot propelled by legs that appeared to be spring-loaded.
Terlecki’s peak was his first year with the Spirit, 1981-82.
He had 74 goals and 43 assists in 43 games, sharing MISL MVP honors with Steve Zungul of the New York Arrows, probably the most dominant performer in the history of team sports. (That’s another column.)
Terlecki’s indoor career spanned six seasons and 212 games. He posted 252 goals and 161 assists. (A lot of those assists came from rebounds.)
If you knew Terlecki, the path that led him to Pittsburgh was no surprise.
Terlecki played 29 games for the Polish national team. But he often mocked the Communist establishment, tried to organize a players’ union and led a mini-revolt within the national team. He also arranged for national-team players to meet Pope John Paul II, which displeased Polish authorities.
Terlecki was dismissed from the Polish team in 1980. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1981. He eventually returned to Poland, but never played for the national team again.
That was Terlecki. He was an outcast and a martyr. Those were roles he enjoyed.
Terlecki would be honored to be in the Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame. He would also think he deserved it, and wonder why it took so long.
The Spirit’s phalanx of Polish players formed a buffer for Terlecki, and he wasn’t a bad teammate. More like an exhausting one. He was often knee-deep in drama.
In 1985-86, after an absence, Terlecki rejoined the Spirit under dark of night. The team’s bus was on its way to Cleveland, and he jumped on when it stopped at a McDonald’s. One of the Spirit’s players vocally approximated the theme from “The Twilight Zone.”
That was Terlecki. That was the Spirit. That was indoor soccer.
Terlecki passed away two years ago in Poland. About a decade back, he made an unexpected return to Pittsburgh.
When Terlecki was in his pomp with the Spirit, I worked with the team as a PR intern, sandwiching that between covering it for several outlets. Terlecki never said one word to me. I was beneath his station. Terlecki could be dismissive.
But when I saw Terlecki during that last visit, he was friendly and forthcoming, telling story after entertaining story. We hugged upon parting.
Terlecki was a nice bunch of guys. He was one of Pittsburgh’s greatest athletes ever. I miss him.