Historic Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium
Jon van Woerden Photography
The New Lockhart Courtesy of Inter-Miami CF
The hiring of Diego Alonso as Inter Miami CF’s first manager leaves just two giant roster questions to answer before training camp begins this month at an as-yet-determined location. With 22 players signed for 2020 and the January transfer window now open, Inter has two remaining Designated Player (DP) spots to fill with players whose salary and transfer fee can exceed MLS limits.
MLS clubs can sign up to three DP’s with the club picking up most of the cost. Argentine youth international Matias Pellegrini, who turns 20 in March, has been assigned as the first DP following his purchase from Estudiantes for a reported fee of $6-9 million. We’ll assume Pellegrini is a big talent whose upside and transfer fee will grow during his time at Inter Miami.
Shortly after Alonso was announced, Argentine journalist Diego Paulich named San Lorenzo midfielder Manuel Insaurralde as being in Inter’s sites. Insaurralde, 20, played two seasons at San Lorenzo and has five appearances for Argentina’s U-20 side. His limited experience suggests he wouldn’t sign as a DP.
As for those two spots, we’ve been teased thus far with some of the biggest names in South America, none of whom seem likely in 2020. They include Uruguay forwards Edison Cavani, who is expected to move from Paris St. Germain to Atletico Madrid this month, and Barcelona’s Luis Suarez, who at age 32, is playing well enough to extend his time at Camp Nou. Colombia’s James Rodriguez is playing on the fringes at Real Madrid and rumor has him moving to Everton with Carlo Ancelotti in January.
Manchester City’s Spanish midfielder David Silva hasn’t been dismissed just yet. Silva wouldn’t be available until May or June, following the European season, should he elect to move to South Florida. Chelsea winger Pedro, once of Barcelona, is the newest Spaniard to be rumored to play in Fort Lauderdale.
The announcement of Alonso as coach came a day after the Liga MX Apertura final in Mexico, in which his most recent club, Monterrey, defeated Club America in penalty kicks after reaching a 3-3 stalemate over two legs. Of the two sides, Monterrey played a more cohesive brand of soccer to overcome a 2-0 halftime deficit in the second leg before 72,000 mostly America fans fans at Estadio Azteca.
Alonso was replaced in October by Antonio Mohamed, when the Rayados sat in 12th place after 12 games of the Apertura (opening) season. Monterrey won the 2019 CONCACAF Champions Cup under Alonso and it was his players who won the league under Mohamed.
There are no reports of any Monterrey players joining Alonso at Inter Miami, but one of them – Argentine striker Rogelio Funes Mori – would seem well suited and perhaps more attainable than those rich imports from Europe. Funes Mori, 28, scored 16 goals in all competitions during the Apertura, including a spectacular bicycle-kick goal in stoppage time of the first leg of the final. His second goal silenced Azteca and tied the series on aggregate to force overtime.
Funes Mori trained for a year at the FC Dallas youth academy in 2008 and played briefly at River Plate and Benfica before settling at Monterrery in 2015. He has an estimated market value of $8 million according to the site https://www.transfermarkt.us. A second Monterrey forward, Colombia’s Dorlan Pabon, might intrigue, as well. Pabon turns 32 in January and is valued at $3.42 million according to Transfer Market. He captained Monterrey during the Apertura, scoring seven goals in all competitions as a right-sided forward.
Earlier reports had Club America forward Roger Martinez being considered. Martinez, also Colombian, stood apart early in the MX final with his pace and skill, but faded in the second half with several sloppy giveaways and was subbed before overtime. He scored twice in the Apertura and is valued at $5.7 million. Spanish club Villarreal owns half his rights.
Whether the next big catch plays in Mexico, South America, or Europe, Inter Miami is on the clock to sign at least one DP in January. Anything less will dim Alonso’s prospects to win early and often, and dampen the buzz when training camp starts in the coming weeks.
In the nearly two decades between the end of the Miami Fusion and the launch of Inter Miami, local knowledge of MLS players has gone from “very knowledgeable” to “who are Ben Sweat, Mikey Ambrose, Grant Lillard and Luis Argudo?” The short answer is they are among the 18 mostly unfamiliar names acquired so far by Inter Miami with the bigger signings – and the naming of a coach – still to come.
The longer answer is that they and the others – Robles, Powell, Nguyen, Ulloa, DeLaGarza, Pellegrini, Carranza, Makoun, Kiesewetter, Chapman, Norman, Acosta, McCarthy and Meredith – will provide the core of Inter’s roster for the MLS opener at Los Angeles FC on March 1, and at home to the L.A. Galaxy on March 14 at the new Lockhart Stadium site. Inter will add to its roster at the MLS SuperDraft of college players on Jan. 13, where it has the first pick.
