Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The New Florida Derby

It is with a great deal of satisfaction that I am able to relate that Traffic Sports, the Brazilian sports company that owns 2d-division Miami FC, has finally settled on the name of 'Fort Lauderdale Strikers' for the re-launch of their South Florida soccer venture.  By doing so, Traffic Sports has deliberately chosen to identify with the latent nostalgia in South Florida for the most glamorous and succesful soccer team the region has ever had.  As an original fan of the old 1970's Strikers, all I can say is... 'it works for me.'

It really was a fabulous team in a fabulous league.  Honestly, consider this constellation of ex-Strikers stars: First of all, George Best, the Irish legend; and also Gordon Banks are-you-kidding-me, yep, that guy, arguably The Greatest Goalkeeper ever; Gerd Muller, 'Der Bomber' whose ferocious goalscoring really did make him a 'Striker' in the true sense of the word; Teofilo Cubillas and Elias Figueroa, to this day still the greatest futbolistas of Peru and Chile respectively; and a whole bunch of other talented guys including an Englishman named Ray Hudson who Floridians once thought was an exotic English Soccer Legend, but who we now see is only so when he talks about football.  Yes, my friends, Once Upon a Time, in bitty-little Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale Florida which held (at the time) perhaps 11,000 spectators, this unlikely yet brilliant assembly of international stars took to the pitch to battle other teams of the old North American Soccer League, for the delight of the people of South Florida.

It was a total sports sensation, and never more so than when Fort Lauderdale played the Tampa Bay Rowdies.  Here, for the first time, Floridians tasted the essential element of the passion of international football-- the Derby, and I'm not talking about horse racing at Hialeah Park.  I'm talking about Barcelona vs. Real Madrid.  Manchester United vs. Liverpool.  Celtic vs. Rangers.  Ajax vs. Feyenoord.  You get the picture.  Call it a 'rivalry' if you must, but back in the day, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers vs. the Tampa Bay Rowdies was clearly among the most successful derbies of the old NASL, if not the fiercest.

I attended many of those matches at Lockhart Stadium, and the experience turned a teenage boy into a lifelong fan of The Beautiful Game.  I still remember how much I feared and loathed the Rowdies, not because they were better than the Strikers, but because, in soccer, somehow your greatest rival has the power to beat you, even when they are having a dreadful season.  It's just that way.  Astonishingly, over the history of the old NASL, these two teams managed to precisely split their 22 encounters 11-11, bequeathing to posterity a fierce cross-state soccer rivalry, with neither side having advantage.

And now comes the rebirth of the NASL as a Division 2 league.  The Glory Days are gone forever, Lionel Messi will never play for the new Strikers, and nostalgia will only sell so many tickets.  But it is enough to launch a franchise, that much is certain, and I commend Traffic Sports for losing the uninspiring Miami FC brand in favor of this slice of Florida history.  Really smart move.  I wish them success, and I'll even commend them for the clever  new logo.  The old logo was too... 1970's.

So, its a safe bet that there will be a New Florida Derby, whatever they end up calling it.  And I'll write about it, here at Jedi Soccer, and I promise to gloat whenever the glorious Fort Lauderdale Strikers score against the obviously wicked and evil Tampa Bay Rowdies... er... uh, 'FC Tampa Bay.'

Right.  I'll have to get used to that. See? They're already lame, it would be much easier to hate them if they would simply get with the program and adopt the Rowdies name already.