American Soccer League (1980)
Born: 1980 – The New Jersey Americans relocate to Miami, FL.
Died: Postseason 1980 – The Americans cease operations.
Stadium: Tropical Park
Owners: Barry Leighton-Jones & Stanley Worshore
At the end of the 1979 North American Soccer League (NASL) season, Fort Lauderdale Strikers owner Elizabeth Robbie fired Head Coach Ron Newman. Newman had led the Strikers to three consecutive playoff appearances and was the NASL’s all-time winningest coach. But the Robbie family invested big dollars to bring international stars Gerd Muller and Teofilo Cubillas to South Florida and they weren’t satisfied with a first round playoff exit.
Newman’s peculiar response was to recruit investors and drop a 2nd Division American Soccer League (ASL) franchise right in the Strikers back yard at Miami’s Tropical Park for the 1980 season. Newman’s partners were Barry Leighton-Jones, an ex-pat English artist who carved out a niche painting clowns, and Stanley Worshore, a Ft. Lauderdale businessman. The trio purchased the ASL’s New Jersey Americans (1976-1979) in early 1980 and moved the franchise south, sans most of its players and staff. Newman was signed as President/Head Coach for a record-setting $200,000 per year, which was an outlandish amount for the eternally wobbly ASL, where most teams were thrilled to draw 3,000 fans for a match.
The Miami Americans‘ big signing was 28-year old Haitian striker Manu Sanon. Sanon starred for Haiti in the 1974 World Cup, scoring against both Argentina and Italy. The Americans agreed to a $100,000 transfer fee to import him from Beerschot of the Belgian first division and handed him the fattest contract in the ASL, variously reported as $400,000 for the 1980 campaign or $500,000 over three seasons.
The season went sideways immediately. Compared to the Strikers, the Americans were invisible in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale region. The Strikers averaged 14,729 fans at Lockhart Stadium that summer. The Americans struggled to get 2,000 at Tropical Park. Ron Newman, the franchise front man, quit the club on June 19th after only matches, apparently sensing a sinking ship. Newman soon hooked on with the San Diego Sockers of the NASL, taking over their vacant Head Coach position in mid-season.
Six days later, the cash-strapped Americans owners prematurely announced the sale of the team to a pair of shady Rhodesians, Stan Noahand Archie Oliver. But the deal collapsed over who would be responsible for the club’s existing debt, and the Rhodesians began poking around two other financially distressed ASL clubs – the Columbus Magic and the Sacramento Gold. In the end, Noah and Oliver turned out to be tire-kickers and all three teams folded before the year was out.
Manu Sanon soon followed Newman to San Diego of the NASL, walking out the door in July. The Americans, who couldn’t afford the installment payments on the transfer fee owed to his former Belgian club, were relieved to be out from under his monster contract. The team limped along in financial distress, unable to effectively replace injured or departed players and occasionally playing with as few as two bench players. The Americans managed to make it to the finish line in September, finishing the 1980 season with a 10-15-3 record. They folded quietly shortly thereafter.
Meanwhile, Ron Newman’s odd rivalry with his former club continued. After taking over the San Diego Sockers in midseason, he led the team deep into the 1980 NASL playoffs until they reached the semi-final series against none other than the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The Strikers defeated Newman’s Sockers to advance to Soccer Bowl ’80. But Newman would go on to turn the Sockers into an indoor soccer dynasty, winning eight indoor soccer championships between 1983 and 1992.
==Americans Matches on Fun While It Lasted==
Americans striker Manu Sanon died of pancreatic cancer on February 21, 2008 at age 56.
Former Americans owner Barry Leighton-Jones died on November 20, 2011.
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