EPISODE #112: The Once & Future Soccer Legacy of Ft. Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium – With Jeff Rusnak

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.

Originally built in 1959 as an American football and track venue for four high schools in the region and named after a former city commissioner, the modest bleacher-constructed Lockhart was unwittingly transformed into the country’s first de facto “soccer specific stadium” when the (original) North American Soccer League’s Miami Toros moved 32 miles north from the cavernous Orange Bowl to become 1977’s Ft. Lauderdale Strikers.

The Strikers became a South Florida sports phenomenon during their seven NASL seasons at the crackerbox Lockhart, boasting world-class talent (Gordon Banks, Gerd Müller, Teófilo Cubillas, George Best) and magnetic personalities (Ron Newman, Ray Hudson) that quickly endeared the club and the sport to an adoring fan base.

Numerous lower division clubs kept the soccer flame alive after the Strikers moved (to Minnesota in 1983) and the NASL died – until 1998, when Major League Soccer investor-operator Ken Horowitz debuted the curiously-named “Miami” Fusion expansion franchise at a refurbished Lockhart, featuring Colombian star Carlos Valderrama.  Despite winning the MLS Supporters’ Shield in 2001 under the dynamic coaching of former Striker fan-favorite Hudson, the league contracted the Fusion after just four season – and the stadium again became the intermittent home to lower-league teams (and even FAU college football) until 2016.

But Lockhart refuses to give up the ghost, as an aggressive demolition and rebuild of the abandoned facility now becomes the focal point of a new David Beckham/Jorge Mas-owned MLS franchise called Inter Miami CF set to debut in 2020 – sans a permanent home in the city of Miami proper. 

Will Lockhart again rekindle the original Striker magic – perhaps even permanently?

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EPISODE #66: Sports Broadcaster JP Dellacamera

Fox Sports soccer play-by-play broadcaster extraordinaire JP Dellacamera joins the podcast this week to discuss a pioneering career in sports announcing spanning over 30 years – including calling this year’s 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia – his ninth consecutive men’s quadrennial assignment since Mexico ’86.

Widely acknowledged as the original voice of US Soccer, Dellacamera’s calls have become synonymous with some of modern-day American soccer’s most indelible moments – including his accounts of the US Women’s National Team’s dramatic penalty kick shootout victory over China in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and Paul Caligiuri’s historic “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” against Trinidad & Tobago in the final game of 1989 CONCACAF qualifying that punched the US Men’s National Team’s ticket for Italy ’90 – ending a 40-year World Cup finals drought, and reorienting the sport’s trajectory in the ‘States for decades to come.

The road to broadcasting global soccer’s marquee events has by no means been a straight and narrow one, however, and we (of course) chat with Dellacamera about some of the more memorable “forgotten” stops made along the way, including:

  • Talking his way into his professional debut calling local TV games for the 1978 NASL expansion Detroit Express;
  • Handling radio play-by-play for the American Soccer League’s ALPO dog food-sponsored Pennsylvania Stoners;
  • Parlaying years of minor league hockey broadcast experience into lead announcing duties for indoor soccer’s Pittsburgh Spirit of the fledgling MISL;
  • Cementing his stature as the voice of US women’s soccer as the play-by-play lead for the 2001 launch of the WUSA; and   
  • Returning to his first love of pro hockey – finally at the NHL level – with the short-lived Atlanta Thrashers.  

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EPISODE #64: American Soccer’s “Dark Ages” with Writer Michael J. Agovino

It wasn’t easy being a soccer fan in the United States in the 1980s. 

While the 24-team North American American Soccer League ushered in the decade with an air of stability and momentum (the NASL even sold a pennant labeling the game the “Sport of the 80’s”), it wasn’t long before big-time American pro soccer was dangerously on the ropes (the NASL shrank to just nine franchises by 1984) – and then seemingly gone for good when the league officially sank into oblivion in early 1985.  For a nascent generation of US fans newly hooked on the world’s “beautiful game,” it felt like an abandonment – and an air of disillusionment beset the American soccer scene in the immediate years that followed. 

