Miami Americans

The Miami Americans were a professional soccer team in the American Soccer League, though they only featured for the 1980 season before folding. The franchise was originally based in New Jersey, but in the early months of 1980 the New Jersey Americans owner Joseph Raymond sold the franchise to an English consortium that moved the team to Miami. In the process of the move the new owners dispensed with most of the playing and back office staff.

The Americans played their home games at the Tropical Park stadium, a 10,000 capacity ground in the Olympia Heights area of Miami.

The Miami Americans Stadium - Tropical Park

The ASL in 1980 was to be an 8 team league, split into 2 four team divisions, A National Conference and an American Conference.  The top 2 sides in each division after the regular season would meet in a best of three playoff series to decide who would play in the ASL Championship game. The Americans were placed into the American Conference, lining up against the Sacramento Gold, California Sunshine, and another new franchise, the Golden Gate Gales from San Francisco. The regular season would be 28 games long, with each team playing each other 4 times.

The English investors looking to bring the New Jersey Americans to Miami were named as the artist Barry Leighton-Jones, and broker Stanley Worshore. Both of them were based in South Florida, and co-owned the Fort Lauderdale Saints soccer team of the semi-professional Southern Soccer League.  Jones was quoted as being “very excited” about the move, with a “60-40” chance in favour of the teams move. Even if the team didn’t make the move in time for the 1980 season, they would be prepared to wait for 1981.

The Americans Head Coach and GM, Ron Newman

Before the franchise had been sold the potential English ownership group had begun discussions with Ron Newman about taking the job. Newman had been a successful coach and player in the higher profile North American Soccer League (NASL) with the Dallas Tornado and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. He had also had a championship winning season in the ASL as Head Coach of the Los Angeles Skyhawks. Newman had been dismissed at the Strikers Head Coach after the 1979 season, although he was in the process of filing papers against the Strikers ownership to collect the money he was owed on his contract. Newman was very interested in the Americans job, and convinced that the sale and move of the team would happen.  He also thought a franchise in Miami could work, although he had frowned about soccer’s potential in Miami before, due to the poor performance of the Miami Toros in the NASL. The media did not quite share his belief however, pointing to the Toros failure, and wondering whether South Florida was a strong enough soccer market to support the Americans and the Strikers.

Despite Newman’s enthusiasm, he was still keeping his options open, speaking to the owners of the New York Eagles of the ASL, and another potential new ASL franchise in Charlotte about their vacant Head Coach positions. The NASL’s San Jose Earthquakes were also chasing him.

By Mid-January 1980 Newman was leaning towards taking the offer made to him by the Americans. The offer of a 5-year contract, worth $200,000 a season (plus bonuses and incentives) would make him the highest paid coach in North America. The deal to move the Americans to Miami was done, but Leighton-Jones and Worshore said that they would not complete the deal without Newman agreeing to coach the team. Newman eventually agreed the deal in February and took the position, also assuming the position as the team President. Fellow Brit Brian Tiler was named as Assistant Coach, having  played for and managed the Portland Timbers of the NASL, as well as having a lengthy playing career in England.

The team’s roster contained few stars. Newman’s son Guy followed his father from the Fort Lauderdale Strikers to play in the defence. One of his first signings was English goalkeeper Brian Parkinson, who had won an ASL championship with Newman at the Los Angeles Skyhawks. Other signings were American players Ernie Buriano, Ernst-Jean Baptiste, and Charlie Greene. Welsh defender Bob Delgado was signed from English side Port Vale after a 281 game league career and installed as captain. Holdovers from the New Jersey Americans roster were midfielder Denny Vaninger and Nigerian striker Solomon Hilton. 33 year old Scottish midfielder and ex-Tampa Bay Rowdies player Stewart Scullion was also signed to give the team some experience. The players with the team were reputedly some of the better paid players in the ASL.

Before the season kicked off Newman had stated that his role with the Americans was the toughest task he had faced in soccer. Due to the short time before the franchises relocation and the start of play (roughly 2 months) he had found it hard to find the players he wanted, as well as an acceptable office to work out of. Despite managing in the ASL before, he also stated that the league was a bit of a mystery to him, with regards to the level of play and finances. He was hoping for crowds of around 3,000 for the early fixtures, steadily rising to 6,000 during the season.

