Handwriting experts, Bosnian profanity and televised breakups: all part of Michael Hetelson's revolutionary vision for indoor soccer in St. Louis

Hetelson says he was hurt that his parents didn't make it to the Steamers' home opener in October. They did, however, attend the latter of back-to-back games the Steamers played in Philly over the final weekend in January. After momentarily seizing first place from the Philadelphia Kixx with a 6-5 overtime win Saturday, the St. Louis squad lost the Sunday rematch 7-3 to fall a half-game back of the division lead.

Dr. Hetelson admits that the experience was entertaining, but his opinion of his son's purchase remains the same. Which isn't to say he's not rooting for his kid. "He's a very special person," he says of his only son. "He's very creative. I think if anyone can do it, he can."

"Suck on a dick, Chicago!" Sani Zigic (at far right) and 
a handful of Fanaticos prep for a road trip to Chicago 
to cheer on their beloved Steamers.
Eric Fogelman
"Suck on a dick, Chicago!" Sani Zigic (at far right) and a handful of Fanaticos prep for a road trip to Chicago to cheer on their beloved Steamers.
Tim Parker

Michael Hetelson has money, but not Early Internet Gilded Age money. He says he took out a second mortgage on his home to buy into the Steamers. Still, his youth, eccentricity, boundary-crossing management style (he frequently sits on the Steamers' bench during games and bunks with the team on the road) and casual-to-a-fault wardrobe have prompted comparisons to techno-wiz owner Mark Cuban of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks. It's an equation Hetelson loathes.

"There's a difference between being a gadget geek and just a total nerd," says Hetelson, who admits to falling within the former category while considering Cuban to be of the latter ilk. "Plus, his reality show [The Benefactor] bombed."

Hetelson's father considers his son to be cut from the same cloth as Bill Veeck, the legendary major-league baseball owner who once sent a midget, Eddie Gaedel, to the plate for his St. Louis Browns as a promotional gimmick. (One might argue it was a tactical maneuver as well: Gaedel drew a four-pitch base on balls.) In the eyes of many, including the Fanaticos and many Steamers players, Lindsay Kennedy is Hetelson's Eddie Gaedel.

Hetelson hopes Kennedy, a former Alton High School and Harris-Stowe State College soccer standout, will become only the second woman ever to play in a men's professional indoor league. They met at a bar after a game, where Kennedy was hanging out with some friends on the team. After Hetelson expressed an interest in signing her, a skeptical Coach Doran watched her work out and came away impressed enough to give tacit approval.

But Doran's players were, well, steamed. Shortly after a January 20 press conference announcing that the Steamers had acquired Kennedy's rights, Hetelson found himself snowed in with his squad in a Philadelphia hotel, their scheduled game postponed until a later date. An emotional team meeting ensued.

"They laid into me," says Hetelson, who stays in a rented downtown loft when he's in St. Louis. "But [Lindsay] fits the new image of the Steamers, which is progressive. I don't think she's better than the worst guy on the team, but I think she brings a component that could confuse teams."

"She is a Kennedy, right?" Smerconish quips. "Which means at least two DUIs and a tragedy."

The Fanaticos, who effectively boycotted the home game the night after the announcement was made, aren't amused.

"The sport is wrapped in tradition, and doing that makes it seem like a joke," says Sani Zigic. "It's like saying, 'We can't make it without this. No one's really taking it seriously, so let's pull some stunts.'"

Hetelson hopes Kennedy, who has been practicing with the team, will be ready to suit up for the Steamers' February 19 home tilt against the Milwaukee Wave.

More power to her if she does, says Wave owner Mike Lafferty. "If Lindsay's good enough to make the team, good for her," Lafferty says. "Mike's a marketing genius, I think. The reality TV show is hysterical. I don't know any owners who think he's a quack."

Scott Warfield, a writer for the industry periodical Sports Business Journal, believes that a little outside-the-box shot in the arm might be just what the flagging MISL -- which saw franchises fold in Dallas, San Diego and Monterrey, Mexico before the end of the last calendar year -- needs.

"Soccer in this country is at a critical point, and the MISL needs a breath of life more than any other league outside of the NHL," says Warfield, who's based in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Losing the [Dallas] Sidekicks, an original MISL member, before the season only adds to the hurt felt around the league after both San Diego and Monterrey ceased operations. The league has been healthy before and can be as healthy again, but something needs to be done. And it needs to be done soon."

Might Hetelson's Steamers be the ticket? Warfield is skeptical.

"Hetelson's unorthodox marketing strategy is based around trying to market to a fifteen- to thirty-year-old fan base -- not exactly the breadwinners of the world. The XFL-ish image he's striving for appears to be working now. The question will be, though: Can he continue to count on the youth to be the repeat customers all owners strive to land?"

By February 2, it seemed the Steamers were over the Kennedy debacle, snapping out of a mini-slump with a torrid 4-1 first-quarter lead over the visiting Kansas City Comets.

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