Former England captain David Beckham is in Miami today for exploratory meetings regarding the possibility of a MLS team coming to the city. While a lot of noise has been made recently about the potential MLS expansion to Miami, what has been often lost in this discussion is that southeast Florida already has a professional team with over 35 years of history and a strong supporter base that values supporting a local club with history over a random manufactured one.
The Fort Lauderdale Strikers currently play in the second tier North American Soccer League and average over 4,500 fans a game at the historic Lockhart Stadium.
When the Strikers returned in 2011 as a rebrand of Miami FC, the attendance for the team more than tripled and many fans came out of woodwork embracing a legacy they had fallen in love with or grown up with. The Strikers which existed in various forms from 1977 to 1997 had among its most illustrious stars Gerd Müller, Ray Hudson, Nene Cubillias, George Best, Ricky Villa, Ian Callaghan and Brian Kidd, among others. Previous attempts to impose a new team cultural and professional soccer brand on the region had failed, and Miami FC’s ownership Traffic Sports wisely realized that without embracing the Strikers legacy, achieving local success was nearly impossible.
Major League Soccer, after years of resistance, finally employed a strategy that rewarded organic growth and historical legacies with elevation of the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact from Division 2 leagues to the major league in North America. The former three markets and sides had been historical links to the days of the original NASL and today are among the strongest and most visibly successful clubs on the continent.
Additionally, forty years of history has proven time and time again that professional soccer clubs draw better support in Broward and Palm Beach counties than in Miami-Dade. While outside perception is that Miami is soccer crazed, it is in fact the areas north (Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach) that have traditionally supported the game in South Florida. Zach Reese the President of Flight 19, the local supporters club, penned an editorial last week that lays out the history and why the northern areas of the metropolitan area support soccer at a stronger rate than those to the south.
Local soccer supporters are united behind wanting to see Major League Soccer, the United States’ top-flight league return to the area. But most active supporters do not want to trade a historical legacy in D-2 for a manufactured club in the top division. The preference would be that David Beckham and whoever else is interested in discussing MLS in the area work with the Strikers to elevate the existing professional club to the top division. Doing otherwise would disrespect the work of so many through the years and those who have put time and effort into building up and supporting a second division club while keeping the flame of professional soccer alive locally. In addition, any manufactured club is unlikely to find the deep abiding support and loyalty of local fans that the Strikers continue to enjoy.
On Tuesday, Flight 19 unveiled a banner (pictured above) during the US Open Cup match in Fort Lauderdale versus MLS table toppers FC Dallas. The TIFO was a big hit at the match and summed up the sentiments of the vast majority of true soccer supporters in the area.
David Beckham ought to meet with supporters and understand the concerns about displacing a historic legacy and locating a team in the wrong part of the metropolitan area before proceeding further in seeking an MLS team in the area.