Meet the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Broward County’s premier soccer team. The Strikers play in the North American Soccer League (NASL), the country’s second tier of professional soccer. American sports fans in general don’t exactly have a history of supporting minor leagues (or soccer at all), but the Strikers deserve a second look.
Believe it or not, younger readers, soccer was actually pretty big in America in the 1970s. The country attracted some of the biggest players in the world, and clubs like the New York Cosmos and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers were household names (OK, not household names, but if you read the sports sections back then, you definitely knew who they were).
The old Strikers attracted some of the best players not just of that time but in soccer history. Players like Gerd Müller and George Best wore the Strikers name. You may not recognize them now, but they were kind of a big deal. And in those days, the Strikers made the playoffs every year, which is more than we can say for the Dolphins, who seem to be aiming for the opposite accomplishment.
Today’s Strikers have made it into the NASL championship three times in the past five years.
It’s Not Boring
The idea of a second division of any sports beckons the image of minor leagues across America’s Big Four – NBA D-League, MLB Minor Leagues, the AHL. But soccer is a little different. In most countries, the top-finishing teams in one league are promoted up, and the ones at the bottom are relegated. That makes leagues across divisions very competitive and fun to watch.
Although it works a little differently in America (no promotion and relegation), the quality of play is still pretty close to the top-flight soccer of MLS. In fact, MLS recently came to an agreement with the NASL’s Minnesota United to move that team up. As MLS expands, more NASL teams are trying to make a bigger impact in the league to build their fan bases and be competitive. And many of the players are on their country’s national teams or hail from European countries known for producing stars and fun football.
They’re Here to Stay
Once upon a time, soccer was a mercurial sport in America. Leagues would come and go, sometimes shuttering before the season was done. Not so anymore. Support for soccer is growing, and it’s already the most popular sport to play at the youth level. With more stability comes more investment, which means better players and more impressive rosters.
The Strikers are the poster boys for this – last year, they brought in Brazil’s Ronaldo (no, not the one at Real Madrid) as a co-owner. In Miami, the new team has brought in two Italian football legends to own and manage the team. The interest is there, and it doesn’t look to be subsiding anytime soon.
Speaking of Miami, there’s a rivalry a-brewing. Miami’s newest soccer team, Miami FC, joins the league this April. And when it does, all hell will break loose across Florida as the NASL’s Florida contingent — the Strikers, Miami FC, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, and the Jacksonville Armada — play each other in local derbies to start the season. Derbies are what we call rivalry games in soccer. You pronounce it “darby” for some reason. Just run with it.
To add to the rivalry between teams, Miami FC is what the Strikers used to call themselves before they relocated to Fort Lauderdale, figuring that it’s kinda weird to call yourself a Miami team if you play in the heart of Broward County (see: Miami Fusion).
The history of soccer supporters groups is long and, in this case, kind of cheesy. Supporters of soccer clubs are often called the Twelfth Man (i.e., the 12th player) because of the effect they can have on players and the result of a match. Unlike other sports that rely solely on chanting “DE-FENSE!” or “LET’S GO MAR-LINS!” soccer is a bit more creative. Supporters sing as much as they chant and urge the team forward; a couple (or more) beers, some rowdy drunken singing, etc. Why this hasn’t caught on from European sporting culture is anyone’s guess.
And when people ask you what club you support, you can say you’re a Striker Liker – the dad-joke of supporter nicknames.
Bonus: They’re Hot
If none of the above moves you, then consider this: The Strikers are hot. Soccer players in general are hot. You have a team of fit men hailing from South America, Central America, and Europe running around with nicely coifed hair. In fact, you can make a date of it. For about the same cost of going to the movies, you can watch a game of professional soccer while your date revels in the eye candy. Win-win.
The 2016 season kicks off at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 2, with a home game against Miami FC at Lockhart Stadium, 1350 NW 55th St., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets range from $12 for general admission to $20 for sideline reserve. Group rates and season membership are also available. Visit strikers.com. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with all the team's doings.