Total ConFusion

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Villano came to the meeting armed with a list of ideas for how the two organizations could work together. For example, he suggested sending Fusion players to various high schools for question-and-answer sessions. Fusion management's response to this idea was a condescending question: Do you think Dan Marino shows up at birthday parties for Dolphin fans?

The Fusion coaching staff did eventually participate in the clinic but only after Villano went over D'Anjolell's head and appealed directly to assistant coach Nick Megaloudis. "It was the management that seemingly did everything possible to throw a wrench in what was an ideal community-outreach opportunity," Villano notes.

(D'Anjolell could not be reached for comment for this story.)
Villano says that the Fusion's newest management regime is trying to make amends for the past troubles. He and another member of the coaches association met in March with Ken Chartier. As a goodwill gesture, the Fusion recently provided free tickets to the group's members and a space where they could meet before the start of the soccer match.

It may be too late, however: Only a handful of coaches showed up for the event. "Basically, what we're saying is, the Fusion can't give away tickets," says Villano.

Beyond arrogance, a major cause for the Fusion's difficulties in developing a larger fan base is its revolving door at the management level. This inconsistency at the top has been compounded by the team's continued reliance on executives from outside the area who are not necessarily familiar with the peculiarities of South Florida. The Fusion has flown in recruits with a track record of success in other cities but virtually ignored the services of experts in its back yard.

Tom Mulroy, for example, a leading soccer consultant who runs the Copa Latina soccer tournament each year in Miami-Dade, has had only fleeting contact with the organization since its inception. "The attitude was, 'We know how to do it, and all you soccer guys are knuckleheads,'" says Mulroy. "With that attitude they have dug themselves a deeper and deeper hole."

Leo Stillitano, the team's first general manager, believes he was handicapped from the start because of the team's decision to play its home games in Fort Lauderdale. Rather than being able to focus on what Stillitano believes are his strengths -- the Hispanic and international communities -- the move necessitated more of an emphasis on attracting suburban soccer families from areas like Pembroke Pines and Plantation.

Even before Stillitano's departure, Betty D'Anjolell was recruited by the Fusion to bolster fledgling ticket sales and community relations. D'Anjolell had previously worked as executive vice president with D.C. United. When Stillitano resigned in September, D'Anjolell became the team's top executive. But at the end of March, as the Fusion's second season was getting under way with attendance still alarmingly low, D'Anjolell also resigned.

Hamilton and Chartier are the latest soccer executives to arrive in South Florida. Both worked at Adidas and then at CC&C Management, Chartier's marketing company in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Hamilton is the full-time managing director of the club, while Chartier splits his time between Fort Lauderdale and Myrtle Beach.

Both men acknowledge that the Fusion has alienated potential fans in the past but are loath to point a finger at anyone in particular. They note that it takes time to build a successful professional sports franchise, particularly in South Florida, where baseball, basketball, and hockey teams have all set up camp within the last decade. The sports market will soon be stretched thinner with the arrival of a women's professional basketball team next year.

"We have not done a good-enough job in the last year and a half of becoming a part of the fabric of South Florida soccer," says Hamilton.

Chartier says that he does not consider being from out of town a liability. "I may not be from South Florida, but I'm part of the soccer family," Chartier notes, rattling off the names of people he's long known in the South Florida soccer world, such as Mulroy, Rodger, and FIU coach Kremser. Hamilton and Chartier often echo the language of the team's critics. "It's one thing to ask somebody to buy a ticket," says Chartier. "It's another to say, 'How can we help you?'"

Even if Chartier and Hamilton have the wherewithal and marketing savvy to turn the franchise around, it is unclear whether they will be given the free rein to do so. Stillitano notes that even though he was the top executive at the Fusion during his tenure, ultimate decision-making power rested with Kenneth Horowitz, the team's main financial backer. For example, Stillitano says, in the earliest days of the franchise, he pushed for Ivo Wortmann to be appointed the team's head coach. Horowitz, however, went with his own choice, Carlos "Cacho" Cordoba. Cordoba lasted just four months, compiling a record of 8-11. Wortmann replaced him in July.

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Paul Demko
Contact: Paul Demko