Mario Noriega, a south Florida entrepreneur is one of the newest big players in the world of local soccer. whose keen interest in local Broward and Miami-Dade County soccer led him to make two attempts earlier this year to purchase the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Noriega’s first attempt in conjunction with existing owner Paulo Cesso was rejected by the NASL Board of Governors while his second sold attempt was withdrawn on the advice of counsel. Noriega despite this setback is rapidly emerging as a player in south Florida soccer circles.
Noriega got his feet wet in helping to build the infrastructure for Miramar United Elite FC (MUEFC). The club is offering scholarships to players at various age groups to help create a system for growth and development locally and also to offer a different opportunity for youngsters when compared to local academy clubs.
The ultimate goal for Noriega at Miramar is “to create a good program, but to make Miramar a program that everyone in south Florida can get behind. We created a program for the kids who cannot necessarily get into the the programs of the three local (US Soccer Development Academy) academy programs.” The Miramar program has accelerated its growth the last few years and is now offering programs such as the MUEFC development academy for kids aged 4-12.
Sometime competing for kids with the academies is difficult. But Miramar United Elite FC’s trump card might be the hiring of former Brazilian World Cup winner and Manchester United (among other clubs) midfielder Kleberson who will coach the team in the upcoming season. The club traveled to Sweden last month and will continue to be attending major youth events internationally, including one in Belo Horizonte, Brazil later this year. Also a long-term goal is take part in the Dallas Cup or USA Cup, the two biggest youth tournaments in the US.
The trip to Sweden came not long after Noriega withdrew from attempting to purchase the Strikers, leaving the club’s trademark and branding in the hands of Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards.
When the first bid logged by Noriega in partnership with existing majority owner Paulo Cesso was rejected by NASL’s board, it meant the Strikers would not compete during the 2017 league campaign. Noriega regrouped and as sole owner submitted a “competitive bid” which was being heavily scrutinized by the league. NASL notified Noriega’s attorney’s of some of the concerns and rather than keep going through the process given NASL’s rejection of previous bids (the Cesso/Noriega bid and a bid from the FC Miami City PDL club). “I believe we had strong plans for them but we didn’t convince the league for whatever reason. We decided to just drop it,” Noriega told us.
As far as continuing his pursuit of pro soccer in the local market and maybe teaming up with Bill Edwards, Noriega said, “We have not yet had any conversations with Bill Edwards but it’s soon, they just got control of the club.” “if it is possible to have a team working with Bill Edwards and taking the club to a different league it’s a possibility, hopes are not dead yet.
With the development pyramid having been set up at Miramar, it could be linked to the Strikers pro team. Fort Lauderdale previously had affiliations with West Pines United in 2012 and Fort Lauderdale Select FC in 2016.
Noriega is figure that bears watching locally as he is committed to growing the sport in the area and might just take a stab at pro soccer or reviving the Strikers in the near future.