Pre-season games were quite plentiful, playing the U.S. Olympic team, as well as fixtures against local amateur teams such as Miami Dade. Their fixture against the Pennsylvania Stoners caused some controversy however. The game was played in Charlotte and intended to show the Charlotte public what ASL soccer was all about, with the hope that a franchise could be established in the city in 1981. During the first half, and 1-0 down, Denny Vaninger punched the Stoners midfielder Paulo DaSilva in the face, getting sent off in the process. Then after a foul against his son Guy, Ron Newman charged on to the pitch in his suit to remonstrate with the referee.  It was also reported that he “threatened Pennsylvania players and match officials with his umbrella”. The Americans ran out 2-1 winners, although their style of play was described as defensive and boring. In order to establish the franchise in the minds of South Florida soccer fans, the players were doing a huge amount of public engagements, from coaching clinics to visiting local churches and hospitals.

The team’s inaugural game was away against the Pennsylvania Stoners on the 20th of April, a fixture that they lost 1-0 due to a Roman Urbanczuk goal in the second period of overtime. The Stoners broke their attendance record, with 8,300 fans attending the game. Like the reports of their performance in the pre-season encounter between the teams, the game was defensive with both sides mustering only 9 shots on goal between them during the 90 minutes. Newman defended his team, instead criticising the pitch at the Stoners stadium, saying it was impossible to play on. Their second fixture was due to be against New York United away, but the game had to be postponed due to New York being unable to post the $100,000 bond required for them to use Shea Stadium.

After their first game, the Americans signed Haitian international forward Manu Sanon from Belgian club Germinal Beerschot. He signed a 3 year contract and was expected to be a key player for the team. Their first home fixture was against Cleveland Cobras on the 30th April which they lost, and attracting around 2,000 fans.

On May the 4th the Miami Americans were due to play an exhibition match against the Trinidad & Tobago national team; however it descended into farce when the Trinidadian failed to turn up. Instead the Americans played an inter-squad game in front of roughly 300 fans. Still at least the Americans were guaranteed to win this game, as by their 6th game the Americans had only won 1 ASL game, beating the Golden Gate Gales away in San Francisco 4-1. Their attendances were also stalling, with a 2-2 draw at home against the Gales attracting only 1,843 fans, over a thousand less than Newman wanted.

The attendance figures weren’t the biggest problem however. The team’s co-owner Barry Leighton- Jones had started saying that if the ASL failed to improve they would move the franchise to Jacksonville for the 1981 season. Leighton-Jones also stated that the team was going to lose $1,000,000 dollars over the season, and that Newman was to blame for the team’s slow start due to spending too much time sat behind the President’s desk rather than working with the team.  Newman responded saying that these remarks had hurt the credibility of the franchise, and that he had had to spend all his day apologizing to sponsors and fans, as well as being called to explain the comments before the ASL at a league meeting. He also insisted that there was no way the team would relocate, and that Leighton-Jones remarks were made as a frustrated fan, rather than as an owner. Newman insisted that he got on with the co-owner, and that his remarks had maybe been a misguided attempt to get more fans on board. According to goalkeeper Brain Parkinson, the team were fairly insulated from the comments, and that they were fully concentrated on performing better on the field.

In early June, Newman was being linked with the Head Coach position of the NASL’s Portland Timbers, with a meeting between him and Timbers’ General Manager Peter Warner after a Timbers game.  Newman had expressed a desire to leave the Americans, but said it would be up to NASL teams to contact him. After losing out on the Timbers job to Vic Crowe, the Atlanta Chiefs had also reputedly spoken to him. He was concerned about the financial viability of the Americans, amidst rumours that the ownership were ready to jump ship. And that the team was ready to fold. On a positive note, English goalkeeper Neil Ramsbottom joined the team. He had been a steady goalkeeper in England and signed from Sheffield United.

On June 19th, after only 9 games at the helm Ron Newman resigned as Head Coach and President. He stated that he would still be available to offer advice to the team whilst he searched for a new job. His 9 games in charge had yielded 2 wins, 3 draws, and 4 losses. One of the team’s directors, Richard Marx (not the long haired pop star) stated that he was sorry to see Newman go, but with the Americans finances being quite perilous it was an economic necessity.

To replace Newman, his Assistant Coach Brian Tiler was appointed for the remainder of the season. The team’s Business Manager Jerry Sagehorn was promoted, and would take over as General Manager, assuming a lot of Newman’s off-field responsibilities.

Tiler’s first game in charge saw them win 2-1 over New York United in Shea Stadium in front of Ron Newman who watched from the stands.

