It is about midway through the second period on a steamy Saturday afternoon in late May, and the Fusion is losing -- again. D.C. United has just scored its second unanswered goal of the game. Diego Serna, the Fusion's prolifically scoring forward, is gesturing angrily at his teammates as yet another sprint toward the opposing goal ends with the ball sailing beyond the tip of his toe or over his head. South Florida's two-year-old professional soccer team is on its way to a fifth-straight defeat.
In section 113 at the west end of Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, home to the Fusion's small, loosely organized, but intensely loyal supporters' group, La Sur de los Afusionados, it is uncharacteristically quiet. The usual physical intensity -- the ecstatic singing, drumming, screaming, and jumping -- has almost ceased, replaced with muted lethargy.
Facundo Estevez, who says he doesn't have a girlfriend because he's "married to the Fusion," is hiding behind blue-tinted wraparound shades. Estevez is feeling the nauseous aftereffects of a night of drinking, exacerbated by the afternoon sun -- and another dismal Fusion performance. He is one of the Afusionados' leaders.
Harmonious, encouraging chants of "AVamos, vamos Fusion!" have been replaced by sporadic cries of "AQue se vaya Ivo Wortmann!" a not-very-subtle request that the Fusion's head coach take a permanent vacation back to his native Brazil.
The Fusion's barely month-old mascot, promoted as a "friendly green lizard" known as "PK" (for "penalty kick"), becomes the unfortunate focus of the supporters' energy.
"Get the fuck out of here, you fucking lizard!" screams Hector, a ponytailed, beer-drinking Afusionado. "Ever since you came here, we've had bad luck!"
Hector then threatens to bring a faux PK to the next home game and hang it in effigy. Others in the crowd echo Hector's sentiments: PK deserves to die.
The friendly green lizard appears oblivious to the menace lurking inside the sweaty, alcohol-fueled crowd.
Moments later, as PK stands waving on the walkway in front of section 113, a small cavalry of about 15 Fusion supporters, mainly teenage boys, pounce on him. He is assaulted with fists, thrown more in jest than out of a desire to inflict injury. The lizard with the permanent smile flees his menacing band of attackers. PK has not returned to section 113.
And so it goes for the Miami Fusion franchise.
After 18 months of bungling and mismanagement, both on the field and off, not even the mascot escapes blame.
The Fusion's woes are legion. Attendance at home games is abysmal. The team's only legitimate superstar -- Carlos Valderrama, he of the electric-shock hairdo -- was benched and then driven out of town after battling with the coach earlier this year. In less than two seasons, three different management teams have been brought in from out of state to try to lead the franchise. And the Fusion's management has alienated much of the South Florida soccer community with its arrogance.
The 30 or so hard-core Afusionados -- and the hangers-on that crowd section 113 for each home game -- are one of the few things the organization has going for it. Yet the Afusionados often feel that the team is doing its best to drive them out of the stadium as well.
"It's embarrassing for me," says Estevez a few days after the D.C. United match. "I don't know where to hide my face."
Stilt-walkers and fire-eaters performed to the rhythms of calypso music. Curly blond wigs and Colombian flags, in honor of Valderrama, were in abundance. Fireworks exploded in celebration. On March 15, 1998, a festive sellout crowd of 20,450 packed the freshly painted blue and yellow seats of Lockhart Stadium for the Fusion's inaugural game. At least 3000 more were turned away at the gate. Doug Logan, the commissioner of Major League Soccer (MLS) declared Lockhart Stadium a "prototype" for other teams to emulate.
"I still remember what a pain in the ass -- but what a thrill it was -- to find the monumental traffic jam at that first game," recalls Karl Kremser, head coach of the men's soccer team at Florida International University. "To walk in there and see that place packed -- it was just a tremendous moment as far as soccer was concerned down here."
Section 113 was packed with jubilant supporters bellowing newly christened songs: "AOle, ole, ole, ole, Fusion, Fusion!" The Afusionados sold 500 tickets for their section and passed out 1000 songbooks to supporters before the game. Adding-machine paper cascaded down from the stands. When United forward Jaime Moreno was booted from the game in the second half for a flagrant foul, the section unanimously decreed him "hijo de puta" -- son of a whore.