The Fort Lauderdale Strikers are on a roll. The team is undefeated in its last five NASL matches and Coach Günter Kronsteiner after a rocky start to his second stint as Manager of the club has figured out how best to use his incredibly talented side. The Austrian Manager had to adjust his tactical setup to the personnel he inherited which features several young Brazilian players, after only securing seven points in as many matches to begin the NASL Spring Season. In the last four games, since Kronsteiner shuffled things around and also secured the signings of former English Premier League midfielder Hendry Thomas and Right back Jonathan Borrajo, the Strikers have won 10 points in four matches.
Head Coach Günter Kronsteiner told me after the Strikers emphatic 7-1 over Indy Eleven on August 29 that he felt Borrajo had given his team the type of width going forward they previously lacked. He also felt that with the signing of Thomas, he had the best shield in NASL. Thomas will regularly pair with Haitian International James Marcelin, one of the standout performers in the CONCACAF Gold Cup for his nation as a two man midfield shield in front of the Strikers back four. Marcelin stood out especially in Haiti’s 1-0 loss to the United States, a game where the Haitians out shot the heavily-favored Americans and created more serious chances to score.
Fort Lauderdale enters a three-game home stand that begins Wendesday against Jacksonville, before facing Ottawa and Minnesota only two points out of the 4th and final spot in NASL Championship currently held by the rival Tampa Bay Rowdies. A Strikers win on Wednesday will give Fort Lauderdale control of its own destiny for a spot in the postseason.
Off the pitch, the Strikers under Ricardo Geromel continue to grow in stature. New corporate partnerships including shirt sponsor Azul Airlines (A Brazilian airline that serves Fort Lauderdale and Orlando) has come on board. The club now has every match broadcast on WSFL Channel 39, whether home or away except for midweek games which are bumped to a secondary channel and shown nationally on One World Sports as part of the NASL’s league-wide TV deal.
The team now has a minimum three weekly radio shows (with a potential fourth starting in the near future), and a growing media presence. The announcement that Miami will have an NASL team next season has worried some fans, especially when considering according to a former team employee the Strikers had about a quarter of its fans last year driving north from Miami-Dade County.
The entrance of Miami FC to NASL means Fort Lauderdale will not only have a local rival, but will have to work doubly hard to secure its fan base. That’s probably a good thing, because signs of the Strikers improvement both on and off the field are readily visible. The Strikers are growing the brand locally and are almost certain to set a record for attendance for the current iteration of the club (since 2006). The overall attendance record for any Fort Lauderdale Strikers team remains a long way off, but the team’s building blocks plus the league’s stated desire to reach co-D1 status with MLS could prompt even more interest in the team which reaches the heights of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.