On June the 25th, six days after Newman’s departure, the English ownership group had reputedly agreed to sell the franchise to two Rhodesians, Stan Noah and Archie Oliver for an undisclosed purchase price. Noah and Oliver stated that there would be a “substantial infusion of capital” into the team. They also attempted to re-hire Newman as Head Coach, but baulked and reinstating his $200,000 a year contract.

Results improved under Tiler, but the attendances dwindled, with only 843 fans turning out to see them beat the California Sunshine 2-1. Neil Ramsbottom was playing well in goal, and getting good reviews for his performances. Against the Sunshine he turned out straight from hospital, where he had been with bruised ribs and a stitched up face. The infusion of capital that the new owners had promised didn’t seem to materialise, with the team’s roster basically being limited to just 13 players. Top striker Manu Sanon left and joined Ron Newman and his new NASL team, the San Diego Sockers, and after selling him the Americans would lose 7 of their next 8 games. With him also went the Americans Haitian fans, leaving attendances plummeting.

Americans Haitian striker Manu Sanon

Off the field the chaos continued however, with newly promoted General Manager Jerry Sagehorn quitting, and being replaced by Allan James, the Americans PR officer. According to Brian Tiler, Sagehorn just couldn’t take the aggravation of working with the financially crippled franchise any longer. The Director Richard Marx was named as President.  Brian Tiler was also fed up working with the franchise, but vowed to continue as a professional. He claimed that the new owners wanted him out to save money and hadn’t even spoken to him in a long time.

The financial situation was also being discussed by the players, with Bob Delgado stating that he didn’t know if there would even be a club next week, let alone next year. He had just put rent money down on an apartment, and at best if the team folded would only get 2 week’s severance pay. What made it worse was that a week early the new ownership had said every member of the team would get a new 12 month contract, but now the ownership was even backing down on completing the entire purchase of the team. Stan Noah and Archie Oliver instead had apparently bought a controlling interest in the Columbus Magic, one of the Americans ASL rivals. This was met with some scepticism given the events in Miami, and also due to the pair of them reputedly trying to save the Sacramento Gold who were in financial difficulty. The Gold folded, but were resurrected and funded until the end of the season by the ASL.

In early July the ownership were set to fire Tiler and replace him with George Rada, the Head Coach of the semi-professional Florida outfit, the St. Petersburg Kickers, but the players objected and Tiler’s job was saved.

On July 23rd though Tiler quit and Rada was named as the new Head Coach. The ownership had stated that they wanted an American coach instead of a foreigner. Captain Bob Delgado, and striker Denny Vaninger were named as Assistant Coaches, in addition to their place on the playing roster.

At the start of August English goalkeeper Neil Ramsbottom requested to be released from his contract so he could return to his pregnant wife in England. He had played 14 games for the Americans and was replaced by the back-up keeper Richie Poole. 18 year old Fort Lauderdale High graduate Mitchell Mordas was signed as the new back-up. A week after this, Haiti international defender Ernst-Jean Baptiste also left the club to return to his sick wife in Haiti and midfielder David Bluem also left. New additions to the roster were new goalkeeper Armand Cordoba, defender Daniel Gaston, midfielders Mike Cogan & Jean Tienne, and strikers Louis Rodriguez, and Kenny Pavlioski. The forwards were needed as striker Denny Vaninger had been banned by the league for the rest of the season, having been sent off in the Americans last 3 away games.

The Americans win record was boosted by their home game against the Columbus Magic being awarded to them as the Magic could not afford the travelling expenses. This was the second game where the Americans had profited from another team’s misfortune, with the Sacramento Gold also forfeiting a game during the season. Remarkably, despite the Americans own financial problems, the Americans were still in with a shout for the playoffs.

For the Miami Americans last ever home game they were thumped 8-2 by the Cleveland Cobras in front of a crowd of around 200 fans. Defender Ernesto summed up the feelings of the entire roster by stating that they didn’t care. The players had not been paid, and the money situation was so bad that even though they still had a chance of making the playoffs, Miami officials were praying that they didn’t because it would cost more money. Bob Delgado stated that of they did make the playoffs he wouldn’t stick around, instead he’d be back in England.

The Americans did not have a successful season, finishing third in the American Conference, thus missing out on the playoffs. They won 10 games, drawing 3, and losing the other 15. They scored 54 goals and conceded 45, giving the Americans a total point’s tally of 97.

After the season the Miami Americans folded, along with the other new franchise the Golden Gate Gales.

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