I just returned from a trip to South Florida to visit my grandfather who is not well, but the timing coincided with the New York Red Bulls playing a friendly last Saturday against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
The game sprung to life with an early goal for New York Red Bulls as Mehdi Ballouchy went down the far side. A quick cross to a wide open Thierry Henry and a side foot deflection put them ahead early in the 2nd minute.
It wouldn’t be till the 75th minute until the next goal. Ballouchy got his own goal as he ran and beat the keeper to the inside of the near post for the final nail of the coffin for a solid two goals to nil victory. The first team did well and the substitutes also had some good moments. It was definitely a solid performance after a 1-1l draw with Chicago Fire three days earlier.
But while this was a solid pre-season friendly for the Red Bulls, this was also a fantastic showing of approximately 3,000 fans for the re-named Miami FC who are now the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. The announcement that the game would be open to the public was only made two days before gametime, but Lockhart Stadium quickly filled up on the near side stands and a good amount of press came as well. Besides the local media, Boston Globe’s Frank Dell’ Apa was in attendance along with Reuters Simon Evans. Thomas Rongen was also seen in the media parking lot talking on his cell phone and Univision’s Fernando Fiore was proud to be back to see the return of the Strikers as well.
The return of the name Ft. Lauderdale strikers was a well needed change for an area and a stadium that is located in a area that is truly devoted to the game from its earlier days of the original North American Soccer League to today’s Strikers. NASL Communications Director and former host of the MLS Talk Podcast Kartik Krishnaiyer was pleasantly surprised to see the turnout of so many locals. Not just to see Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez, but they were there to see the return of their side from Ft. Lauderdale.
What I saw from the new version of the Strikers was a side that looks strong and has the ability to make some damage in the new NASL. Head Coach Daryl Shore has some pretty good players trying out and could make an impact on their roster for the 2011 season. Former MLS striker Jean-Phillippe Peguero made his way on the field in the second half and a good keeper in Nic Platter held his own very well. Other players looked strong and they did give Greg Sutton and Bouna Coundoul fits, but not enough to dent the scoreboard. Still they played well in their friendly.
Finally I have to say it was great seeing The Gaffer at Lockhart Stadium as he had a smile from ear to ear. Yes he along with Kartik, Strikers Communication Director Ignacio Rodriguez and CEO of the NASL Aaron Davidson looked happy and excited. The real identity of this club has returned and the people who live in Ft. Lauderdale and the surrounding area outside of Miami are absolutely excited for this change. I got to see it first hand and I am excited for everyone down in South Florida who supports this club. Good luck to the Strikers and the NASL for a successful opening season and a strong future for years to come.