The Sports Lounge presents… REMEMBER THEM: New Orleans Riverboat Gamblers / Storm
The New Orleans Riverboat Gamblers became a member of the United Soccer Leagues in 1993. The USL was created of many divisions and the Gamblers would play in a few different variations of leagues. The one league I remember them in was called the USISL Select League and then the A-League. The Gamblers would play their home games at Pan American Stadium in City Park under head coach Ken White. Their first game was in May of 1993 against the Birmingham Grasshoppers.
In 1996, the Gamblers formed a partnership with the Dallas Burn of the newly created Major League Soccer. They also reached the Division finals that year before being knocked out of the playoffs. Before the 1997 season, the team moved their home games to the bigger Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park. This was short-lived however as the team was purchased by Rob Couhig, the owner of the New Orleans Zephyrs baseball team. He decided to move the team to Zephyr Field, a much smaller venue but with a natural grass playing surface. He also changed the name of the team from the Riverboat Gamblers to the New Orleans Storm.
The team would play in New Orleans until the franchise suspended operations in February 2000. Soccer was gone and would not come back to New Orleans until 2003 with the birth of the New Orleans Shell Shockers of the USL Premier Development League. I had the opportunity to attend a couple of Gamblers/Storm games in my youth and it was a great experience. I loved the big atmosphere of Tad Gormley but also enjoyed sitting so close when they played at Zephyr Field.
New Orleans had some notable players as well as notable coaches. Two former coaches, Mike Jeffries and Daryl Shore, went on to have good careers as coaches in MLS, NCAA, and in the USL. Both in fact were assistants with the Chicago Fire. The most popular player in my opinion was Stern John, a forward from Trinidad and Tobago. He was a member of his national team, as well as teams in the USL, MLS, and clubs in England. His most notable MLS stay was with the Columbus Crew where he scored 44 goals. Another popular player was Jason Kreis, who played in the MLS for Dallas and Real Salt Lake, a team he later managed. Ezra Hendrickson was a defender with 123 appearances for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and MLS experience with the Metrostars, Los Angeles Galaxy, Dallas Burn, DC United, Chivas USA, and Columbus Crew. Hendrickson is now an assistant with the Seattle Sounders FC. The Gamblers/Storm also had another native of Trinidad and Tobago named Mickey Trotman. Trotman was at the beginning of a promising career when, in 2001, he died in a car crash. He was only 26 years old.
Soccer may not be a major sport to most Americans, but the Gamblers/Storm made soccer fun for the people of the New Orleans area. I was just getting into the sport when I saw the team play but watching them play was one of the reasons why I began to love this sport. This was at the infancy stages of the MLS and soccer games were not on TV very much, unless it was the World Cup. New Orleans played right at the height of soccer in the US with the World Cup and formation of the MLS in 1994 and the first season of MLS play in 1996. This was a good time for soccer fans. And although the team is missed, they are gone and we should be thankful we still have a team to see locally.