Longform

Total ConFusion

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Police police police
I feel sorry for you
Every time you come bother us
Your wife goes stroke someone else.

In late April, Hazleton sat down with the police and Fusion management to resolve problems in section 113. Drums and paper, everyone present decided, would be allowed into the stadium, but not firecrackers, flares, or anything that could cause damage. Hazleton believed progress had been made.

At the match immediately after this meeting, several Afusionados were tossed from the game for throwing... toilet paper. In the ensuing ruckus, several supporters, including Hazleton, were arrested.

"The police, they weren't used to a crowd like ours," says Andres Jervis, another Afusionados leader. "They weren't used to the passion that soccer brings. They thought that we were gonna riot and kill people."

For the most part, the problems with law enforcement have been resolved this year. With the exception of an overzealous Afusionado who destroyed a toilet paper dispenser in the men's room after a rare Fusion victory, the only run-ins with the police have been on the road at Tampa Bay.

One major reason for the easing of tensions in section 113 is Dona Cardoza, an administrative assistant with the Fusion. She has become a kind of Afusionados den mother. Cardoza knows each of the hard-core supporters by name and understands how to deal with their antics. "I smack them, and I push them, and I pull them, and they don't say boo to me, because they respect me," says Cardoza. At home games she diffuses the Afusionados' baser instincts, while keeping the police and security guards at bay.

The present Fusion management publicly embraces the supporters. "Whether we've been up or down, they've been a part of us," says Doug Hamilton, who along with Ken Chartier has been the team's co-managing director since April. "They certainly make our environment and our stadium among the best in the country."

Despite these sentiments, La Sur de los Afusionados sometimes continues to feel like they are the enemy when dealing with the team's top brass. Hazleton, who opted this year to eschew section 113 for midfield seats with his wife and two children, says he has lobbied repeatedly for the Fusion to identify the west end as the home of the Afusionados so that fans offended by the group's antics would know to sit elsewhere. (There's certainly no dearth of empty seats.)

"They still haven't put any disclaimer up, and it makes the Afusionados look like the bad guys," Hazleton says.

Estevez says that he has attempted to contact Hamilton to discuss how the Afusionados might work with the team but to no avail. "He's too busy to talk to the real fans," says Estevez. "I'm tired of his mumbo jumbo."

The Afusionados are a tiny sliver of the Fusion's fan base, and they are far from the only people who have been alienated by Fusion management. Many people in the soccer community have been turned off by the arrogance of the organization and its unwavering emphasis on ticket sales above all else. Instead of attempting to build long-term relationships with potential fans through player appearances, youth clinics, and other community events, the Fusion has often approached people with its hands out.

David Villano is head of the Florida Soccer Coaches Association, which has more than 100 members stretching from Key West to Lake Okeechobee. The high-school coaches who are part of the association have daily contact with thousands of students with an obvious interest in soccer. In other words, potential Miami Fusion fans.

In August, Villano faxed a letter to Fusion management asking if the team's coaching staff would participate in an October clinic for members of the association. Despite numerous follow-up calls, Villano received no response. He then faxed a second letter to the organization but still could not get an answer. Finally, with the clinic fast approaching, Villano sent a third letter, this one to recently hired chief operating officer Betty D'Anjolell.

Villano subsequently met with D'Anjolell and Craig Tornberg, the team's then-director of crowd-building, in September. "Rather than being conciliatory, she was downright aggressive and obnoxious," says Villano, who coaches at Ransom Everglades School in Miami. D'Anjolell's first response to the idea of helping out with the clinic, he says, was, "How much can you pay us?" Her second response: "How many tickets can you sell?"

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Paul Demko
Contact: Paul Demko