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CLEVELAND CRUNCH

The CLEVELAND CRUNCH soccer team officially replaced the CLEVELAND FORCE in the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) 22 Feb. 1989, after Akron stockbroker George Hoffman failed to reach an agreement with Bart and Scott Wolstein to buy the Force. Hoffman and Stuart Lechter, an out-of-town commercial real-estate developer, organized the Crunch with Al Miller, former general manager of the Force, assuming the same position with the new team. Kai Haaskivi, star Force player, became player-coach of the Crunch. The Crunch's 1989-90 season in the Eastern Division was a disappointment, attendance was sparse and they failed to make the playoffs. The team improved the following year under their new coach, Trevor Dawkins, finishing the regular 1990-91 season 29-23 but losing to the San Diego Sockers in the championship playoffs. Crunch attendance averaged 7,056 in its 20 home games at the Coliseum, and the team made the 1991-92 playoffs; however, the 14-year old MISL folded in July 1992 when Tacoma and St. Louis dropped out of the league. As a result, the Crunch joined the National Professional Soccer League in Aug. 1992 and moved their home games to the Cleveland State Convocation Center. Gary Hindley replaced Dawkins as coach for the 1992-93 season and the Crunch made the playoffs, but lost the league championship to the Kansas City Attack 30 Apr. 1993. In Mar. 1993 the 13-team NPSL played its all-star game in Cleveland with Zoran Karic of the Crunch named the league's most valuable player. At the end of the 1993-94 season, the Cleveland Crunch defeated the St. Louis Ambush in a best-of-5 series to win the NPSL title. It was the city's first sports team to do so since the 1965 Browns championship. Gary Hindley resigned as coach following the 1994-95 season. In May 1995 Crunch general manager Al Miller was chosen for induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, NY, for his achievements in coaching and team administration.

Cleveland continued its tear in the NPSL when it defeated the Kansas City Attack in a best of five series to clinch the title again in the 1995-1996 season. The team won the title again in 1999, beating the St. Louis Ambush in the championship series. Between 1992 and 2000, the Crunch won three NPSL titles, six conference titles and five division championships. The backbone of the Crunch's success in the 1990s included the all-time NPSL career scoring leader and six time league MVP, Hector Marinaro, and the all time NPSL assists leader, Zoran Karic. Andy Schmetzer, Tommy Tanner and goalkeeper Otto Orf were also standouts as the Crunch laid claim to being one of the best teams in the NPSL in the 1990s.

In December 1998, Michael Gibbons and his principal partners, Richard Dietrich, Paul Garofolo and Gary Zdolshek purchased a two year option to buy the franchise from Crunch owner George Hoffman. In December 1999, the group finalized the transaction. The sale price was $1.75 million dollars, the most expensive franchise purchase in league history. The Crunch had a dismal 2000-2001 season, finishing in last place in the American Conference and missing the playoffs for the first time since 1989-90. The only highlight was Hector Marinaro winning the scoring title and being named to the all-NPSL first team. The new ownership group dismissed Bruce Miller with eight games to go in the season. In his tenure as coach, Miller compiled a 149-87 record and two championships. Mike Pilger, former head coach at the University of Rochester, replaced Miller as coach in April 2001. Under Coach Pilger, the Crunch went 16-28 during the 2001-2002 season. Hector Marinaro scored 188 points, and came close to winning another MISL scoring title.

At the close of the 2001-2002 season, it was announced that the National Professional Soccer League was to be dissolved and that the Major Indoor Soccer League would be re-formed. Shortly thereafter, team president and general manager Paul Garofolo announced that, as a member of the re-formed league, The Crunch would return to its roots as the Cleveland Force.