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November 15, 2018

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Remember the Dustdevils: Las Vegas had a championship soccer team in 1994

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Steve Marcus

Former members of the Las Vegas Dustdevils indoor soccer team, from left, Benny Erickson, assistant coach John Kennedy, Daniel Barber, and Doug Borgel, pose in a soccer facility at Freedom Park Tuesday, March 6, 2018. The team won the Continental Indoor Soccer League championship in 1994.

Las Vegas Dustdevils

Former members of the Las Vegas Dustdevils indoor soccer team, from left, Benny Erickson, assistant coach John Kennedy, Daniel Barber, and Doug Borgel, pose in a soccer facility at Freedom Park Tuesday, March 6, 2018. The team won the Continental Indoor Soccer League championship in 1994. Launch slideshow »

John Kennedy sits at a corner table inside Crown & Anchor and starts reminiscing about a soccer team he says many locals have forgotten. His thick Scottish accent and attention to detail make him a keen storyteller, as does his passion for the defunct indoor Las Vegas Dustdevils soccer team.

The Dustdevils’ former assistant coach describes the overtime goal Daniel Barber scored in a home playoff game against the Dallas Sidekicks to extend the season—and how Doug Borgel and Benny Erickson were two of the league’s top rookies—and does so with such passion you’d think the season just concluded. It was more than 20 years ago.

Everyone has a nickname, whether it’s “DB” for Barber or “Borgie” for Borgel. “We are family,” Kennedy said. “Still to this day.”

The Dustdevils won the Continental Indoor Soccer League championship in their maiden season in 1994 by using a bunch of first-year players from UNLV and Branko Šegota, one of the indoor game’s legendary players.

There were more than 16,000 fans at Reunion Arena to cheer on host Dallas that day for the decisive third game of the finals. So many fans showed up, the match was delayed to allow them to get into the arena. Yet, it was the no-name, underdog Dustdevils who won, 9-8.

They’ve been drinking to the championship ever since—mostly at Crown & Anchor, which they also frequented after home games at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and Thomas & Mack Center.

“When you go win a championship, there’s a special bond,” said Erickson, one of those rookies from UNLV. “You never forget.”

• • •

The Dustdevils are being overlooked.

Lights FC Wins Inaugural USL Match Against Fresno

Lights FC earned three points in the standings, defeating Fresno FC, 3-2. Launch slideshow »

Check out the Las Vegas Lights

The Las Vegas Lights host Reno 1868 at Saturday, March 24 at 8 p.m. in Las Vegas’ United Soccer League home opener at Cashman Field to formally usher in a new era of professional sports in Southern Nevada. Owner Brett Lashbrook vowed to have at least one local player on the roster at all times.

There are currently five, including 20-year-old goalie Angel Alvarez of Rancho High. Alvarez made his pro debut February 13 in a preseason game against the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer. “This is a city that’s hungry for soccer,” Lights coach José Luis Sànchez Solà said. “I don’t have a problem to have two, or three, or six local players. It’s great.”

Single-game tickets start at $15 at lightsfc.com or by calling 702-728-GOAL.

–Jesse Granger

The Vegas Golden Knights have been in first place most of the NHL season and could become the “first” expansion franchise to win a championship. Players ask, “What about the Dustdevils?”

The Las Vegas Lights soccer franchise will play the home opener of its inaugural season Saturday and is being called the area’s first professional soccer team. Again, what about the indoor squad?

“They were brilliant rookies. They were quick learners,” said Kennedy, who stores boxes of memorabilia from the team in his garage. “We had some kids in this town who could do damage in that [indoor] league.”

Next year marks the 25th anniversary of their championship season, and a reunion is being planned. In a testament to the bond they formed in two seasons, many players remain in frequent communication. Borgel and Erickson coach a local club team together.

They’d love to be honored before a home game of the Knights or Lights, or to be invited to join the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame.

• • •

It was a celebration fit for champions. A line of adoring fans wrapped around the Boulevard Mall for a championship rally and autograph session. The county proclaimed October 8, 1994 Dustdevil Day.

“I had never seen anything like that before,” said Borgel, who scored the game-winner in a playoff game against San Diego. “The line was unbelievable.”

The season started with practices at a vacant warehouse in Henderson, where the biggest challenge for players was maneuvering around support posts in the middle of the makeshift field. But the young players quickly took to the indoor game with the help of the veterans, and the Dustdevils kept winning games they weren’t expected to. “Our local guys were better than any other [city’s] local guys,” Borgel said.

Games were fast and high-scoring. They were played in NBA and NHL arenas such as the Detroit Pistons’ home of the Palace at Auburn Hills or the Pond in Anaheim, where the NHL’s Mighty Ducks played. Many of the Dustdevils were just months removed from college soccer, but they weren’t intimidated. It was still soccer.

Before each game, Kennedy would say, “Who do we play? Don’t care!” Barber recalled.

They posted a 17-11 record and had a knack for winning close playoff games. Both wins against Dallas came by one goal, behind the saves of goalie Brett Phillips and the brilliance of Šegota. Same with series wins against San Diego and Anaheim.

• • •

They were on the road for the playoffs in Monterrey, Mexico, in 1995 when ownership sent a message: The team would be folding.

They told us, “Don’t come back until you’re beat,” Kennedy said. “And we were beat. We could never bring back the magic [from the first season].”

They finished their second season with a 13-15 record in 1995.

Erickson went on to play for indoor teams in Portland, Seattle and St. Louis. Barber was drafted into Major League Soccer. Borgel found his niche in coaching, guiding the Las Vegas Legends indoor team a few years ago and winning multiple club and high school youth titles.

They all agree the two years together with the Dustdevils were their most memorable. Some have their jerseys framed; others keep them in the garage. Same for the championship rings.

Other than a championship banner hanging at the Big League Dreams indoor complex in northeast Las Vegas, the team’s existence is relatively unknown. More than 20 years has that impact.

The memories, though, are still fresh.

“Dallas, they had the Champagne already on ice,” Kennedy said. “We ended up winning 9-8. It was a brilliant game, a brilliant season.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.