Net Loss

After 13 years of survival and success, Dallas Sidekicks coach Gordon Jago leaves behind the team he kept alive

Jago was so fed up with the financial disasters that in the summer of 1991, he was about to take a coaching job outside of Dallas. He wanted to get back to the sport of soccer, not the sport of money-raising. But his wife convinced him to stick it out. He was forced to ask the staff and players to work for nothing, save the few dollars that came in from the Christmas and summer youth soccer camps.

"All the time this is going on, I'm talking to people," Jago recalls. "You would not believe some of the stories." He tells of one man who was about to invest till his pacemaker failed on him. He recounts another story about an investor who wanted to come in for $100,000, which thrilled Jago, who had four others investors--all previous Sidekicks owners--ready to contribute $25,000 each. "I was in seventh heaven," Jago says.

But Jago had discovered that the group of four investors was suing the man with the $100,000 over a business investment. Jago was torn between keeping the money, hoping the four would understand the dire straits, and returning the checks, which he desperately needed to keep the Sidekicks in business. He gave the man back his $100,000. "I not only have to return the checks, I have to think of what I'm going to say to the fellow," Jago says. "I can't tell him, can I, of what I found out? So I made up some real weird story and gave him his checks back."

Then another savior appeared at the last minute in the form of a man from Arlington--"a real Texan," Jago says respectfully--whose grandson played soccer. He phoned Jago and offered his help, but only if he could contribute at least 51 percent--if not 100 percent--of the money needed to keep the Sidekicks alive. The man asked to speak with Earl Foreman, the MISL's commissioner, and Jago was only too happy to arrange a meeting. But on the very morning Foreman arrived in Dallas from Philadelphia for the meeting, Jago received a phone call: The would-be owner had suffered a heart attack and was in intensive care in an Irving hospital.

Jago called Foreman at his downtown Dallas hotel and told him there was a slight problem, but to wait for another phone call. He then rushed to the hospital and found himself in the ICU. Jago, against his better judgment, explained his situation to the man's wife. "I felt terrible," Jago recalls. "I felt ghoulish."

The wife wasn't impressed, telling Jago her husband wouldn't be making any business deals from his death bed.

"It got to become a joke that anybody that spoke to me was going to have a heart attack," Jago says, laughing. "Between the guy whose pacemaker went wrong and this man who had a heart attack...Oh, God."

The Sidekicks were themselves moments away from a death bed--and if the Sidekicks folded, the MISL likely would have joined them, because that would have left a meager six teams. Despite his efforts, Jago hadn't raised enough money to save the team. Yet the very morning he was to inform the league office of his team's--and the league's--fate, Jago received a phone call from Don Carter, who was in North Carolina on a business trip and had read in USA Today that the Sidekicks were to fold in the morning.

"He said, 'Coach, is it true what I just read?'" Jago recalls. "I said, 'That's right, I've only got 85 percent [of the money], and if we don't go, the league doesn't go.'"

Carter wanted to know how much Jago needed and what he got for his money, which was 51 percent of the team, since Arlington businessman John Aleckner was in for 49 percent. Later that afternoon, after Carter had stopped in Virginia and New York and St. Louis, he cut a deal and, once again, became an owner of the Dallas Sidekicks.

"When he got back," Jago says, "Mr. Carter said to me that he got up in North Carolina and read the papers and saw the story and then went back up to his room and prayed. He said it was a decision not from the head, but a decision made from the heart. He said the reason he did it was because he had seen all the efforts of Tatu and Kevin Smith and [goalkeeper Joe] Papaleo and the efforts of Coach Jago to try and keep this franchise alive, and he then decided it wasn't right it should die."

Don Carter was among the first people Gordon Jago called in March of last year, when June discovered she had breast cancer. Just as he was preparing for the 1996 season, Jago had decided to retire. His wife needed him to be there through the surgeries and chemotherapy.

But on May 7, just months after Don Carter had sold his majority share in the Dallas Mavericks to Ross Perot Jr., Carter unloaded his controlling interest in the Sidekicks to J.L. and Gretchen Williams. Now, Jago no longer felt like he could retire: People might get the wrong idea if he stepped down now, just as the Minyard family was taking control of the soccer team. It might look bad. So Jago stayed--and asked Tatu if he'd also remain a Sidekick one more season. There had been rumors circulating that he, too, was about to leave the sport, which had been punishing on his now-mid-30s legs.

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