Friday, March 10, 2017

Who Is It Good For?

So I haven’t found too much in the past week to lift my spirits about a year passing by without the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

We had the MLS opening weekend however and I tried to watch as much as I could possibly watch. I had other obligations - Tae Kwan Do practice, summer camp tours, Chinese Lantern Festival. It’s the joys of parenthood. Luckily I was able to finish the weekend playing soccer with my 5-year old son and 6-year old nephew.

Back to MLS, it was an awesome weekend. It would have been even better if we had a game down here for sure, but for now, it’s a pleasure watching this game take shape in the US. Seeing it covered as much as it is. It gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling you know. That feeling, however, was quickly diminished when I heard sports talk radio trying to come to grips with Barcelona defeating PSG in Champions League.

So for a brief moment I wasn’t lamenting the loss of the Strikers, I was instead embarrassed and extremely angered that sports media still acts ignorant to our sport and laughs at how little they know. I scanned 4 separate sport talks shows right after the game. Each of them made mention of the result. Then each of them got confused on how aggregate scoring works. Then each of them laughed at how little they know about it.

Is that where we are right now? Do we still need to explain why regular season games end in a tie? Do we to explain what the Champions League is every year? It’s a insult. I wanted to live in this moment where the game completely restored my faith. I wanted this moment to be enjoyed. Instead, radio hosts were baffled at all the twitter noise and then stumbled over the scoresheet. No excuses sports media.

So that’s out of the way. Now back to Strikers talk. Not much to report really. And that’s it.

But I’m not going to stop there. So the next thing is google. I’m a big believer in building stadiums. Lockhart needs to refresh. OKC Energy has done something similar with their building, Taft Stadium. Check it out, it’s nice. A lot of teams, also, are dressing up their rented facilities, which is nice. But having your own space is special. The MLS model has afforded this. Not many team below that threshold can say they same.

But Lockhart was going to be rebuilt remember? Schlitterbahn, a water park was going to put a park in that area and have a lazy river run through Lockhart. They were going to upgrade the stadium and put in 4 more soccer fields. Initially the plan stalled because the city had to but the land from the airport and a hefty price. But guess what? They did it, they bought it. Plans were made and Schlitterbahn was about to become a reality. So why hasn’t it been done? Rapids Water Park. A water park in Palm Beach County has brought the City of Fort Lauderdale to court for not allowing competing bids for the space.

For that reason the rebuild is at a halt. It’s truly unbelievable. But that is the real reason that South Florida gets a bad rap. It’s not the players, it’s not the teams, it’s not the fans. It’s the greed. Look at Beckham’s deal. He’s on his third stadium location because of local business greed. First it was the cruise lines, then it was the Marlins. Everyone wants to benefit monetarily so it makes it hard to move the mountain.

A new question arises now. Since the Strikers are incognito, does the stadium plan fall to pieces? How is this resolved? So many questions. So little answers. Everyone says they’re committed, but no one wants to work each other. Every one out for themselves. Good for their business bad for soccer in South Florida.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

What's Missing

On a day where the St. Pete City Council confirms the date for a special election including the re-imagining of Al Lang Stadium, those of us in South Florida continue to wallow in our own self doubt, pity ourselves and look up to the heavens for something.

Now, that something isn’t David Beckham like we all believed it would be three years ago. As a Strikers fan, we are on the verge of something that is quite interesting (if not disturbing).

Imagine a scenario if you will that in 5 years time the MLS has three Florida-based teams. Taking into account today’s environment, those three teams would be Orlando City SC, Miami Beckham United and the, ugh, Tampa Bay Rowdies. Am I supposed to be happy or pissed off? The growth of the game of soccer in the US is definitely important to me. I was picked on so much for being the soccer kid in school and now we have soccer-specific stadiums. The expense has been the Fort Lauderdale Strikers which takes me into a talking point.

What is the point of MLS? At its inception, FIFA mandated that US Soccer have a professional league in order to be awarded hosting rights to the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Our founding fathers at the time knew what happened to the NASL and made the decision to create the MLS in the image of American sports leagues. With franchises instead of clubs, the MLS was born. You can’t blame them. The passing of NASL 1.0 was epic. Everything and anything had to be done to avoid a similar calamity. American sports leagues are very stable and so to follow that lead makes business sense.

But soccer has that little something different that no other sport has. It provides opportunity. To me the World Cup is the greatest thing ever because every country is included. Albeit most countries don’t have any shot of winning, they do have an opportunity to make it and play those “world-class” countries. Kuwait in 82, USA in 90, Saudi Arabia in 94 and so on and so on.

Soccer leagues around the world have that same inclusion, just to a different degree. Though slim, a 4th division side in England can theoretically play in the Premier League. That is what the seasoned soccer fan is accustomed to, that is part of the game. The MLS is completely void of that excitement. Actually, and disagree with me, it seems that more excitement is generated in groups trying to make the MLS, than the actual MLS games themselves. Why? Because its the only time we “the little guy” or “outsider” can make it to the big leagues.

It took Philadelphia 7 hard years to push and push to get into the MLS and get a stadium. It was a remarkable story that included a supporter’s group and ownership that fought every obstacle and made it happen. Since they’ve been in the MLS, can you name 3 players who’ve played for the Union?

There is no drama in the MLS, but it is our first division. I honestly find more joy in watching MLS teams compete in Champions League play because that is where that drama exists. Imagine if an MLS team wins the CL? They get to go to the Club World Cup, and play Real Madrid or Barcelona in a competitive match. Wouldn’t that be something?

The MLS is great for so many things. It has increased the level of play of the American footballer. It has made better US coaches. It has forced soccer into mainstream media. These are all things we can thank the MLS for. Plus we have soccer-specific stadiums. So I’m not bashing here, just working my way to something else. The MLS has done all this, but it came at a price and that price was the theater.

I’ll take one stab at a fix for this. MLS should expand to 40 teams and have 2 divisions with pro/rel between them. Then the last place team in Division 2 needs to play in a playoff against the champion of whatever league is deemed beneath it. If it were right now, you would have a NASL-USL playoff winner play against the last place team in D2 MLS. Winner makes it in. I think that will add some excitement, put some fire into these games and freak fans and owners out enough to make the games more interesting. And for the business owners afraid of seeing their $150 million wasted to play in the USL, well, that is the sport, it’s part of the game.

Last point I want to make about MLS here is really more of a statement about MLS Miami. So their PR firm came out and said they are committed to building a world-class club. I mean, come on! An MLS team, by definition, is not world-class. I think MLS fans know that. People in South Florida know that for sure and we can smell bullshit pretty darn well. Should I keep going? You know I’m a little bit of a Miami hater right now, but even the Miami supporters groups are getting antsy, so that cannot be a good sign.

So how does this affect a future Fort Lauderdale Strikers outfit? I don't think it does because we don't even have a team on the field. Without Pro/Rel it is very hard to imagine a strong ownership group investing enough to keep the Strikers alive. And knowing our market, if you're not providing a top-quality experience, you are not going to have attendance. Man, I'm getting very depressed right now. At least I have the USMNT. March 24 can't come any sooner.