The history of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers begins long before some of the greatest names in international soccer graced the pitch at Lockhart Stadium. The team even reaches back to a time before the North American Soccer League.
The Strikers featured no shortage of amazing talent with players like George Best, Gordon Banks, Gerd Müller, Bernd Hölzenbein, Ray Hudson, Nene Cubillas and Jan van Beveren, in the red and yellow bumble bee kit. But, before we get there we start with humble beginnings.
Soccer in South Florida began in 1972 with the formation of the Miami Gatos. Led by players Warren Archibald, Roberto Aguirre and Willie Evans, the team played in the first division of the North American Soccer League (NASL). After one year as the Gatos, the team was renamed the Miami Toros. The Toros had a very successful
1974 campaign in which they made it to the championship game led by First-Team All-Stars Roberto Aguirre and Ronnie Sharp. With league MVP players two out of four years in Warren Archibald (1973) and Steve David (1975) the Toros left an impression on the NASL, but what would follow in 1977 would change the landscape of professional soccer in South Florida forever.
The Glory Days
In 1977, after five years of playing in Miami, the Toros moved to Broward County and became the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The Strikers became one of the most recognizable teams in the NASL with their red-and- gold hooped uniforms. Fan support for the team was so great that the Strikers’ home, Lockhart Stadium, had to be expanded from 8,000 to 11,000 seats, and again to 15,000 to accommodate the large crowds.
On the road, a playoff game between the Strikers and New York Cosmos drew 77,691, a record which still stands for a U.S. Pro-League soccer match in the United States.
The high point of the Strikers’ time in the NASL came in 1980 with an appearance in the league’s championship, the Soccer Bowl against the New York Cosmos.
Between 1977-1983, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers fielded many of the best players in the world. These players include global soccer legends like Teofilo “Nene” Cubillas, Gerd Müller, George Best, Gordon Banks and Strikers favorites Ray Hudson, Jan van Beveran, and Colin Fowles. It is this particular generation of Strikers players who have stuck on the conscience of soccer fans all over the world. The NASL Strikers made the playoffs in each of their seven seasons.
After the NASL
The Strikers were relocated to Minnesota, and the Fort Lauderdale Sun replaced the Strikers at Lockhart
Stadium. The team won the USL Championship in 1984 before the short-lived league folded in 1985.
In 1988 the Fort Lauderdale Strikers returned to the professional soccer scene. The team was led by many of the Strikers from the original NASL team including Arnie Mausser, Nene Cubillas, and Ray Hudson. The team competed in the American Soccer League (ASL, 1988-1989) and then the American Professional Soccer League (APSL).
During this period the Strikers enjoyed great success, finishing first in their division in the first four years in the league, including a National Championship in the 1989 season. Several other professional teams surfaced during this period including the Miami Freedom, Miami Sharks, Coral Springs Kicks, and the Boca Raton Sabres.
Major League Soccer
Professional soccer returned to South Florida when Miami was awarded with a Major League Soccer franchise. The Miami Fusion began play in 1998 and spent four seasons in the MLS, making the playoffs three times.
In 2001, the team won the Supporters’ Shield and was Eastern Conference Champion. Many stars played for the Fusion including Ian Bishop, Pablo Mastroeni, Jim Rooney, Alex Pineda Chacon, and Carlos Valderrama. During their most successful season, the Fusion were coached by Strikers’ legend Ray Hudson.
Major League Soccer decided to contract the Fusion, along with the Tampa Bay Mutiny, after the 2001 season.
Traffic Sports USA brought professional soccer back to South Florida with the creation of Miami FC in 2006. Miami FC made headlines when former World Cup winners Romario and Zinho signed for the team. The team contested in the United Soccer League (USL) and made the playoffs the first year of existence.
During the 2010 season, Miami FC announced its intention to honor the legacy of professional soccer in South Florida by rebranding the team as the Strikers. The team was renamed the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and began play during the 2011 North American Soccer League season. The rebrand was a huge success as the team saw increased attendances and fan loyalty. Under the direction of head coach Daryl Shore, the Strikers finished in fourth place in the regular season and qualified for the playoffs for just the first time since the creation of the team in 2006. The Strikers made it all the way to the NASL Championship Series, ultimately finishing runner-up to the NSC Minnesota Stars over a two-game series.