If you build it, will they come? That is the question facing David Beckham and his fellow Major League Soccer investors today. Many critics will say South Florida is a soccer cemetery, at least for the domestic game. There are tombstones marked Gatos, Toros, Miami FC, Fusion and a few with the legendary Strikers nickname that lives on in the new NASL. However, a bit of digging shows Miami is not the graveyard it is supposed to be.
I grew up here. I remember listening to the Miami Toros play on my transistor radio. When they moved to Lockhart Stadium and became the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, I was there. I was fortunate enough to call the inaugural game for Major League Soccer in San Jose and ...view middle of the document...
Everything happens for a reason. If the Fusion had not folded, the world would not have discovered the one and only Ray Hudson on their television screens. Now it is time to try it again, and with David Beckham heading up this new effort, it looks like the league is doing it right this time.
Back in 1998, Ken Horowitz spent $25 million to start the Fusion and renovate Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale. He did not help himself by getting into legendary arguments with Miami political officials, which forced the move north. After months of preparing a business plan for the glitz of Miami, they had to quickly adjust to a different, more humble market. Ticket prices were too high, the style of play was too boring and the Fusion did not take advantage of the one true superstar they had, the legendary Colombian Carlos Valderrama.
I have always believed that it was not a case of South Florida failing MLS. Rather, MLS failed South Florida. Rather than support the league's first new, outside investor in an effort to attract others to follow suit, the league upset him with numerous cash calls and mandates that added to his frustration. The league has grown monumentally since then, and David Beckham knows what is required.
Back then, Horowitz was disappointed other local investors did not step up and help foot the bill. Now, in addition to his long time business partner Simon Fuller, Beckham has already lined up local billionaire Marcelo Claure. NBA star LeBron James has expressed an interest in coming aboard, as have several other big money investors.
Several years after the Fusion's launch, the late Doug Hamilton arrived to take over the front office and Ray Hudson took charge of the team. This led to a more professional operation and a more exciting product on the field. The local media took notice and the fans returned. The Fusion made it to the U.S. Open Cup Final in 2000, and the next year won the MLS regular season crown.
It was too little too late for an already financially insecure league. In the wake of the worldwide economic collapse following the terror attacks of 9/11, the Fusion died and was tossed on the heap as yet another South Florida soccer failure.
Even that can be misinterpreted. The old Strikers did not fail; rather it was the death throes of the NASL that led to their demise. While the Strikers were successful on and off the field, many other clubs were looking for extra money by tapping into the indoor game. At the time, South Florida did not have an adequate arena. So, the Strikers had to move somewhere that did.
The Gatos and Toros of the early 1970's played in a much different Miami than the one that exists today. The various other...