Since that beautifully doomed 2001 Fusion team was disbanded while in peak form, the ones we used to know – Pablo Mastroeni, Preki, Diego Serna, Ian Bishop, and most recently goalkeeper Nick Rimando – have all retired, many into coaching or front-office roles. Rimando finished his record-setting MLS run last year, 19 seasons after getting his debut in Ray Hudson’s first game as coach in 2000.
Only midfielder Kyle Beckerman remains, at age 37, with Real Salt Lake. Like Rimando, Beckerman has been an indelible American player in MLS, with 488 games and 40,772 minutes to his name. Just three of those games totaling 124 minutes came with the Fusion as a teenager.
After the Fusion was officially abandoned on the morning of Jan. 9, 2002, the team’s followers, including myself, moved on to other teams in other leagues, with cable TV and streaming services feeding the interest. MLS existed on the fringe as the closest league geographically, but distant in the pecking order behind La Liga, the Premier League, Serie A, etc.
Long after it seemed MLS would never return to the historic Lockhart site, Inter Miami begins the next chapter as part of a 26-team league that is on course to triple in size since the Fusion’s demise. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney have moved on, but Carlos Vela (LAFC) and Josef Martinez (Atlanta) return as the leading goleadores from 2019. Inter Miami is expected to enrich the international player pool in 2020 with the addition of at least two designated players, with Manchester City’s David Silva reportedly still a target.
The internationals are easy enough to pick out in MLS. That still leaves the question, who is Ben Sweat and the other squad players who are expected to provide quality throughout the roster? Sweat’s bio page at the Inter Miami website lists him as a 6-foot-2 left back, age 28, from Palm Harbor, near Tampa. He played 78 games over three seasons at New York City FC and made two appearances for the U.S. National Team in 2018. More telling, he has nine career assists, suggesting he’s accustomed to joining the attack.
Sweat and a handful of MLS veterans – midfielders Lee Nguyen (239 MLS games) and Victor Ulloa (170), defenders A.J. DeLaGarza (261) and Alvas Powell (134), and goalkeeper Luis Robles (238) – appear to be savvy selections by Sporting Director Paul McDonough. Their experience is a counter-weight for the signings of three South Americans, each just 19: Argentine attackers Matias Pellegrini and Julian Carranza, and Venezuelan defender Christian Makoun.
McDonough did the start-ups for new teams in Orlando City and Atlanta United, so he knows how to work a system that is unique to MLS. Atlanta won the MLS Cup in its second season and Inter is also expected to compete for trophies on an accelerated timeline.
The first challenge in year one is to give fans an exciting and winning game-night experience that makes them feel as though their time and money are well spent. Any success beyond that will depend on how well the first coach pieces together players he didn’t select, and the quality of the star talent that has yet to sign.
Please see additional Jeff Rusnak articles below.
Images of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers from the late '77 through their departure to Minnesota.
Covers NASL Soccer Bowl games 1978, 1979, 1980
Along with NASL Friendlies, and WC games against Canada and Mexico.
Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium!
From its days as The Striker's home pitch, through the Fort Lauderdale Sun and the 2nd generation of the NASL Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
Now with its Demolition,
Inter-Miami CF plans for the New
Long-time South Florida Sun-Sentinel soccer columnist Jeff Rusnak joins to discuss the rich past, transitional present and promising future of one of American pro soccer’s most venerable, yet historically underrated venues – Ft. Lauderdale, Florida’s Lockhart Stadium.
The history of soccer in South Florida shows that virtually every team that started in Miami has ended up re-locating to Fort Lauderdale, dating all the way to the Miami Toros of the NASL. In the case of the Miami Fusion and Inter Miami, the two Major League Soccer franchises awarded here, they will have played in Fort Lauderdale before even kicking a ball in their city of origin.
The Miami Fusion played at Lockhart Stadium for four seasons (1998-2001) before MLS owners contracted the club. Inter Miami is scheduled to play its first two seasons at a new Lockhart beginning in 2020. But it’s just as likely that Inter will have no choice but to stay longer, at least three seasons and maybe more now that its proposed stadium site at Miami Freedom Park has been deemed unfit for human activity.
This week, the Miami Herald broke the news that the dirt under Inter Miami’s proposed stadium site, at what is now the Melreese golf course, is contaminated with high levels of arsenic and other toxic debris. Whether the 131–acre site, dubbed the “Beckham stadium site” by the Herald, is salvageable as a commercial property is the first question in a series of questions that have no answers at this time.
The City of Miami closed Melreese until further tests are completed. How long those tests will take and what new knowledge is gleaned by environmental experts will chart the future course for Inter Miami owners Jorge Mas and David Beckham. In the meantime, a slew of new questions are lined up like dominoes that lead through Lockhart.
