Major League Soccer (1996-2001)
Born: 1994 – MLS founding franchise.
Died: January 8, 2002 - The Mutiny cease operations.
Team Colors: Teal Blue, White, Dark Blue
Investor/Operator: Major League Soccer
The Tampa Bay Mutiny were one of the ten founding franchises of Major League Soccer in the spring of 1996. MLS is organized as a single-entity structure. Investor/Operators could purchase a share in the overall league and control the operations of a team. Tampa Bay was one of three MLS franchises that did not have an investor/operator when the league launched in 1996. The league never solved this problem and it would be the key factor in the club’s demise six years later.
The Mutiny made their debut on April 13, 1996 with a 3-2 victory against the New England Revolution before 26,473 fans in Tampa. The 1996 club was outstanding, winning the MLS Supporters Shield (best regular season record) at 20-12. American striker Roy Lassiter led the league in goals with 27, a MLS single-season record that still stands 17 years later. Colombian World Cup veteran Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama, set up many of Lassiter’s goals and won MLS’ first Most Valuable Player award. El Pibe (pictured on the ’96 Mutiny media guide, above right) was one of the most recognizable faces in the early years of MLS, well known to American soccer fans from the 1994 World Cup and for his unruly mane of Muppet hair. Thomas Rongen was named the MLS Coach of the Year. The 1996 Mutiny lost to eventual MLS Cup champions D.C. United in the semi-finals in a mild upset.
After the promising 1996 season, the core of the Mutiny came apart quickly. The changes started in the front office. Mutiny Director of Finance Mark Fortunat was arrested in 1996 and charged with embezzling more than $100,000 from the club. Following the season, MLS Commissioner Doug Logan fired Mutiny chief President & GM Farrukh Quraishi, a former player on Tampa’s popular North American Soccer League franchise of the 1970′s and 1980′s, the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Quraishi took the fall for Fortunat’s scheme and for the Mutiny’s poor attendance in 1996, which ranked 9th out of 10 teams in MLS, despite the club’s on field success. Quraishi’s ouster reportedly didn’t sit well with his friend and fellow NASL veteran, Coach-of-the-Year Thomas Rongen. Rongen fled Tampa to coach the rival New England Revolution for the 1997 season.
Next came the dismantling of the Mutiny’s core roster. Valderrama, after two straight Best XI campaigns, was dealt to the expansion Miami Fusion prior to the 1998 season. In early 1998, the Mutiny inexplicably traded Roy Lassiter to D.C. United in the worst trade of “Roys” in the history of professional sports. Lassiter went on to score 36 goals over the next two seasons for United. In return, the Mutiny got elderly former Tampa Bay Rowdie Roy Wegerle, who played only 12 games for the Mutiny and scored just one goal before retiring. Without Valderrama and Lassiter, the Mutiny dropped to 12-20 in 1998 and missed the playoffs for the first time.
The Mutiny’s fortunes improved somewhat in 1999 and 2000, with the return of Valderrama from his short stint in Miami. Senegalese striker Mamadou Diallo arrived in 2000 and led MLS in scoring with 26 goals. But when Valderrama was dealt away for the second time midway through the 2001 season, the Mutiny’s offense came to a halt and Diallo’s production dropped. The Mutiny finished the 2001 season with a horrid 4-21-2 record, after the regular season was shortened by the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Through the Mutiny’s 6-year history MLS searched for an investor to take over the team. By the winter of 2001-02, every MLS club except Tampa Bay and Dallas had an investor-operator, and Dallas had a savior on the horizon. The last best hope for the Mutiny was the Glazer family, owners of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Negotiations with Glazers went on during 2000-01, but nothing came of them. (Malcolm Glazer did have an interest in the soccer business thought – he would acquire Manchester United a couple of years later.)
In January of 2002, MLS contracted the Mutiny along with the league’s other Florida team, the Miami Fusion. The club’s historically poor attendance combined with the lack of an investor/operator ultimately put the final nails in the Mutiny’s coffin.
- Mamadou Diallo
- Roy Lassiter
- Steve Ralston
- Carlos Valderrama
Mutiny at D.C. United. MLS Eastern Conference finals Game One. October 10, 1996