After 28 seasons, the Milwaukee Wave set the standard for professional indoor soccer.
With more than 500 wins, 1,000 games played and over 3 million fans, the Wave's longevity and popularity are ummatched in this uniquely American version of the world’s most popular sport.
Such rich history often evolves from humble beginnings. In the Wave’s case, that genesis was on Nov. 10, 1984, when the club debuted as one of six charter members of the American Indoor Soccer Association. Before a near-sellout crowd of 3,146 fans at the Milwaukee Auditorium (now the Milwaukee Theatre, next door to the Wave’s current home), the Wave defeated the Chicago Vultures, 8-7. Cudahy native and former UW-Milwaukee star Pete Knezic led the Wave in scoring that first season with 70 points, setting a team record that has been tied but not broken with 46 assists.
On-field success was hard to come by for the Wave during their early years. The team did not qualify for the playoffs in any of its first four seasons; a Challenge Cup format in 1988 did include all four teams, however. But names like Knezic, Art Kramer, Louis Bennett, Tim and Tom Alioto, Hayden Knight and others from that era soon became fixtures on the Milwaukee-area soccer scene.
Finally in 1988-89, Wave fortunes improved on and off the field. They moved in the brand new Bradley Center, drawing more than 14,000 fans for their debut there and averaging more than 6,000 per game. Milwaukee also registered its first winning record, 24-16, finishing second in the seven-team AISA under Coach John Dolinsky. Kramer scored a club-record 94 points and the Wave fell in the semifinals to Chicago, losing in the rubber match of a three-game series.
The next season, Dolinsky’s last, saw the Wave win their first playoff series, 2-0 over Chicago, before falling to Canton in the league semifinals. Johann Aarnio guided the club to one more playoff appearance in two seasons – tying for the regular-season National Division crown in 1990-91 – before the Wave’s modern era began with the arrival of a coach from Kansas City and a goalkeeper from San Diego.
Keith Tozer had been a coach or player/coach for three separate indoor franchises, winning one AISA crown and one Coach of the Year award in the old MISL, which folded following the 1991-92 season. That event made Victor Nogueira available, and Tozer acquired the 32-year-old veteran and put him in goal immediately. The Wave finished 17-23 and out of the playoffs in the new National Professional Soccer League in 1992-93, but it would be the last lean year for the Wave on the field.
Another key figure joined the Wave in 1993-94, as forward Michael King came over from the Baltimore Spirit. The Englishman had been with four indoor clubs in seven seasons following a record-setting career at Farleigh Dickinson University, but he immediately destroyed the club record with 158 points and became a fixture at the target position for the Wave. That season ended with a 20-20 mark and a first-round playoff exit.
Each of the next three seasons was much the same, with the Wave bowing out in their first playoff series. Finally, in the 1997-98 season, the Wave’s players, coaches and fans basked in the success for which they’d worked so long and hard.The Wave’s 28-12 record was the NPSL’s best. Nogueira was the first-team all-league keeper for the third consecutive time. Milwaukee was 19-1 at the Bradley Center and drew almost 200,000 fans to their home matches. In the playoffs, the Wave stormed past Harrisburg (2-0) and Philadelphia (3-1) to reach the finals against the St. Louis Ambush. The best-of-seven series was hardly competitive, with Milwaukee taking the first three games and finally clinching in Game 5 in front of the home crowd, 21-10. Nogueira capped off one of the greatest seasons in league history by being named playoff MVP, to go along with his regular season MVP, All-Star MVP and Goalkeeper of the Year honors.
Injuries played a large part in the Wave’s failure to defend the title in 1998-99 as Milwaukee finished 25-15 (second best in the 13-team league), but lost to Philadelphia in the first round of postseason play. What followed was a remarkable three-year run that cemented the Wave’s status as the premiere franchise in the sport.
A league-best 31-13 mark in the 1999-2000 season was followed by sweeps of the first two best-of-three playoff rounds. Cleveland, with high-scoring legends Hector Marinaro and Zoran Karic, put the Wave on their heels in the best-of-five finals. A 27-15 rout in Game 3 gave the Crunch a 2-1 series lead, but the Wave evened the series 14-8, then pulled away in Game 5 for a 19-6 victory and their second championship. Including playoff games, the Wave drew a club-record 219,288 fans to the Bradley Center that season.
After a 1-7 start the next season, the Wave won their last five regular season games to again capture the National Conference title, then went 7-1 in three playoff series for back-to-back crowns. That momentum carried into 2001-02, as the Wave went 34-10 in the new, six-team Major Indoor Soccer League, drawing more than 181,000 fans and going 22-0 at home. The Wave had the deciding game of their best-of-three series at home, but with 16,802 on hand, the Philadelphia KiXX spoiled the Wave’s three-peat dreams with a stunning 8-6 victory.
Thwarted in the finals each of the next two seasons, the Wave made it again in 2004-05, this time with Nick Vorberg in goal, Greg Howes winning the MISL’s MVP award and the U.S. Cellular Arena as their home building. Once again, Milwaukee posted the league’s best record (24-15), and this time would not be denied in one of the most thrilling postseason series in memory.The Wave rallied from a four-goal deficit to claim Game 1 10-9 in overtime, as Johnny Torres knocked in a loose ball to complete the comeback. The teams battled back-and-forth for 86 minutes in Game 2, the longest postseason game in league history, before Finals MVP Todd Dusosky knocked in the game-winner before a national television audience on ESPN2.
Since then, the Wave has slowly evolved into a new era. King, Todd Dusosky, Torres and Lovelace Ackah all retired. New stars like Marco Terminesi, the Xtreme Soccer League's Rookie of the Year in 2008-09, emerged. A unique educational outreach program, Making Waves, put Wave players into more than 70 schools a year and cemented its role as a community champion. Jim Lindenberg assumed ownership of the team from the Krause family in August 2009 and the Wave moved into the Major Indoor Soccer League.
The Wave won the regular season championships in the 2009-2010 season but lost in the MISL Championship game. The team came back strong in 2010-2011 to win the MISL Championship clinching the team's fifth champsionship. Goalkeeper Marcel Feenstra was named the MVP of game. In 2011-2012 the Wave clinched the MISL Championship once again bringing the sixth championship to the Wave franchise. Marcio Leite was named Championship Series MVP.
The second quarter-century of the Milwaukee Wave dawns with the promise of great success built on a history deep with legendary names, unrivaled support and unequaled success.