South Florida is home to a variety of people who have mostly emigrated from fútbol-loving nations. South Florida is also home to a very weird type of sports fan. Before the Heat took off as a Championship-winning franchise there was a remarkable lack of support for the team. The Dolphins have always had their fans, especially those who lived the “Marino Era” and are constantly pining for those halcyon days to return. The Florida Marlins had their moment and it looks like the fledgling “Miami” Marlins are more about stadium and tax payer drama than winning games.
The Miami Fusion lived a relatively quiet life of three-odd years in the MLS before dissolving in 2001. Since then, there was a quiet resurgence with NASL-tier the Miami FC that evolved into a revamped Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, an NASL team that enjoyed its heyday in the 70’s and early 80’s. So why has South Florida’s affair with a professional soccer team been so transient?
I love soccer. Perhaps too much. I watch it, I read about it, compose poetic odes to my favorite players, I catch it live whenever I can, I spend an awful amount of time on my Twitter feed agonizing over the 140 characters that will get my thoughts through. I’ve even begun playing with friends though given an absence of “physical activity” I find myself spending a lot of time on the DL list and covered in Flexall 454.
But there is one man in South Florida who is optimistic on the sport resurging here again and now that David Beckham has shown interest in bringing an MLS franchise to South Florida, we thought it appropriate to speak with ardent Miami Ultra Uncle Ed about such possibilities and to make sense of the sport’s professional functionality in the USA.
Can you first explain what the difference is between the NASL and the MLS?
NASL (North American Soccer League) is the 2nd division soccer league of the United States. MLS (Major League Soccer) is the 1st Division soccer league in the United States. USL Pro (United Soccer Leagues) is the 3rd and PDL & NPSL are 2 competing 4th division leagues.
Moreover, how is the pyramid in the US soccer tiers different from other countries? What should be the reasonable expectation of fans in the “minors” if their team(s) do well?
The United States is unique in the sense that there is no promotion or relegation as the rest of the world has it. To become a 1st Division MLS team what you need is money to enter. For example the new New York City FC team that will enter the league in 2015 just paid 100 million big ones to get into the league. To get into the 2nd division the cost is much less. The lower the league, the lower the cost.
Without Promotion/Relegation there is no hope for smaller teams to go up the ladder no matter how well they do. Even winning their Championship means nothing unless they can afford to pay for a chance to go up a division.
Should the setup be changed?
I think it should eventually. Promotion/Relegation would make both ends of the standings much more entertaining. There is nothing more exciting than the chance of obtaining a championship. But there is also nothing more frightening than the chance of your team dropping to a lower division.
What is your honest opinion of the MLS since inception? How does a market like Seattle do so well in comparison to other areas of the US that have, traditionally, more soccer-friendly communities?
MLS today is a better league than what it was when it first started. I’d compare early MLS to the NASL today. I actually enjoy watching MLS games on TV now. The quality of the players has improved greatly. I can’t wait till South Florida has a team.
Seattle is a model the rest of the cities in the country should copy. Before they entered MLS, Seattle averaged just over 3,000 per match. In comparison today the Strikers in Div 2 average 4,500. So whatever they did worked and today going to Sounders games is the ‘IT’ thing to do in that town. It’s a combination of marketing, grass roots and booze that made them the best soccer city in the country.
Being a vocal, local pundit on the sport, given South Florida’s on-and-off affair with the sport, how likely are the chances of a “team,” valid in every sense of competition, coming to fruition financially, economically and endemic to the community?
Living in Miami we are constantly harassed by the rest of the country as fair weather , bandwagon fans. Yet we seem to pack the stadium when we get Soccer International matches and friendlies in town. It’s good business and we see more and more games every year. How does that translates to a local team is the question? Miami is an event town. The only way you make noise here is to make a big splash. You need to enter the water in a big way. You need to cannon-ball to ensure you get everyone wet and ready to come back!
Does linking Beckham to the sport here in South Florida a valid reasoning for expansion?
Beckham is that cannon-ball effect I was talking about in the previous question. The man is a walking billboard who like it or not will be advertising his team around the world. Whatever the team will be called, that brand will be known here, in China and beyond. Mark my words you’ll be seeing that jersey everywhere.
As soon as he says the team is on, you’ll see sponsors and partners lining up. The economic impact in the community will be noticeable no doubt. They’ll seduce the fans with top players. What player would not want to bring their talents to South Beach?
What can you say about newer communities in South Florida, as far as support is concerned?
It will depend on where they put the eventual permanent Stadium. For now we know they will likely start playing at FIU Stadium. This initial splash is going to get the fans in the stadium but they need to ensure these people will come back. They need to build a tradition, a history, and the best way to do that is going after the youth clubs. These kids will grow up and become the future fans. They also need to go after the Haitians, Hondurans, Colombians, etc. They’ll need to go to all the bars and pubs where every weekend morning you’ll see hundreds of people watching games in Europe. You’ll need all of them to help create a wonderful ambiance in and out of the stadium.
Would you say that Venezuelans, like myself, who grew up with the sport; will have a positive factor on South Florida expansion? Keeping in mind, of course, that the revamped New York Cosmos is currently helmed by famous international Vinotinto forward Giovanni Savarese?
As you know the Cosmos will be playing in Div 2 NASL against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers so everyone will need to join me as I head up to Lockhart Stadium to watch those games. It will be a preview of what is to come once we get our MLS team. All South Florida needs to come together and support the game. There is nothing better than watching a game live.
What are your thoughts on the debacle over the Dolphins’ Stadium, where a good, solid promise of “20” international matches would’ve been played there?
I am sad the amount of events might be reduced but at the same time hope Stephen Ross will be able to pay for the improvements himself. It will benefit the Dolphins and future soccer events. I’m sure he’ll make the money back.
What is in your opinion, the best, absolute environment for soccer to thrive in this community?
It all comes down to their soccer specific Stadium and where they put it. Ideally, I’d put it somewhere on the Broward and Miami-Dade county line to attract fans from the North. There is always the downtown option. Maybe the old Arena site if a Stadium could fit there. Some have mentioned the Marine Stadium and even South Beach. Wherever they put it, they’ll need to make going to games the ‘IT’ thing to do in South Florida. If anyone can do that it’s got to be Beckham.
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