United Soccer League (1984-1985)
Born: 1984 – USL founding franchise.
Died: July 9, 1985 – The Sun cease operations.
Stadium: Lockhart Stadium
- 1984: Ronnie Sharp
- 1985: Marvin Stein, Jeff Sarkin et al.
The Fort Lauderdale Sun were an oddball pro soccer entry during the dark years of the mid-1980’s for the outdoor game in the United States.
The United Soccer League formed in February 1984 by a break-away faction of owners from the ramshackle 2nd division American Soccer League (1933-1983). The Sun were a brand new franchise, created to fill the void after the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the North American Soccer League (1977-1983) moved to Minneapolis three months earlier. The Sun had only a fraction of the budget of the old Strikers clubs, but managed to bring back a handful of ex-Strikers for familiarity, including Peruvian World Cup star Teofilo Cubillas (who agreed to play home games only), Thomas Rongen and player/coach Keith Weller. Other notables included long-time English National Team defender Dave Watson and Scottish international midfielder Asa Hartford, both of whom played for the Sun in 1984 but did not return in 1985.
Original Sun owner Ronnie Sharp was a 36-year old Scottish footballer who starred for the Miami Toros of the North American Soccer League during the 1970’s and then remained in South Florida. Less than a month into the 1984 season, Sharp was arrested in Laredo, Texas and indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiring to smuggle 200,000 pounds of marijuana into the U.S. from Colombia.
Despite the circus atmosphere surrounding Ronnie Sharp, the Sun put together a league-best 15-9 record and advanced to the USL’s best-of-three championship series against the Houston Dynamos in late August 1984. The series came down to a deciding Game Three played at Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium on September 1, 1984. Dave Watson was the hero of the game for the Sun, scoring the team’s only goal in regulation and then burying the decisive penalty kick to give then Sun the first (and, as it turned out, only) championship of the United Soccer League.
Following the 1984 season, seven of the nine original USL franchises went out of business. The Sun came back for a second season in 1985 with a new name (South Florida Sun) and a new ownership group of 13 area physicians and businessmen who took over from Sharpe. In mid-June, the Sun signed a three-year contract with former Ajax, New York Cosmos and Dutch National Team star Johan Neeskens to a three-year contract, although the team was already falling behind on payroll to its existing roster. Neeskens played only one league game for the Sun before the league folded in midseason (he would never receive a paycheck).
After the USL died in late June, the Sun drifted along for another couple of weeks, making noise about playing out the summer with a series of exhibitions. But the money was gone and there was no point. The team’s final hurrah was an exhibition against the Topez-Haitian All-Stars of Miami on July 4, 1985 as a warm-up act for the city’s Independence Day fireworks show. The unpaid players split the gate proceeds from the crowd of 3,529 and disbanded four days later.
==Sun Games on Fun While It Lasted==
Colin Fowles, a longtime Striker who signed with the Sun in 1985, was murdered during a recreational soccer game in Miami’s Bunche Park. Fowles was an innocent bystander. The murder was not solved, although authorities suspected a notorious Jamaican drug gang. Fowles was 32.
Sun player/coach Keith Weller died of cancer at age 58 in November 2004.