Hello, my name is Alan Merrick and I’ll be at the NASL’s 50th Anniversary soirée in Frisco, Tex., in October. I landed in Minnesota with the Kicks in 1976 and decided to stick around after my playing career ended. For the past five years I’ve been the boys’ coach at Eagan High School and also the coach of the University of Minnesota’s men’s club soccer team.
Merrick was three weeks short of his 10-year anniversary with England’s West Bromwich Albion (and a possibly lucrative testimonial game) when the club released him.
“I had two young children and thought ‘What now,’ ” he said. “I had been to the U.S. as a teenager while with West Brom. I had offers to go to Boston and San Diego. I also had an offer from Freddie Goodwin in Minnesota. It was in the middle of the country and I’m kind of a middle sort of guy — from the English Midlands [Birmingham] and playing in the middle of the defense. It appealed to me. The Midwest is a good thing, and the players Freddie brought in had a good chemistry. I signed knowing I would be a free agent at the end of the season , with every intention of going back to England.”
Clearly, like so many of his NASL brethren, that never happened.
The 1976 season began for the Kicks with a road trip to San Jose and San Antonio. Then back to the Land of 10,000 Lakes for the Kicks’ first home match, at the old Metropolitan Stadium (a location now occupied by the Mall of America in suburban Bloomington, Minn.).
“We had more than 17,000 [actually 17,612] for the game and beat San Jose, 4-2,” Merrick said. “But that was a conservative number because they weren’t prepared and only had a few gates open, so they let a lot of people in free. In the locker room before the game we were ready to go out, but they said take it easy, you’re not going out at 2 p.m. because they couldn’t get the fans in. We were expecting 5-7,000 and they only have six gates open and are 20,000 people out there. It was a great start for soccer in the state of Minnesota. We had exceptional owners who worked in the food industry and they did wonderful marketing for the club.”
After four years and 103 matches for the Kicks, Merrick spent the rest of his NASL career bouncing from team to team: Los Angeles, San Jose, back to Minnesota, Toronto. He obtained his U.S. citizenship and joined the ill-fated Team America in Washington, D.C., in 1983.
“I had been to four clubs, Minnesota folded, I went to Toronto and spent the season living at a Holiday Inn,” Merrick said. “Team America folded after a year. I thought I was a bad omen.”