Losing My Favourite Game: ‘Let’s Go See Raúl’ with Kartik Krishnaiyer

We’ve all got those moments in life that we often look back on with regret. That girl you should have asked to dance at a school disco when you were thirteen; That exam you should have crammed a little harder for before you left school with pitiful qualifications; That customer you should have told to go and eff himself after he said something incredibly rude about your hair. Perhaps the worst thing about these regrets is that we were in control and we missed our opportunity, and the only thing worse than that is having no control.

For this week’s edition of Losing My Favourite Game, we welcome The Miami FC Media Relations guru and Fort Lauderdale Strikers fan Kartik Krishnaiyer. Having watched as his team fell foul of financial mismanagement that eventually led to the dissolution of the club, Kartik’s relationship with his football team is one of ultimate disappointment.

Originally founded as Miami FC in 2006, the club rebranded as Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 2011 in a bid to reignite the legacy of one of the founding members of the ill-fated North American Soccer League from the late 1970s and early 80s. During that time, the Strikers fielded some of the world’s most famous players in the twilight of their careers, as Gerd Muller, Teofilo Cubillas, Gordon Banks and George Best all made pitstops in Florida on their way to retirement.

Fast forward twenty-seven years, and a newly formed NASL welcomed the newly-christened Strikers into the fold, in a bid to rival the monolithic Major League Soccer. The Strikers weren’t the only familiar name to make a return to American soccer, as New York Cosmos and Tampa Bay Rowdies also registered ahead of the inaugural season. Two appearances in the Playoff Final in the first four seasons saw Fort Lauderdale establish themselves as one of the top dogs of the competition, and it felt like only a matter of time before silverware would make its way to the Lockhart Stadium. After another impressive campaign in 2015, the Strikers were back in the Playoffs again. It would turn out to be their last chance of lifting a trophy…

 

Kartik Header

New York Cosmos 2-1 Fort Lauderdale Strikers
NASL Championship Semi-Final
7th November 2015

On November 7, 2015 the North American Soccer League’s Championship semifinal took place in Brooklyn, New York. The matchup between the New York Cosmos and Fort Lauderdale Strikers was a historic one – a previous meeting between the clubs in 1977 was watched by 77,000 fans. Those were heady days in the NASL, but in 2015 the league was enjoying the exploits of Raul, the Real Madrid legend, alongside fellow former Spain international Marcos Senna. The New York Cosmos signing of both superstars elevated interest in the NASL.

On the other side of the coin was my club, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. I came of age in the sport as a Strikers ball boy in the early 1980s and my parents had season tickets. In 2014, the Brazilian legend Ronaldo had been added to the ownership group, but it took the restoration of Manager Gunter Kronsteiner, unjustly sacked in late 2014 after a loss in the NASL title match against San Antonio, to get the Strikers firing forward again during the second part of the 2015 campaign.

Cosmos envy tended to dictate a lot of what we did and thought around the Strikers. It also infected a lot of the other NASL clubs and fans. The Cosmos were the gold standard but we in south Florida finally had a chance to beat them in a truly meaningful match. The way Kronsteiner’s Strikers had ended the year with free-flowing attacking football made us think this was the best shot we’d ever have to beat New York when it mattered most.

An early Strikers goal gave our side a 1-0 lead. The Cosmos responded with a goal before halftime. Then we made curious substitution at halftime where Walter Ramirez a player who had been with our club on and off since 2006 was subbed off for the former Brazilian International Gabriel. Ramirez, a Honduran workhorse wide player with local roots in the Miami area was badly missed as Gabriel didn’t put in the necessary work rate and the Cosmos took control of the match. A goal gave New York a 2-1 lead in about minute 60.

The Strikers worked well going forward after the Cosmos goal and got an apparent equalizer in minute 88 behind Jose Angulo, a natural instinctive finisher. The goal was chalked off as offside, the center referee Sorin Stoica waving the clean finish off. Subsequent TV replays would show Angulo was very clearly onside, played on by the last Cosmos defender. We were beaten 2-1 and the season ended in heartbreak.

Of course Fort Lauderdale had fallen at the final hurdle in 2011 and 2014 coming so close to winning titles those seasons. But this felt different. First off it was the Cosmos, and secondly some of us knew the organization wasn’t in the best shape financially or in terms of the decision making from the top. The days of truly competing for honors in American soccer were over as our owners were more concerned with marketing the club in far-flung locales such as Brazil and China while starving the first team of the necessary resources to scout effectively and sign top players.

The Strikers would be no more by 2017. Financial mismanagement and the unwillingness of ownership to sell the club to potential buyers at a loss led to complete collapse. The Cosmos also hit hard time almost suffering the same fate financially until a white knight, Rocco Commisso saved them at the eleventh hour.

The lost in November 2015 still stings me everyday. It was our last best chance as a club to do something truly remarkable on the football pitch and we were oh so close to doing it.

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Thanks to Kartik for sharing his memories of the 2015 NASL Playoff defeat to New York Cosmos. You can find out more about Kartik’s work with Miami FC and his thoughts on American soccer over on Twitter

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