Los Angeles Soccer: Joe Allemand
November, 12, 2011
By Scott French | ESPNLosAngeles.com
Bernie Lilavois knows well the perils of the indoor game.
The former Cal State Northridge standout has spent most of a 20-year professional career in the arenas, from San Jose to Buffalo, Cleveland to Portland, and stops in between -- nine clubs in all, across five leagues.
“I've been around a long time, playing indoors,” Lilavois says. “I hate to say it, but every single team I used to play for doesn't exist anymore. I've seen a lot of mistakes made. But I've seen a lot of good things, too.”
It's with the good things in mind that he introduces the Anaheim Bolts, a professional indoor team that makes its league debut Saturday night at the Anaheim Convention Center. It's a culmination of a two-year project to return the beautiful game's fast-paced cousin to Southern California -- for the first time at the top level since the Anaheim Splash, one of Lilavois' former clubs, folded in 1997 after four seasons in the late Continental Indoor Soccer League.
“I just woke up one day and had a crazy idea of bringing professional indoor soccer back here,” said Lilavois, who attended La Salle High School in Pasadena and has played and coached for years in and around the L.A. basin. “Ever since the Splash finished up, I've traveled around, playing in all these cities, and in the back of my head it's been 'why not back in Southern California?' ”
So Lilavois, 41, stepped up -- he's the Bolts' managing partner, head coach and, if required, a presence on the field -- found partners and built a working relationship with the City of Anaheim, the Bolts' desired destination from Day One. Part of that is lineage from the Splash, which drew well, above 6,000 per game, played an effective, entertaining brand of the game and established itself among the CISL's better clubs.
The nature of the indoor game and its economics -- leagues and clubs fighting for survival, a battle usually lost -- doomed the Splash, just as they had Forum-based predecessors L.A. Lazers (1982-89) and L.A. United (1993).
Expenses are far less in the Professional Arena Soccer League, which kicked off its fourth season last week with 12 clubs. The salary cap is tight -- just $3,000 per game -- and every player works another job or attends school. There's no regular-season interplay between the Western and Eastern divisions, so the longest road trip is to Tacoma, Wash. The arenas are smaller (ACC seats about 7,000; capacity at the Honda Center, the Splash's home, was above 17,000). Costs are kept in check.
Now it's about attracting fans.