For Bronx-born writer Michael J. Agovino (The Soccer Diaries: An American's Thirty-Year Pursuit of the International Game), the demise of the NASL and its global flagship New York Cosmos franchise was simply the last nail in the coffin of his soccer “coming of age” during the early 80s – the conclusion of an arc of tragedies: the US Soccer Federation’s unsuccessful bid to replace Colombia as host of the 1986 World Cup; the US national team’s failure to even qualify for the quadrennial event; and the unfathomable death of 41 fans in a riot at the 1985 European Cup Final in Brussels’ Heysel Stadium. 

As Agovino framed it: “Soccer – my new friend – was dead.”

Undaunted, Agovino’s love affair with soccer persisted, while Americans slowly got wise – qualifying for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, hosting the event in 1994, and re-birthing the pro game with Major League Soccer in 1996 – and ultimately turned it into one of the most popular sports in the country.

We chat with Agovino about US soccer’s mid-1980s “dark ages” and subsequent phoenix-like rise from seeming oblivion, including memorable stops like: New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal; the NASL’s Trans-Atlantic Challenge Cup; the 1991 Cosmos Reunion Game; Tony Tirado’s lyrical Spanish (and broken English) SIN-TV broadcasts; “Soccer Made in Germany;” and the legacy/enigma of Giants Stadium.

Thanks Audible, SportsHistoryCollectibles.com and Podfly and for your support of the show!

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EPISODE #40: The Three Acts of Pro Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes with Columnist Gary Singh

Long-time Metro Silicon Valley columnist and San Jose, California native Gary Singh (The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy) joins host Tim Hanlon to discuss the confusing journey and three distinct incarnations of one of American soccer’s most colorful and persistent professional franchises.  

As one of four West Coast expansion teams (along with the Los Angeles Aztecs, Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps) added for the North American Soccer League’s breakthrough 1974 season, the original San Jose Earthquakes were an immediate hit both on the field (finishing second in the all-new Western Division, and led by the league’s leading scorer Paul Child) and in the stands, where they drew in excess of 15,000 fans a game to a less-than-modern Spartan Stadium – more than double the league average.  Though never regular championship contenders, the ‘Quakes cultivated a rabidly loyal fan base that became the envy of clubs across the league – until the NASL’s ultimate demise ten years later. 

Elements of the club soldiered on semi-professionally in the following years, but the appellation (along with some of the previous cast) returned in earnest in 1999, when the management of San Jose’s struggling (and unpopularly named) Major League Soccer “Clash” sought to rekindle some of the original magic – and by 2001, the second iteration of the Earthquakes were contending for and winning MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield titles.   

However, stymied by an inability to construct a soccer-specific stadium in the area, owner-operator Anschutz Entertainment Group pulled up stakes and relocated the club to Houston for 2006 – taking further championships with them.  Nonplussed San Jose fans revolted – and a new “expansion” franchise was quickly announced by MLS officials, with plenty of structural caveats that ensured today’s now-third incarnation of the ‘Quakes rightfully retains all of its accumulated heritage and rich legacy.

Thank you Audible and Podfly for your support of this week’s show!

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EPISODE #24: Soccer “Renaissance Man” Dr. Joe Machnik

Fox Sports soccer rules analyst and newly minted National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Joe Machnik (So You Want to Be a Goalkeeper; So Now You Are a Goalkeeper) has done just about everything across the American soccer landscape in his 60+ year career.  As a player, coach, referee, administrator, match commissioner, and soccer camp (No.1 Soccer Camps) pioneer, “Dr. Joe” has had a direct hand in helping achieving some of the sport’s major milestones in the US at virtually every level – amateur, collegiate, professional, and international.  Entwined within that legacy were memorable stops in oft-forgotten places like the original Major Indoor Soccer League, the scrappy American Indoor Soccer Association, and the chaotic early days of Major League Soccer – all of which host Tim Hanlon obsessively grills Machnik on in this episode, including his:

  • Instrumental role in crafting and codifying the professional indoor soccer rulebook for the MISL;
  • Championing of the MISL’s novel move to hire full-time professional referees;
  • Indisputable memory of the 1981 MISL All-Star Game at New York’s Madison Square Garden, and its role in helping birth Arena Football;
  • Coaching travails with the once-mighty New York Arrows, depleted by major player trades and an ownership change;
  • Frequent bus rides in the decidedly minor league AISA; AND
  • Fortuitous friendship with an AISA arena owner in Rockford, IL that led to a pivotal role in stabilizing the launch of Major League Soccer.

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