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The Milwaukee Wave is the oldest continuously operating professional soccer team in North America. The team was founded on August 3, 1984 as a member of the American Indoor Soccer Association and has played in every season and incarnation of that league. Milwaukee has hosted the 2003 and 2006 MISL All-Star Games.
The Milwaukee Wave began its existence in the fall of 1984 as one of six charter members of the American Indoor Soccer Association (AISA). The team made its debut on November 10, 1984 with an 8-7 wins over the Chicago Vultures before a near sellout crowd of 3,146 at the old Milwaukee Auditorium. That victory served as a springboard for the Wave as Milwaukee won seven-of-its-first-eleven contests.
The Wave would endure two more campaigns without qualifying for the playoffs, posting records of 11-29 in 1985-86, and 12-30 in 1986-87. The 1987-88 squads became the first to appear in post-season competition after compiling a regular season mark of 11-13. However, the four teams that participated in the regular season (Milwaukee, Canton, Memphis, and Fort Wayne) were all included in a post-season Challenge Cup to determine the league championship eventually claimed by the Canton Invaders
The 1988-89 season would prove to be a major turning point in the Wave's existence. Not only did the Wave move into the new state-of-the-art Bradley Center when the building opened in the fall of 1988, but Milwaukee also registered its first winning record, finishing with a mark of 24-16 good for second place in the seven-team AISA. Attendance jumped from 3,000 per game to more than 6,000 per contest in the new building. Another noteworthy player would also leave his mark with the franchise as forward Art Kramer scored a team record 94 points. Kramer would eventually become a Wave Assistant Coach for six seasons before taking over as head coach for the Milwaukee Wave United outdoor club in 2003.
The 1992-93 season began another new era for the Wave, as Keith Tozer became Milwaukee's fifth coach in nine seasons. Tozer, who had become the league's winningest coach in previous stops in Louisville and Atlanta / Kansas City quickly re-tooled the Wave to compete in the newly expanded NPSL, which had absorbed four teams (Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Wichita) from the original Major Indoor Soccer League after the latter's demise in the summer of 1992. Although Milwaukee once again missed out on post-season play with a mark of 17-23, it was clear that Tozer's team was headed in the right direction. One of the primary reasons was the acquisition of goalkeeper Victor Nogueira (then 32), who would go on to anchor the Wave's defense from that time forward.
Milwaukee would get back into the playoff picture the following season (1993-94) as the Wave finished 20-20 to claim the fourth and final playoff spot in six team National Division. Although a heartbreaking playoff loss to the St. Louis Ambush would follow, the stage was set for Tozer's team to be a title contender for years to come. The acquisition of forward Michael King was instrumental in that development. Kinger would begin a stretch of seven consecutive seasons in which he would lead the team in total points, never scoring less than 108 in any particular season. King's 185 points in 1996-97 still stands as the single season standard for Milwaukee.
With records of 23-17 in 1994-95, and 30-10 in 1995-96, the Wave was poised to challenge for the league crown. Nevertheless, first round playoff failures to Kansas City (1995) and St. Louis (1996) prevented Milwaukee from generating any post-season momentum. The 1996-97 team won 21-of-its-last-27 (third best in the 15 team league), but again was stymied in the first round by the Edmonton Drillers. At that point, it seemed as if the Wave would never enjoy the post-season success that it so desperately craved.
The 1997-98 season changed everything. After compiling a league-best 28-12 record in the regular season, the Wave cruised through the playoffs to claim its first league title. Tozer's team clinched the series with a 21-10 victory over the Ambush before a Bradley Center crowd of 8,367 on May 12, 1998. Goalkeeper Victor 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. As it did two years earlier, the Wave blew through the first two rounds to get to the championship series, this time a best-of-five against the Cleveland Crunch.
Milwaukee became the first team to win back-to-back titles in nine seasons when the Wave won another league title in 2000-01. Overcoming a horrendous 1-7 start, the Wave rallied to finish 24-16, tying Harrisburg for the league's best record. Tozer's team then disposed of Kansas City and Toronto in the first two playoff rounds, before sweeping the Philadelphia Kixx 3-0 in the best-of-five Championship Series.
The 2004-05 season saw tremendous success as the Wave went on to win its fourth League title under the direction of Tozer. The team wrapped up its seventh straight Regular Season Championship with an MISL best record of 24-15. Forward Greg Howes also earned his second straight MISL MVP Award after leading the League in goals (41), assists (32) and points (73).
The team recorded its best regular season record in 2002-03 when it finished 28-8, winning the Regular Season Championship and advancing to the Finals for the fourth consecutive season. The Wave celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2003-04 by playing in its new home, the U.S. Cellular Arena. Once again, Coach Keith Tozer's team enjoyed outstanding success both home (16-2) and away (11-7) to post a league-best mark of 27-9, earning the Regular Season Title yet again.
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