New England Soccer Today

A Fast-Moving Storm

Photo credit: Dennis Lukens

Photo credit: Dennis Lukens

Next year, the New England Revolution will celebrate their 20th season in top-flight football. But right before they made their mark, another local side was doing all it could to promote the beautiful game in Greater Boston.

While U.S. Soccer was plotting the first World Cup on American soil and the establishment of a legitimate first-division league during the early-1990s, the primary objective of the Boston Storm, who played in the now-defunct USISL, could be summed up in one word: survival.

“At that time, all the U.S. best players that weren’t overseas or with the national team played in USISL,” former midfielder Tom Fragala said. “Despite being the top pro level, it was pretty ragtag in some ways, especially after the money began to run out.”


But before the funds dried up, and the club dissolved in 1996, Fragala and his teammates had every reason to believe that they could make their own dent on pro soccer scene before the imminent arrival of MLS.

The Storm joined USISL in 1993, initially competing in a slew of exhibition games against league competition and national teams from that that summer’s World University Games. They were led by club president, coach and part-time player Dennis Lukens, who jumped at the chance to guide a pro side after serving as the men’s soccer coach at nearby Bridgewater State College.

“It is a great deal of fun and, of course, very challenging,” said Lukens, who also oversaw the start of the Bay Area Seals (USL A-League) and the California Cougars during his career. “Hearing about players, scouting players in person, looking at tapes and then finding a good player is very rewarding.

“We were very lucky to have Southern Connecticut, Boston University and several other top schools in the area…the LASA League in those times (also) had many top players.”

The players that Lukens recruited took to the field on Jul. 3, 1993 to face Germany’s University Games Team – which, at the time, was essentially the country’s U-23 team. Many predicted a bloodbath, especially after the Germans won the bronze medal at the Games.


Photo credit: Dennis Fragala

That forecast, though, didn’t hold firm. The Storm scraped and clawed for 90 minutes, and edged the powerful Germans 1-0 at Bowditch Field on an Alvero Ibanez goal. It was the kind of victory that would make any coach proud.

“They wore the traditional German strips, were big and strong and technical,” Lukens said. “They had flown in the day before, and expected to walk all over us.

“Instead, we played great and inspired from start to finish. I remember them all sitting on the field with the heads in their hands with their coaches yelling at them in German.”

With their footing under them after the “exhibition season,” the Storm entered the league proper in 1994. Hoping to capitalize on World Cup fever, the Framingham-based XI were initially well-financed and well-prepared for the 20-game schedule that dubiously included a pair of “designated makeup games.”

The Storm came out of the gate with respectable 3-3 record through mid-May. But any hopes of a strong season vanished well before Diana Ross comically commenced USA ’94 with a shanked PK. Financial problems forced the club to trade away star players like Francis Okroh, Jeff Duback, John DeBrito and Mike Masters. In the aftermath, the club won only two of their final 12.


Former Storm coach Dennis Lukens

“Ownership ran out of money, and we had to release all our best and highest-paid players,” Lukens said. “That made things extremely difficult.”

But the club’s best players weren’t the only ones getting jettisoned. The “luxuries” of a full staff, buses and even gameday programs disappeared, as well. By the time the 1994 season was wrapping up in late-July, it was essentially a bare bones operation.

“I remember one road trip later in the season where Dennis drove the van, and it was just players,” Fragala said. “No trainers, physio, or other staff. I got pretty good at taping my ankles and legs. It was more high-end at the beginning of the season, but I joined midway through. We did have a trainer at home games.”

The Storm finished seventh in the nine-team Northeast Division in 1994 that saw them curiously accumulate 65 points through a complicated scoring system. Six points were awarded for wins, four points for shoot-out wins, two points for shoot-out losses, and bonus points from claiming the advantage on corner kicks.

Despite the struggles and slew of experimental scoring calculations, Fragala said he and his teammates enjoyed a healthy amount of support, which was hard to come by for pro soccer sides in the early-1990s.

The Storm played their home games at Bowditch Field in Framingham.

The Storm played their home games at Bowditch Field in Framingham.

“Bowditch was actually a good stadium,” Fragala said. “The field and grass itself was outstanding and well-maintained. There was decent support at some games.

“Earlier in the season, there were a few thousand supporters there. The games were also televised on some cable channel. I seem to recall a big crowd I think at Connecticut (Wolves) on July 4th. There was a fireworks show afterward – so maybe that helped.”

The magic – or what was left of it – didn’t last. The following year, the Storm was sold to a group of local investors. The squad spent the 1995 season on life support. To no one’s surprise, they stumbled through a 3-17 record. By 1996, when MLS – and by extension, the Revolution – finally launched following a year’s delay, the Storm were no more.

“The USISL was a flawed business model,” Lukens said. “Under usual conditions, transferring five players to the Premier League would result in the Storm receiving income in the millions of dollars. (But) the players were owned by the league, and not by the teams.”

As a result, teams like to Storm, who were already operating on a tight budget, were allowed bleed money – and talent – until the entire outfit dried up completely.

Former Storm midfielder Tom Fragala

Former Storm midfielder Tom Fragala

“We got nothing from the MLS for our best players,” Lukens said. “Something like 193 (players) went from the USISL to the MLS, and not one team in the USISL received a dime. All transfer fees went to (league commissioner) Francisco Marcos.”

The money troubles and turbulence didn’t deprive Fragala and Lukens of a glimpse into the future, though. During a memorable match against the Milwaukee Rampage at Bowditch Stadium on Jun. 17, 1994, the Storm were essentially schooled by a 21-year-old Brian McBride, the player whom Fragala said “stood out the most” during his time with the squad.

“I clearly recall sitting on the bench in awe, and thinking he was like a man among boys,” Fragala said. “My recollection is we lost 4-0, but it felt much worse.”

Personal recollection is pretty much all Fragala can rely on when discussing the Storm. Although the USISL eventually morphed into the modern-day USL, the official statistics, fixtures and records that documented the Storm’s brief sojourn into professional soccer were not preserved.

“Years ago, I emailed people at the USISL (or what it was called at the time), and they told me they had did not have any permanent records from the nineties,” Fragala said. “Can you imagine the scandal if a ‘top’ pro league anywhere else in the world admitted they had no centralized official records, statistics or even who was on the rosters?”

The absence of those records has, unfortunately, rendered the Storm as a largely-forgotten member of the Greater Boston soccer scene. Of course, the fact that club folded right before the internet boom didn’t help matters, either.

Tom Fragala's Boston Storm uniforms from the 1994 season.

Tom Fragala’s Boston Storm uniforms from the 1994 season.

Nevertheless, both men look back at their time with the Storm with positive memories and pride.

For Fragala, it provided him with the opportunity to interact and coach a number of the area’s youth throughout the season.

“The soccer clinics I did with young kids (was a great memory),” Fragala said. “Later in the season I was the only player that showed up, so it was just me and Dennis and a big group of kids.”

Lukens’ time with the club allowed him to savor the signature moment of a long and storied coaching career – one that has seen him take the helm of the U-23/Olympic Team for Saint Lucia, as well as FC Krystal Kherson of the Ukraine 2nd Division, where he became the first American to coach in the former Soviet Union in 2012.

“Beating the German World University Team 1-0,” Lukens said, “was, without a doubt, my biggest win in 40 years of coaching.”

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