By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jun 21, 2017) US Soccer Players - The original version of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers might not have been as famous as the Cosmos or the Rowdies. That doesn’t mean they didn’t make a mark during the heyday of the original North American Soccer League. In the late-70s and early-80s, the Strikers were not only the club of famed English goalkeeper Gordon Banks, German great Gerd Mueller, and a host of other European stars. Their captain was American soccer institution Ray Hudson. During his playing days in Fort Lauderdale, Hudson led the Strikers to the playoffs in every season of their existence.
The name resonated in South Florida. When the original Miami FC moved north to Fort Lauderdale and Lockhart Stadium following the 2010 USL season, the club decided to resurrect the Strikers name. Like similar NASL brand revivals across American soccer in the first decade the 21st century, trading on the former existence of an NASL gave new soccer clubs a bit of a head start. For an older generation, nostalgia pulled them to the team. For those too young to remember NASL 1.0, there was no stigma from that league’s failure.
The modern Fort Lauderdale Strikers (actually the third incarnation of the name, if we’re being technical--a second Strikers team played in the ASL and APSL from 1988-94) had a rocky existence. “Had” is appropriate. As of Tuesday morning at 10am Eastern Time, any chance that the latest version of the Strikers might return to the field in the modern version of the NASL died. The club's assets went for a paltry $5,100 at auction.
That’s how much Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards paid for the Strikers’ naming rights, trademarks, customer and vendor lists, and any remaining contracts held by the team. Edwards, who had recently won a summary judgement against the Strikers in a lawsuit over several loans Edwards issued the Strikers’ ownership, was the club’s largest creditor and cannot, by virtue of the ruling, revive the club in NASL. The Strikers’ membership interest in that league was specifically excluded from the assets available in the public auction.
Not that Edwards would want to have anything to do with NASL at this point. After floating loans to the Strikers to keep that team - and by extension, the NASL itself - alive in 2016, he moves his team to for the USL this season. Edwards clearly saw his interests better served by a league with a connection to MLS and his expansion push in Tampa Bay. A man who had once been one of the leading figures of the new NASL’s independent spirit came to the realization that the lower divisions of American soccer are chaotic, unsteady, and potentially ruinous.
Consider the figures attracted to the Strikers after the move up the coast. The initial years in Fort Lauderdale were very good, with the team reaching the championship game twice in four season. Attendance, however, didn’t seem to match the results, with the team failing to best 5,000 in the 20,000+ capacity Lockhart Stadium. Nevertheless, the club attracted flashy new owners in a trio of Brazilians who even managed to entice Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo to get on board their ambitious project.
Before long, however, the Strikers were failing to meet payroll. Overly ambitious ideas about building a “global brand” undermined the Strikers’ efforts to attract a local fan base. By the middle of 2016, the Strikers were moving out of Lockhart and into a stadium with a capacity of 5,000. They never came close to filling it.
As these things go, the sale of the Strikers name for less than the price of a used Honda is fairly mundane for American soccer. That the Strikers got a modern resurrection at all makes it notable among the historical names of game in the United States. The dustbin of history is full of names and logos that will never again emblazon a jersey or grace a scarf. The Strikers did better than most.
Still, the end of the line for an American soccer name that people recognize prompts anxious thoughts about the game’s past and future. There are only so many recognizable name in our spotty soccer history. Whenever one disappears it's a soccer-specific tragedy.
So we say goodbye to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, 1977-2017, with a few years missing and maybe not goodbye forever. Because this is American soccer and nothing is ever certain.
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