The Miami Fusion was a professional soccer team based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. They played in Major League Soccer (MLS) for four seasons, from 1998 to 2001. Announced in 1997 as one of the league's first two expansion teams, their best season was 2001, when they won the Supporters' Shield with the best regular season finish. In 2002, after four years of lackluster ticket sales and revenues, MLS contracted the Fusion along with its other Florida-based team, the Tampa Bay Mutiny. The Fusion played their home games at Lockhart Stadium.
|Full name||Miami Fusion Football Club|
|Founded||April 9, 1997|
|Dissolved||January 8, 2002|
|League||Major League Soccer|
Major League Soccer announced a South Florida team in 1997 as one of its first two expansions, along with the Chicago Fire. Miami businessman Ken Horowitz served as owner, the first new investor to join Major League Soccer since its founding in 1995. The team, ultimately named the Miami Fusion, debuted in the 1998 MLS season, playing in Lockhart Stadium, the league's first soccer-specific stadium.
The Fusion started their inaugural season strong. Led by star midfielder Carlos Valderrama, the Fusion drew 20,450 to their first game at Lockhart Stadium against D.C. United, showing off the possibilities of a more intimate venue designed especially for soccer. Another 3,000 were turned away by police. However, interest waned through the year along with the team's middling performance on the field. The Fusion replaced head coach Carlos "Cacho" Cordoba with Ivo Wortmann after game 19, and the team managed a playoff spot, losing to D.C. By the end of the year their average attendance had dropped to 10,284.
The Fusion continued to struggle both on and off the field for the next two years. After years of disagreement, the commissioner "reassigned" Carlos Valderrama back to Tampa Bay in 1999, and the team replaced head coach Ivo Wortmann with Ray Hudson mid-season in 2000. The team made a dramatic improvement in the 2001 season, winning the Supporters' Shield with the best regular season performance, taking the Eastern Conference, and advancing to the league semifinals. Attendance improved as well, but remained fourth worst in the league with an average of 11,177. In the front office, owner Ken Horowitz struggled with finances. He, along with Robert Kraft of the New England Revolution and Stuart Subotnick of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, formed a faction among MLS owners who wanted to keep spending down, as opposed to Lamar Hunt and Philip Anschutz who wished to invest in long-term development. Despite the team's improvements, by the end of the 2001 season they had the league's lowest season ticket sales and the lowest revenues from sponsors.
Major League Soccer had reportedly lost an estimated $250 million during its first five years. The league's poor financial condition forced MLS to stop the bleeding. During the winter break between the 2000 and 2001 seasons, reports began circulating that MLS was considering trimming the league from 12 teams back to 10 teams. Rumors began circulating that the league might pull the plug on the Fusion, even though the Fusion had a low-cost stadium lease, and an improved performance in 2001 with increased fan attendance.
MLS announced in January 2002 that it had decided to contract the two Florida franchises, the Fusion and the Tampa Bay Mutiny. Both teams were withdrawn from the league, ceased operations and folded. Major League Soccer's contraction reduced the league from 12 to 10 teams. The league had chosen to fold the Miami Fusion, in part because the Fusion's ownership reportedly lacked financial resources, had been trying to run the Fusion on a bare-minimum budget, and had asked the league to pay some of the club's expenses. Commissioner Garber stated that the Fusion had the lowest revenue in the league, due to fewer season tickets and almost no revenue from corporate sponsorships.
Miami ownership had reportedly experienced $15 million in operating losses since Miami joined the league. The Fusion's owner, Ken Horowitz, described several difficulties with operating an MLS soccer franchise in South Florida. Many Miami residents were not originally from the area and didn't identify with and support local sports teams. Additionally, the MLS season is in the summer, which is different from the youth soccer season, making it difficult to draw youth soccer teams to attend Fusion matches. There were also issues with local summertime heat and rain. Finally, Horowitz identified a lack of corporate support for the team.
The club dissolved in 2018.
The Fusion played their home games at Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium. They had originally intended to play at the Orange Bowl Stadium in downtown Miami, but could not reach an agreement with the city of Miami, as the city wanted a 10-year lease and a prohibition on the team relocating to another South Florida stadium. Subsequently, the Fusion reached an agreement with the Broward County School Board and the city of Fort Lauderdale to use Lockhart Stadium.
Originally constructed as a high school football and track stadium in 1959, Lockhart had hosted the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the original North American Soccer League from 1977 to 1983, as well as other soccer games. Fusion owner Ken Horowitz spearheaded a $5 million renovation that converted Lockhart into a 20,000-seat soccer-specific stadium. The new stadium was the first of its kind in Major League Soccer; at the time all other teams played in much larger football stadiums. This innovation set a trend for similar facilities throughout the league that continues today.
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