Long before FC Dallas, the Tornado gave the city a soccer champion

By Rainer Sabin
The Dallas Morning News

They were a collection of part-time players, many of whom hailed from the British Isles. They lost a playoff match that lasted nearly three hours and played on a pitch that was also a high school football field. Their two top scorers, Kirk Apostolidis and Tommy Youlden, left the club late in the season. But to this day, the 1971 Dallas Tornado is the only North Texas team that has won a major professional outdoor soccer title.

“We were pioneers,” said Bobby Moffat, a forward with the team.

Moffat kicked in a rebound, providing the second goal in the Tornado’s 2-0 victory over the Atlanta Chiefs in the final match of a three-game series that decided the North American Soccer League championship.

“I remember like it was yesterday,” said Mike Renshaw, an attacking midfielder who scored on a header in the third minute of the match when he redirected a cross delivered by Phil Tinney.

The memories of that moment were revived Sunday, when FC Dallas advanced to its first MLS Cup with a 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy.

As Kevin Hartman parried shot after shot and FC Dallas celebrated its breakthrough, Renshaw swelled with pride. He, like many of his former Tornado teammates, sees a resemblance between Dallas’ soccer club of the present and the one of its past, the two of which were once owned by the late Lamar Hunt.

“They can hurt you in so many ways, and that’s similar to the team of ’71,” said former Tornado goalkeeper Ken Cooper, whose son Kenny is a former FC Dallas player and who, like Renshaw and Moffat, still lives in the area. “We were very confident and we were very well prepared.”

The Tornado also proved remarkably resilient, a trait exhibited by FC Dallas during a 19-game undefeated streak this season. In 1971, during the semifinal round, the Tornado lost to the Rochester Lancers in a match that wasn’t resolved until the 176th minute.

After the team’s other goalkeeper, Mirko Stojanovic, had been suspended, Cooper played and made 16 saves that evening. But at midnight, as the teams began to wilt in sudden death, he was unable to corral the final shot made by Carlos Metidieri.

Metidieri predicted his goal would be a fatal blow for the Tornado after the dispiriting loss. But the Tornado rebounded. It won a home match at Franklin Field, the stadium where the Hillcrest High football team played. And then it prevailed, 2-1, in a 148-minute showdown with the Lancers when Moffat blasted a shot from 14 yards away that eluded the keeper.

The victory set the stage for a championship series against Atlanta, which finished atop the standings in the Southern Division and only one point ahead of the Tornado during the regular season. Shortly thereafter, Renshaw boasted that Dallas would prevail, alarming his teammates who didn’t want to give Atlanta any more motivation.

“I said I don’t care,” Renshaw said. “We’re going to beat them. They can stick all the notices on the board they want. We’ll beat them. Trust me.”

Before the first game, however, Luiz Juracy was sidelined by tonsillitis and two other players were suspended, forcing 35-year-old coach Ron Newman to play. The Tornado lost that day but would win the next two matches to claim the championship and receive a heroes’ welcome upon landing at Love Field.

Drenched with champagne, Newman exulted after the Tornado won the title.

“Everything went wrong all year,” he said that day. “But we’re champs.”

Thirty-nine years later, Renshaw, Cooper and Moffat hope FC Dallas’ players will be able to make the same declaration Sunday.

If that happens, Cooper said, “I couldn’t be more happy than when we won. It’s been a joy to watch.”