The Fort Lauderdale Strikers faced the Tampa Bay Rowdies Saturday, a rivalry dating back 35 years over multiple soccer leagues, now known as the Florida Derby. The Strikers’ early season struggles continued as they largely out-played the Tampa side but fell 2-1. A disappointing outcome to a fun and contentious game.
It was a beautiful spring evening as the game kicked off under a setting Sun.
Cody Laurendi started in the net for the Strikers over Matt Glaeser who (if memory serves) has started every home game, and possibly every game in general, during the three years of the current incarnation of the Strikers. The move was a bid by coach Darryl Shore to shake up the lineup after the disappointing slow start to the season. Laurendi did not last long unfortunately, as he suffered what appeared to be a serious rib and/or spleen injury in a collision with a Tampa Bay forward midway through the first half. We all hope for a speedy recovery for Cody Laurendi.
Glaeser returned to the cheers of fans but let up a goal late in the first half as talented English midfielder Luke Mulholland put one in off the left goalpost.
At halftime, there were Flamenco dancers of course.
The Flamenco dancers were on hand for the announcement of a June friendly match to be played at Lockhart between the Strikers and the Brazilian club Cruziero. According to Wikipedia, Cruziero has won two Libertadores which is apparently the South American version of Europe’s Champions League, and they once featured a young Ronaldo. We look forward to the match and the Strikers should have their work cut out for them.
The Strikers substituted the great Walter Restrepo into the game during the second half. Restrepo must still be getting his endurance back after last year’s ACL injury so did not start the match, or at least I hope that’s the reason he did not start because when Restrepo is in the game he’s the best player on the pitch for either side. He may be the best player in the NASL (I write that having only seen two other teams in this young season, but nobody I have seen compares). Restrepo changes the game when he’s on the field, as he totally dominated the right side of the field in the second half.
Restrepo scored the Strikers’ lone goal late in the game as he beat the Rowdies’ goalie to a loose ball, knocked it around him, then chipped into the goal from a tough angle on the right as the Tampa Bay defense could only watch helplessly as the ball bounced into the net.
After the goal one of the organizers of the Strikers supporters groups was ejected from the game by the FLPD for setting off yellow smoke bombs.
Perhaps in today’s climate we should change the term for those small devices from ”smoke bombs” to something less threatening: maybe “haze enhancers.” The crowd loudly communicated its displeasure with Fort Lauderdale’s finest as the young made was led away to fates uncertain.
Five minutes later, to the cheers of a conquering hero, the Striker Liker was led back to his seat by a Strikers employee. Apparently he had special dispensation from the front office to set off the haze enhancers after Strikers goals and that had been communicated to the police detail working the game, but the message got lost somewhere after that. Anyway, we were happy to see that he was back (and not arrested) and he instantly became a bit of a Strikers fan celebrity. Even popular Strikers fan Cool Dad wanted to hear his story.
Restrepo’s goal set up a furious final ten minutes and the Strikers had several more good chances, but one ended up in the outside net on the left side of the goal and a couple more were gobbled up by the Rowdies’ goalie (in the picture below I was trying to get a shot of the back of some guy’s head and caught some action by mistake).
As the final whistle sounded and there was nothing left that Restrepo could do, he walked forlornly down the field.
Here’s hoping Restrepo can play at full strength soon. After an 0-3-1 start, Strikers fans increasingly repeat the old refrain “Help us Walter Restrepo, you’re our only hope.”
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