While Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans debate the loss of their head coach, fans of the Tampa Bay Mutiny have an even bigger loss to mourn.
They lost their entire team.
On Jan. 8, Major League Soccer announced that the Mutiny and the Miami Fusion will cease operations because of mounting financial losses. The Fusion generated the least revenue in the league, while the Mutiny’s lack of a private owner and a soccer-specific stadium were given as reasons for the team’s folding.
“(When) I moved back here (in 1998), the Mutiny were in full swing. I bought season tickets, took my kids to all the games,” said USF men’s soccer coach John Hackworth. “I’m going to miss that a lot, and I think the Tampa Bay area is going to miss having them around a lot, too. It’s very unfortunate.”
Women’s coach Logan Fleck struck a similar chord.
“Sad to say, I was around when the NASL (North American Soccer League) folded … it’s very sad,” Fleck said. “One, I had very good, close friends over there. And No. 2, I’d say that it does something to the psyche, to the value of soccer, professionally, in this country. It’s tough. It’s tough, because I think it doesn’t give you something more to aspire for.”
For Hackworth, the Mutiny meant more than just a professional team to watch on the weekends. Many USF players, including all-conference players Jeff Thwaites, Gabriel Salgado and Brandon Streicher, trained with the Mutiny during the off-season. Tampa Bay was also a fixture on the Bulls’ spring schedule, as well as a tool to attract talented high school players who could garner the attention of Mutiny personnel.
“We lose a very high-level game,” Hackworth said. “We lose a resource to go and get exposed to high-level players … that’s invaluable. It was a huge resource for not only myself and the players, it was a recruiting tool as well.”
Hackworth said the MLS’s high expenditure and league-owned teams – Tampa Bay was operated by MLS since its inception in 1996 – were some of the reasons for the financial troubles.
“It was a really good idea at first because no one team could go and spend millions of dollars on players, and that would make it much more even. The league would allocate players to different teams,” Hackworth said. “But at the same time, there are a lot of drawbacks to that. The reason the NASL and the Tampa Bay Rowdies died out was because the league kinda went hog-wild. They spent so much money on players that they bit off way more than they could chew. That’s what the MLS was trying to prevent.
“But while they did that, they started off with an infrastructure that wasn’t really solid and continued to lose money – and teams like Tampa and Miami were bound to happen.”
The loss of the Mutiny and Fusion served as a reminder to some that soccer cannot catch on in the USA. Hackworth and Fleck disagree.
“There’s a huge market for soccer in America,” Hackworth said. “The problem is finding an identity in the professional sports world and doing it at a level that you can be successful at – at the gate, TV and marketing and advertising and all those kind of things.”
Fleck said the game is alive and well, especially among younger players.
“I think many people will attend soccer’s funeral long before it ever actually needs to be attended,” Fleck said. “It absolutely has gone through growing pains. Soccer people want it to happen quicker than when I think it will happen, but it will happen … you just hope it’s during your lifetime.”
Chung gets traded
Former USF midfielder Mark Chung was traded from the New York/New Jersey MetroStars to the Colorado Rapids Jan. 11, the day of the MLS Dispersal and Allocation Draft resulting from the Mutiny and Fusion folding.
The MetroStars sent Chung and two draft picks to the Rapids in exchange for the fourth overall pick in the allocation draft. The MetroStars used that pick to select Miami’s Diego Serna, the second-leading scorer in the league last year.
Chung played for the Bulls from 1988-92 and ranks seventh on USF’s career assists list with 25. His nine assists in 1992 led the team.
Chung was the sixth overall selection in the MLS draft in 1996, and spent his first three seasons with the Kansas City Wizards before moving on to the MetroStars. He also played for the national team from 1992-94 and 1997-98.
- Contact Khari Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org