Historic Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium
Jon van Woerden Photography
The New Lockhart Courtesy of Inter-Miami CF
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?
There have been a lot of firsts for Inter Miami CF over the past few months. With the new club set to finally play in March, it’s time to finally set in motion plans that have been built over years. The MLS team signed its first two players just a couple weeks ago and on Monday unveiled Heineken as its first major commercial partnership.
The beer company has a similar partnership with several other MLS teams and will have signage and intellectual property rights as the official beer of Inter Miami.
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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