Popular Head Coach Günter Kronsteiner has left his post at Manager of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers for the second time in eleven months. The Manager posted on social media he was no longer the Manager and this is confirmed by multiple sources. The last few weeks have been a confusing time for Strikers fans as the very talented team moved toward a possible NASL title with a coach that appeared to be a lame duck if he did not win the league championship. The Strikers are one of only two NASL clubs to make four postseason appearances in the league’s short five year history, but still have not claimed an NASL title.
Multiple sources also confirm that the Strikers will not be caught flat-footed like last season when Kronsteiner’s departure led to a two-month long search for a replacement, finally settling on well-respected local Marcelo Neveleff who was a part-time employee keeping his role at Weston FC, a youth club which has a bigger budget for coaches than the local professional team. The Strikers have already begun contacting coaches to fill out a staff, presumably for Caio Zanardi the Technical Director who will likely succeed Kronsteiner. Zanardi’s resume is impressive with global experience, but one of my pet peeves is how foreign managers and owners tend to look down on American soccer and feel they can make an impact without knowing the terrain – Jacksonville learned this the hard way this season, as have any number of teams in the past (I would argue Orlando City arrogantly thought bringing loads of foreign players into MLS would ensure success this season as well and had to quickly change directions with the team floundering on the field during the summer – more on that soon).
Kronsteiner’s sacking last year was unfair and unjust and due in large measure to an ownership group that could not find its feet. He took a under talented squad and won big with them. He got the most out of every single player on that plucky upstart team that feel just short of winning the NASL title, losing 2-1 in San Antonio in the championship game. That team lacked depth and at critical positions, front-line talent, but Kronsteiner got them to play over their heads for much of the season and almost had a Cinderella ending a year ago tonight in South Texas.
This season however, it could argued that other coaches may have done better with this team. In the view of many who follow NASL Fort Lauderdale had one of the three most talented sides in the league, and in my opinion had 5 of the 15 best players in the league . Those who point to Neveleff’s struggles in the Spring season (he last nine games before Kronsteiner was rehired) might also forget that the Strikers upgraded the squad with three impact players over the summer. One was midfielder Hendry Thomas, a player that started for three seasons in the English Premier League and many games in Major League Soccer. He also played in a World Cup for Honduras. The team also signed a veteran of the UEFA Champions League and Brazil Nat’l Team in Gabriel that they didn’t have in the Spring. In Thomas, James Marcelin, PC, Marlon Freitas and NASL Golden Ball winner (MVP) Stefano, I would argue the Strikers had more outstanding players this season than any other team in the league. While I touted the Strikers talent early in the season and was laughed at, many who cover other teams in the league came around to my view by the time October rolled around.
The team also signed Jonathan Borrajo this summer, and he proved a huge upgrade at right back. Kronsteiner deserves credit as the majority of other managers that could be hired on an NASL budget could and would have done worse with this set of players. However I do believe a few could do better than him with this set of players the Strikers had, and that appears to be a view the team shares. But is Caio Zanardi one of those Managers? Maybe, but it is unlikely, because acclimating to American leagues, American players and the extensive and difficult travel and scheduling requires real experience in this country, which Zanardi lacks. Since big-name American/Canadian Managers like Frank Yallop and Jason Kreis are on the market some rife speculation has begun. But chances are they would not take an NASL job except under perfect circumstances and would almost certainly turn down Fort Lauderdale with its foreign owners and peculiar soccer setup. Thus Zanardi appears to be the likely successor and he will be under the gun to find the sort of success that Kronsteiner enjoyed even if he did not win a title.
Zanardi’s shortcomings can be remedied by the hiring of a good staff that understands NASL, USL and MLS and knows the American player. Kronsteiner was rare for a foreign manager that came fresh to NASL in that he learned the league and its nuances. While this season the Strikers fell short, some of that can be attributed to the odd scheduling of the league with random Wednesday games and the long travel which sent Fort Lauderdale twice cross-continent to Edmonton on commercial flights, but just once on a short bus ride up I-95 to Jacksonville.
Sources indicate to me that Kronsteiner is a leading candidate for multiple open jobs currently in NASL. He will likely face off with the Strikers next season and if Zanardi is the man tapped for the job, he better hope he can motivate the team to perform at a higher level than the club which lands the former Fort Lauderdale boss.
Stay tuned, as the Strikers continue to be one of the nation’s most intriguing circuses of a football club.