What if the cost to clean Melreese is prohibitive, well beyond the estimated $35 million that Inter Miami is prepared to pay? And what if it can’t be cleaned for commercial use and Mas/Beckham have to find another site in Miami-Dade County? And what if, while this drags on, Inter Miami does what Atlanta United FC and Los Angeles FC have done as MLS start-ups – play exciting, winning soccer in front of large home crowds.
What then, if Lockhart proves a viable, long-term home for an elite franchise that will reportedly sign Paris St. Germain attacker Edinson Cavani as its first star attraction, with his Uruguay strike mate Luis Suarez rumored to join him before too long?
Assuming the Melreese site does get cleaned up, there’s no escaping that it will be branded with the taint of disease. What comes next may also be tainted by the politics of converting public land for private use. Inter paid for the first study by the consulting company EE&G, and will pay for the second, as required by the City. It’s been suggested that Inter Miami will use the reports to lower the value of the property for a stadium and commercial complex projected to cost $1 billion. Miami commissioners will be entrusted to be the honest brokers in making sense of the next analysis of Melreese soil and deciding what the land is worth.
Whatever the outcome, Inter’s original timeline of debuting in Miami in 2022 will be bogged down over discussions over how much it will cost to clean the site, who will pay, and how long it will take before getting a clean bill of health. This much may be certain amid all the questions: Should Cavani and/or Suarez sign, they may spend their entire time with Inter Miami playing at Lockhart and never set foot in the 25,000-seat stadium imagined for Freedom Park.
With Lionel Messi back home and an opponent that isn’t considered a global brand, Barcelona’s 2-1 win over Napoli at Hard Rock Stadium couldn’t match the sense of occasion of the La Liga title-holder’s El Classico friendly against Real Madrid two years earlier in this same stadium. And even so, the night was a revelation for a South Florida soccer community that treats Barcelona as its own.
The crowd of 57,062 was impressive enough for a Wednesday night during rainy season, but the larger takeaway was the sea of Barcelona merchandise that ringed a stadium that is one of the world’s best for the world’s game. The Blaugrana shirts that filled the seats came in all sizes and sponsorship affiliations – Unicef, Qatar Foundation, Qatar Airlines, and the latest kit with Rakuten splayed across the chest.
Even without Messi to animate a game as only he can, the stateside faithful got what they paid for, a wide open game with chances from both sides. Barca won it on goals from Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic sandwiched around an own goal from Samuel Umtiti, backed up by a handful of spectacular saves from the new second goalkeeper, Neto.
Football played like what Barcelona and Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli showed us Wednesday is welcome here anytime.
The reality, of course, is this is not Barcelona’s home stadium, just one of several around the globe that serves as a satellite branch to the iconic Camp Nou. We are home now to the new Major League Soccer team, Inter Miami, which begins play at a new Lockhart Stadium complex in March 2020. Imagined by David Beckham and bankrolled by Miami business titan Jorge Mas and a handful of fellow billionaires, Inter Miami will attempt to do what no other professional team has done yet in South Florida – survive.
As with every hugely attended and festive friendly played here, the question we ask ourselves once again is whether the crowd that paid to see Barcelona-Napoli will pay to see its own team, in this case Inter Miami, first in Fort Lauderdale for at least two seasons, and then the permanent home at Miami’s Freedom Park, assuming that project goes to plan.
It’s the eternal struggle for South Florida teams, whether they play in Fort Lauderdale or Miami: Turning fans who swoon at a lineup packed with world-class talent – Suarez, Griezmann, Pique, and the electrified French wingman Ousmane Dembele – into ticket buyers for a team with much less star appeal playing in a U.S. league.
We’ll find out in due time, but early signs are promising. Inter Miami reports more than 8,000 season-ticket deposits to go along with the signings of three promising young players from neighboring South America – Matias Pellegrini and Julian Carranza from Argentina, and Venezuelan youth international Christian Makoun. Sporting Director Paul McDonough has said Inter will sign three Designated Players of international pedigree, with names such as Luis Suarez and James Rodriguez being cycled through the rumor mill.
There’s no available data on how many of those 8,000 deposits are based in Broward, Miami-Dade or Palm Beach counties. And remember, deposits are an early show of support, not a final purchase with full-blooded commitment. In the meantime, Brazil will play Colombia in an upcoming friendly on Sept. 6 at Hard Rock.
That crowd will likely surpass the count for Barca-Napoli and the question will come again – how many of them will be at Lockhart next year to watch a team that is ours for what we hope is a lifetime of seasons, not just one game?
1977-1983 Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Interesting story on Broward's first Pro Sports Team. Please visit this and other articles on Florida soccer teams
Courtesy and Thanks to NASL 1968-1984 SOCCER HISTORY
Tim Robbie and Jeff Rusnak on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
Ray Hudson on the Miami Fusion
Courtesy of MLS Insider, MLSSOCCER.com
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