NASL Season Preview: Ft. Lauderdale Strikers

A team that matters to Miami looks to break away from the pack this season
by Daniel Casey   |   Monday, March 18, 2013

Fort Lauderdale Strikers (NASL)

Over the last month, MLS Commissioner Don Garber has made overtures with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins ownership about a potential MLS expansion team in Miami proper.

This move has garnered more than a little bit of criticism simply because there are at least 3 current professional teams in Florida (Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Orlando City) in a stronger and more logical position to join MLS than a from-scratch team backed by mildly successful gridiron culture ownership.

I bring this up because if you are looking for a Miami soccer team, that team is the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. It is telling that Garber should approach the current Dolphins ownership, since it has deep dealings real estate-wise with the current NY2 project that the commissioner has been pushing. I suspect that Garber’s recent flirtation with Miami is a means to get further leverage for the NY2 project. It would make sense for MLS to have a team in Miami but it can’t be forced, which is why the Strikers are Miami’s team.

Former Strikers President Tim Robbie (yes, of the Joe Robbie family, the guy who invented gridiron football in Miami) is actively pursuing a soccer-specific stadium in his new role with the team as director of team personal and stadium development. Robbie is looking to find a way to finance a new stadium or significant renovation of Lockhart Stadium that is independent of public funding. The Strikers have made it a point to build itself both literally and figuratively into the community; success has followed.

In 2012, the Strikers made the NASL playoffs but were eliminated early by the Carolina RailHawks. Although the early exit wasn’t the ideal result for the Strikers, the team had the right to be proud of how they did. But the drive this season will be to break away from the middle of the NASL pack and make a case for themselves to be one of the elite teams in the league. If the team stays healthy, get similar performances from their key starters and find perhaps one more major signing, than Ft. Lauderdale could make a serious challenge.

The defensive line will be iffy for the Strikers this season. Losing longtime leftback stalwart Lance Laing to FC Edmonton is a blow. Fortunately, Toni Stahl (a 2011 Best XI defender) will be returning and working with new signings Shavar Thomas and Ivan Guerrero. The experience brought to the team with the additions of Thomas and Guerrero can’t be underestimated. Jamaican national team captain Thomas has not just experience but success in the Caribbean Championship, US Open Cup, Olympics and Gold Cup.

At 35, Guerrero will be looked to as a mentor and role model for younger defenders like 19-year-old Colombian Daniel Arcila but also for Jack Stewart, Nickardo Blake and Scott Gordon, who will all be vying for minutes to fill out the backline. It’s doubtful that Guerrero will be an every week starter for the entire season. But it’s unclear who will rise to the top of the current defenders. Stewart, Blake and Gordon are all roughly equivalents talent-wise, so it appears that a backline-by-committee situation will arise in Ft. Lauderdale.

Although Ft. Lauderdale signed forward/winger Aly Hassan through 2014, the Strikers have loaned him out to Bolivian side Club Aurora. It will be unfortunate to not see Hassan this coming season, but this loan spell could certainly increase the value and skills of the young player. The Bolivian league (Liga de Futbol Profesional Boiliviano or LFPB and only known to hardcore Football Manager geeks) operates with the same Apertura/Clausura format that the NASL is taking on this season. A return to South Florida for Hassan could come about depending on how he is used in Bolivia and how he performs. In the meantime, the Strikers have picked up forward/winger David Foley.

Most recently with the Puerto Rico Islanders, which have since gone on hiatus for the 2013 season, Foley was a star and one of the best attacking wingers/forwards in the league. He can certainly provide service as well as perform as a deadly poacher. Foley will join resigned forward Andy Herron, loanee Stefan Dimitrov (from the New York Cosmos) and forward/midfielder Mark Anderson. There will probably be more additions to the attacking core with the retirement of Abe Thompson, who had 4 goals and 5 assists in 2012, and the loaning of Hassan. But Herron and Foley should build a solid partnership.

Ft. Lauderdale’s strength will be the malleability of its midfield. In 2012, Matt Anderson became a star, leading the team in goals (11) and being a constant vocal presence on the pitch. But it will have to be decided if Anderson will continue to be played up front or will be pulled back into the midfield. If so, Anderson would pair nicely with playmaker Walter Restrepo (6 goals, 8 assists in 2012). The two, both entering their second full seasons in the NASL with the Strikers, would be the backbone of the midfield.

If not, then Restrepo will have to think creatively as he is surrounded by a mixture of players. Left midfielder Scott Lorenz, defensive midfielder Pecka and Darrell King (a forward who has been played as a rightback but who would probably be most successful as a right winger) who proved themselves as more than able in 2012, but it is still a bit of question mark as to which of them will step-up and perform regularly. New midfield signings, local boys Gonzalo de Mujica and Manny Gonzalez, should get a solid amount of minutes this season due to this situation.

If Anderson is kept in a forward position, then it is likely that he’ll join Foley and Herron in a triple striker attacking line. Such a formation would put serious pressure on opposing defenses, but also a good deal of pressure on Restrepo, who will have to be the field marshal and creative playmaker. Fortunately, the team has a lot of options with Foley and Anderson since both can drop back into more proper midfield positions.

A lot is going to be expected of Anderson this season and I’m not entirely certain that if he is closed down by opponents that Ft. Lauderdale has a response plan. In the same vein, Foley will be expected to produce immediately and regularly. I’ve already mentioned the expectations put to Restrepo and the question of how well and how soon the defensive line will gel with the team. However, there is a lot of talent on this Strikers team and they are helmed by a sure hand in manager Daryl Shore.

Predicted Starting XI

Matt Glaeser; Toni Stahl, Shavar Thomas, Ivan Guererro, Scott Gordon; Mark Anderson, Pecka, Walter Restrepo, Manny Gonzalez; David Foley, Andy Herron

Daniel CASEY

Nationality:
USA
College:
Carthage College Univ. of Notre Dame
Club Domestic:
Chicago Fire & Minnesota Stars
Club Foreign:
Manchester United
Founder/editor of the literary magazine Gently Read Literature, active but barely read poet and literary critic, and an occasional English professor. Never got to play soccer until his mid-30s, so he is routinely schooled by U10 crowd at pick-up games.
DANIEL'S SPONSORS