The Fort Lauderdale Strikers announced today that local products Gonzalo De Mujica and Manny Gonzalez have re-signed with the club for the 2014 North American Soccer League (NASL) season. As per club policy, the terms of the deals were not disclosed.
Midfielders De Mujica and Gonzalez, both 23, will remain with the Strikers in 2014 after promising rookie seasons with their hometown club. The pair grew up in South Florida and their signings reinforce the Strikers commitment to the local community and the growth of the game in South Florida.
Gonzalez featured regularly for the Strikers in 2013, operating in a defensive midfield role in front of the back four. In his first year as a professional, Gonzalez made 12 starts in 17 league appearances for the Strikers, logging 1,080 minutes and tallying two assists.
"Manny Gonzalez showed tremendous potential and progress last season,” said Strikers Managing Director Tim Robbie. “We expect him to continue to improve and play a key role in our midfield next season."
De Mujica made three starts in nine league appearances for the Strikers in 2013, playing a total of 250 minutes in his first professional season. De Mujica also made a substitute appearance in the U.S. Open Cup Second Round match versus Laredo Heat, scoring his kick in the dramatic penalty shootout victory.
"We are fortunate to have a number of young local players who have bright futures ahead of them,” said Robbie. “Gonzalo de Mujica is a player who should see an increasing role on our team as he continues to develop and gain confidence."
Both De Mujica and Gonzalez originally signed their first professional contracts with the Strikers on January 31, 2013.
For the latest information on player signings during the offseason, stay tuned to Strikers.com. Remember to like us on Facebook.com/FTLStrikers and follow the Strikers on Twitter @FTLStrikers.
The 2013 Fort Lauderdale Strikers realized their best attendance of their modern-era NASL life, increasing average game-day attendance by about 500 fans a game over the 2011 season, including a team-high 7,653 fans against the Cosmos on September 21 at historic Lockhart Stadium. On the field, the team faced some adversity during the Spring campaign, dealing with injuries to key players, which led to an inability to find the back of the net, forcing the club to make a coaching change halfway through the year; a change that would once again give hope to the faithful fans.
A Tale of Two Seasons
The Strikers began the 2013 Spring season with high hopes. With the return of two of their top producers from 2012, midfielder Mark Anderson and forward Walter Restrepo, head coach Daryl Shore was hoping to improve on the 2012 campaign, which resulted in a winning season and a spot in the NASL playoffs. Unfortunately, Restrepo was coming off knee surgery and never seemed to regain his form from 2012, when he led the league in assists. Anderson dealt with nagging injuries that kept him out of the majority of the matches in 2013.
It took the Strikers five matches before finding their first win of the year, a 2-1 victory at home against Minnesota United FC, which featured goals by Anderson and fellow Brit David Foley. Until the victory, the team had managed only three goals while allowing eight, and Shore knew he had to make a change at goalkeeper. Real Salt Lake of MLS loaned the Strikers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella, who in the previous year had played with the Tampa Bay Rowdies and was named to the 2012 NASL Best 11. During his brief four-game stint in Fort Lauderdale, Attinella managed a 2-1-1 record, including a 1-0 shutout at FC Edmonton.
After a 4-1 loss at home against the San Antonio Scorpions and only two wins in the team's first 11 games, Strikers management decided a change was needed and head coach Daryl Shore was dismissed. The team finished the season with a 4-0 loss at Tampa Bay and a record of 2W-2T-8L, while managing only 10 goals and allowing 24 in 12 games.
After a much-needed break to regroup and search for a new head coach, the Strikers found Austrian coach Günter Kronsteiner, who was available and willing to take on the challenge of taking the league’s last-place team in a new direction.
“I like the way they (the Strikers) play, and what everyone is able to do by themselves,” coach Kronsteiner said when he addressed the media prior to the season. “There’s a lot of potential, and now we just have to bring them (the players) together.”
Kronsteiner brought a wealth of experience, having coached and managed several teams in the Austrian Bundesliga, including Austria Vienna, whom he led to the Quarterfinals of the UEFA Cup in 2005.
