Robert Lifton, the principal owner of Team America, in what amounted to an ultimatum, offered yesterday to return the team's players to their original North American Soccer League clubs for the upcoming indoor season in exchange for the right to pick any players for the team next year.
Lifton, who has received limited support from other owners this season, said he would not continue to operate the team if the proposal is not accepted in an owners' vote Wednesday in Chicago. The proposal, contained in a letter to NASL President Howard Samuels, will be presented to the league's Executive Committee there tonight.
"This is the proposal that will keep me in the league," Lifton said. "The whole package makes tremendous sense to me, and I would think the other owners would have the sense to accept it. It seems to satisfy everybody. But this is definitely make or break for me."
Lifton's proposal is supported by Samuels and by John Kerr, executive director of the NASL Players Association. But most Team America players say they do not want to play indoors, and some are unwilling or unable to return to their former teams.
If Lifton's plan is accepted, the 19 players Team America has borrowed from other NASL clubs would return to their original teams for the 1983-84 indoor season. They would be allowed time off during the winter if Team America, the development squad for the national team, tours--either as Team America or the U.S. national team.
In return, Team America Coach Alkis Panagoulias would be able to choose the players he wants.
"I feel confident Bob (Lifton) will get the support he needs on this," Samuels said. "The owners are anxious to get these players back and it will help build a stronger World Cup team for next year." Qualifying for the 1986 cup begins in October 1984.
This NASL outdoor season will conclude with the Soccer Bowl Oct. 15, and the 32-game indoor season is expected to run from November to April. However, only seven teams will compete in the NASL indoor league, and Team America players from Fort Lauderdale, Toronto, Montreal and Seattle will be assigned to other teams. They are Andrew Parkinson, Dan Canter, Bruce Savage, Alan Merrick and Mark Peterson.
"I feel tremendous disappointment that Team America would come down to this," Kerr said. "But I would encourage and hope the players would go along with the plan."
But Tony Crescitelli, the team's player representative said, "I'm very upset about this. We were told this was a two-year proposition. We have so much to lose and nothing to gain by going indoors."
"I'd say this borders on exploitation," said defender Hayden Knight.
Team captain Jeff Durgan doesn't want to play indoors, either, but noted, "Mr. Lifton's actions are justified. He was promised the best American players, and apparently he hasn't gotten them. If this is what it takes to get them, then I support him."