In a bit of celestial serendipity Alan Mayer’s 15-year playing career began with the Baltimore Comets and ended with the Kansas City Comets. Now he’s heading into his ninth season of his second life in arena soccer as Goalkeeper Coach of the Kansas City Comets.
Mayer spent most of his career with the San Diego Sockers and the Comets, and might be best known for his back-to-back shutouts of the Baltimore Blast in the 1982/83 MISL Championship, but his time in San Diego, ironically, started in Baltimore.
Alan was the first player drafted by the NASL’s Baltimore Comets in 1974. “I went to school at James Madison and in the NCAA Division I playoff game at Maryland, we won 1-0 and I had a pretty good game,” Mayer says. “In the stands was the Coach of the Comets, Doug Millward. I got a call from him just before the NASL draft and he asked me if I got drafted would I have any interest in Baltimore Comets. I said yes, and he selected me as a first round ‘bonus baby’ and I got a whopping contract worth $300/month and $50 per appearance and an apartment for the season only. I played two seasons there. The first one I was lucky enough to sit behind a great goalkeeper and person in Lincoln Phillips. To this day we remain friends, and the second year I became the starter.”
The Baltimore Comets only lasted two years, but Mayer remained with the franchise through several moves when they became the San Diego Jaws, Las Vegas Quicksilvers and finally the San Diego Sockers. You could make a good case that Mayer is the original Socker.
“I loved moving around so much,” Mayer says. “How can you not like Baltimore, San Diego, and ‘Lost Wages’. The best part of it all were the good people my wife Kathy and I have met along the way and have still kept in contact with. Moving around was just the way it was playing pro soccer then. If you were good enough you had a lot of movement. We loved every place we played at and always thought our next move was going to be the last one, therefore we bought houses in almost every city.”
Mayer was readily identifiable by his playing helmet, which he first wore in 1977 with the Quicksilvers. “In a game against Hartford, I came out on a 1v1 and collided with their forward,” Mayer recalls. “While laying on the operating table and looking up to the ceiling – while receiving 38 stitches to the scalp on my head – I remember thinking that I should protect myself from future head injuries as I already had 13 verifiable concussions. I went around to different stores and found a foam rubber helmet that I could use. Because of my aggressive style of play, I needed more protection for my head so I started wearing one. I caught a lot of ‘stick’ from opponents.”
The trend never took hold. “Keith Van Eron did wear a helmet for part of a season and we chatted about that experience. I think he was very smart to wear it. I am sure you know that today Petr Cech currently wears one. For a short time in the late ’70s and early ’80s some California leagues made it mandatory that their goalkeepers wear one, but it never caught on. To this day, I get letters from players and parents on how they can protect their child.”
Mayer heard the indoor call in 1979 and signed with the Pittsburgh Spirit of the upstart MISL. “What attracted me to the Spirit, to be honest with you, it was a way to pick up additional money and to check out the new up-and-coming league. At the time, the MISL was becoming a major player in the soccer market and the NASL was slowly declining. I did play in a few indoor exhibition games in the NASL and really enjoyed them.
I really like the outdoor game, but I absolutely love the indoor game.
“I really like the outdoor game, but I absolutely love the indoor game. I think my skill set was best situated towards the indoors. My game was based on aggression, reflexes, quickness, and bravery.”
After two years outdoor and one indoor season with the California Surf, and two solo indoor years with Pittsburgh and the New Jersey Rockets, Mayer went back to the Sockers, where in 1982/83 he became the first indoor goalkeeper to win 30 games, landing him the MISL’s Most Valuable Player award. Despite leading the league with a 30-10 record, however, that year’s Goalkeeper of the Year award went to Zoltan Toth.
“There was absolutely no controversy on not winning goalkeeper of the year, as in one week I was named the MISL MVP and five days later we won the MISL Championship,” recalls Mayer. In the first of four finals clashes with the Blast, the Sockers won that best-of-five series in five games and Mayer allowed only one goal in three home games.
Always an astute negotiator, Mayer re-signed with the Sockers after the 1983/84 season to a four-year guaranteed contract, but the Memphis Americans moved to Las Vegas and were spending money at an unprecedented clip. The Americans bought Mayer’s rights (along with Juli Veee and Martin Donnelly) for a reported $500,000 from the Sockers and signed him to an eight-year contract that included a car and a house, which Mayer still has and is renting out today.
Mayer started the year as a player/coach but stepped down after an early 4-6 start. Don Popovic took over and led the talented Americans roster to a 26-12 record the rest of the way, but they lost in the quarterfinals to the Minnesota Strikers and folded after one season in Las Vegas.
It was then that Mayer found a home with the Kansas City Comets, playing his final four seasons there and then returning over two decades later as a goalkeeper coach. The Comets retired Mayer’s number 0 in 2013.
“I came back when Kim Roentved took over the team the first time in 2010,” said Mayer. “After retiring from Comets in 1989 I went to work into the ‘real world’ as a Group Employee Benefits Salesman and Group Manager for a local insurance company. I sold disability, life, and dental insurance to the business world. Although I am retired from the business world I am currently staying busy coaching goalkeepers at the youth, collegiate, and professional levels.”
“Alan and I have stayed in contact the whole time ever since we retired from playing and we live three or four miles away from each other,” said Roentved, who began his second stint as Comets coach before the 2017/18 season. “To improve our goalkeeping situation Alan was absolutely an obvious choice. For Alan indoor soccer is like learning how to walk. I just appreciate our relationship and that he considered helping me and the Comets out, and we’re having a lot of fun with it. We have all the weapons to make sure that the goalkeepers get the best practice that they can, day in and day out.”
Under Mayer’s tutelage the Comets have enjoyed outstanding goalkeeping. Danny Waltman was the starter Mayer’s first five years and when Waltman signed as a free agent with the Tacoma Stars, Boris Pardo slid seamlessly into the starting spot. Then Pardo bolted for San Diego and understudy Stephen Paterson took over and won the MASL’s Rookie of the Year award.
“Alan is one of the best people I know,” said Waltman. “I feel lucky to have had the chance to get to know him and learn from him. I can still hear him coaching me in my head while I’m playing. I will always be grateful for the guidance he gave me both on and off the field.”
Last year was the first time the team struggled in the nets after Paterson left the team, and three rookies failed to gain any traction while the team finished with a 7-15 record, the worst in current franchise history.
“I have been blessed to work with some of the best goalkeepers in the MASL,” said Mayer. “Danny started it, then his backup Boris came in and had an awesome season, followed by his backup Stevie who did not have a lot of experience, but proved to be one of the top three goalies that year – my vote for Goalkeeper of the Year. Last year was a struggle in KC. Basically three goalkeepers with no MASL experience. It certainly did not help the team having to replace: Paterson, John Sosa, Vahid Assadpour, Brian Harris, Stefan Stokic (early injury), and three guys who went to Tacoma (Ramone Palmer, Robert Palmer, and Alain Matingou).”
Both Palmers and Matingou have been re-acquired in a trade and the Comets have signed a new project for Mayer, free agent goalkeeper Brett Petricek. Petricek burst onto the scene in 2016/17 with the Cedar Rapids Rampage and made his first professional start against the Comets. Soon he was reeling off seven straight wins with high-flying acrobatics. Petricek slumped the second half of that season, though. Last year he left the Rampage in December and was subsequently suspended for the rest of the season.
“As we all know, GK’s are a different breed and we speak a different language,” said Mayer. “He said all the right things. To be honest with you, I am really looking forward to working with him this year. I believe that he will have a very good year.”
If Mayer’s track record is any indication, Petricek and the Comets will be flying high again this season.