With only three weeks to prepare for the first game of the Fall Season against the New York Cosmos, coach Kronsteiner made some changes to the starting team and brought in a few new players. Among those were two loanees from FC Dallas of MLS, Richard Sanchez and Bradlee Baladez. Both players had a positive impact on the team and were an integral part of the Fall season.
The Fall season opener took place in New York, as the Strikers welcomed back their rivals from the old NASL, the New York Cosmos. The Strikers gave up a 90th minute goal to give the Cosmos a 2-1 victory at Hofstra University’s James M Shuart Stadium in front of a sell-out crowd of 11,929 fans, including some Strikers faithful who made the trek to New York. While the result of the match was not what the Strikers were hoping for, the team looked like a much-improved squad than the one that gave up eight goals in the final two games of the Spring Season.
With some tough defending and some great goalkeeping by Sanchez, the team won three consecutive games, including two tough road wins in San Antonio and Atlanta. Sanchez had three consecutive shutouts and was just eight minutes shy of breaking the team record for consecutive shutout minutes with 353, before giving up a controversial goal in a 1-1 tie at Edmonton.
After stringing together a five-game unbeaten streak, the Strikers were defeated by the Cosmos again, this time at Lockhart Stadium in front of 7,653 fans, a home record for the modern-era Strikers. The team was still in the hunt for the Soccer Bowl, needing to win the Fall Season in order to secure the berth.
However, the team struggled to find goals and won just two of their last six games, finishing the season with a 5-3-6 record for 18 points, good enough for fifth place in the table.
Despite not making the Soccer Bowl, the players were excited about the outlook for 2014.
“It takes some times to put a team together,” said Stephane Guillaume. “In the Fall season we started to get better, so hopefully next year we can try to bring a championship here.”
“We have been improving, and it’s only going to get better from here,” said Stephan Antonijevic. “I know what this team’s history is and what it’s capable of.”
Diverse Backgrounds Come Together
The 2013 Strikers were an extremely diverse squad, with players from 14 different countries on the roster. Even the coaching staff was diverse, with head coach Kronsteiner coming From Austria, assistant coach Raoul Voss from Germany and assistant coach Ricardo Lopes from Brazil.
“We all come from a lot of different places,” Antonijevic said. “It’s almost like a little buffet, a little taste of everything.”
Despite different backgrounds, the team came together in the locker room and on the field.
“I love it every day coming in and hearing Portuguese, Spanish, Finnish, English, or German,” Antonijevic added. “We’ve built chemistry and unity, and the team experience has been phenomenal.”
Strikers Step It Up Off the Field
The Strikers made over 350 appearances throughout the community in 2013. The players and front-office staff, often including team President Tom Mulroy, visited schools, soccer clubs, community organizations, special events and more, ensuring that all segments of the South Florida community were involved in the club's community outreach initiative. The results were increased brand awareness and an increase in attendance for the Strikers.
“It’s important for the Strikers to give back to the community,” said Mulroy. “The Strikers have a long tradition of involvement with our fans.Our players stay on the field after games and sign autographs for the fans, whether it’s a win or a loss, and they’re involved with different causes and groups throughout South Florida. They’re proud of being part of the Strikers and always happy to give back. We look to continue with this philosophy and look to touch as many fans throughout the area as we can.”
The Future Looks Bright
Now that the offseason is here, the Strikers are evaluating the past and looking towards the future. The coaches are evaluating the players and will determine in the next week or so which players will be returning for the 2014 season. The Strikers anticipate that the majority of the core group of players from the 2013 roster will be returning next season, including several who do not have options in their contracts for 2014.
By the final game of the 2013 season, the team had already renewed more than one-third of its season ticket base. The Strikers will play at historic Lockhart Stadium in 2014 and will continue to work on stadium plans for the future.
“We have to be patient and little by little we’re going to get better,” added Antonijevic. “And one of these days we’re going to bring home a championship.”
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