BigShot Q&A: Miami Ultras President – Ed SerranoMiami Ultras President Ed Serrano talks about MLS’ possible return to South Florida, Marcelo Claure and recent chats with Commissioner Garber
by Herb Scribner | Thursday, May 03, 2012
Ed Serrano is the current President of the Miami Ultras, a supporters group in Southern Florida who are pushing for an MLS return to Miami. Serrano and the Ultras lend their voice and passion to their local Ft. Lauderdale Strikers' NASL games and are actively trying to spread support of soccer in Miami.
Tell everyone a little about your organization, how it got started and its goals.
ES: I’m actually the President of Miami Ultras. We started off, basically, to promote MLS’s return to South Florida. We started to support Miami FC, which was playing in the USL back then. When the Miami MLS Bid thing didn’t work out we kept on supporting Miami FC and that’s basically where we’re at.
We [are] basically developed to bring MLS to South Florida, but we ended up tagging along with Miami FC which is pretty cool. It’s pretty fun. As far as our organization … our main focus now is supporting the Strikers. Most of us are a part of the American Outlaws, so a bunch of us go to the bars and stuff like that, so we’re pretty organized.
Are there other supporters groups trying to get Miami in MLS or are you the sole or flagship group for that?
ES: I think we’re basically the only one. There were a couple of guys who were a part of us that decided to form their own supporters group, but they’re mostly focused on the Strikers. We cover everything – anything to do with soccer we try to support.
Were most of your members fans of the Miami Fusion?
ES: A big portion [are], the newer guys are coming in now [are] more into the Strikers. Their parents used to remember the Strikers from back in the day. I was here during the Fusion days. I was actually with my Dad. Any chance I could get to see a game, I’m there. It’s a mix of different people from different eras. We’ve got some older guys who supported the Strikers back in the day. Most of us are Fusion fans and now all these new kids who are supporting the new Strikers.
Any famous supporters of the Miami MLS bid so far?
ES: Gosh, man, there’s a whole bunch. The two people I can say are really running the MLS Miami Bid thing are myself and Julio Caballero and he’s been reaching out to all these players like Pablo Mastroeni and Kyle Beckerman and Andy Williams and a couple of the old players. All the old Fusion players are definitely on board and nostalgic for an MLS team returning.
Ray Hudson … he actually said in an interview that he would definitely come back and coach if they ever brought back an MLS team to South Florida. There [are] a number of celebrities that would support us. We’ve got a list of people who have replied to Julio’s [requests]. Julio’s the guy that goes after everybody and says … “We want MLS.” Some people have actually told me he’s really annoying, because he’s constantly in everybody’s face. When we met with Don Garber last year, Don Garber’s like, “Who’s Julio?” Julio raised his hand and Don Garber said, “Alright, stop emailing me! I got it! I got it! That’s why I’m here!”
What actions has the MLS Miami Bid group taken in getting a club back to Miami?
ES: One of the things that we do is support our second division team, the Strikers. I believe if you support our second division team, like say Orlando is or San Antonio is, it will definitely attract investors.
You have the attention of MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the league, and you have support, it seems just ownership is missing. From your perspective, how many groups from Miami are interested?
ES: I’ve been in contact with at least three ownership groups that are interested in bringing MLS groups here. And apparently they’ve contacted the Strikers … they obviously don’t want us to know what’s going on. It could be somebody else could walk in and take the market from them, but I wish I had more information right now. I’ve been in contact with at least three.
Is Marcelo Claure still in the picture?
ES: He said he’s very interested still. It would be awesome, he lives here in Miami. He knows what he’s doing and he’s got a good team ... and I believe he would be a good guy to bring a team to this area. He always mentions he’d love to have a team here. I know he approached the Strikers before … but apparently they weren’t interested at the time.
Does your group try to actively encourage potential local investors for a Miami MLS bid?
ES: Yes, we’re constantly looking for other investors. We’d love for it to be the Strikers in the second division, for them to go up to MLS. They’re keeping it hush. I think what’ll probably happen is somebody’s going to come in and try and put a team in Miami.
David Beckham has the option to purchase a future MLS team. That clause in his contract supposedly means that if he gets the cash, other owners, a stadium plan and finds a city with fans – he’s in. Have you tried to contact Beckham’s staff to persuade him to choose Miami? What would make Beckham a good owner for Miami?
ES: We’ve had a little contact with Beckham, but he hasn’t responded to us lately. He is one of the people who joined the MLS Miami Bid. From what we know, Claure has spoken with Beckham about the possibility of joining forces. But last I heard, Claure’s just waiting for Beckham to retire. So that’s definitely a possibility.
What makes Miami an ideal location for an MLS club?
ES: There’s fans from everywhere in the world here. If you look at the recent games we’ve had with Barcelona and Chivas and we filled up Dolphin Stadium. If we can get all these people, all these Barcelona fans, all these Real Madrid fans, to support a team here, to support a MLS team, I wouldn’t say there’d be a problem filling up a stadium. We can get big numbers. The thing is we need it to be an event. We need it to be something spectacular, we need top quality players. That’s the only way I think a team would be successful down here. It would have to be a dream team, I would say, for it to work.
Why does Miami deserve an MLS slot over San Diego, New York, Las Vegas and other potential expansion cities?
ES: Well just the name Miami. You can ask any player in the world, they’ll mention L.A., New York and they’ll mention Miami. It’s a beautiful city. I think we really have what it takes for us to have a big team. If they did things right, if they start building in Tampa and the Strikers and build that rivalry again, I think we could have a Cascadia Cup, we could do something similar if Orlando’s included. There’s potential right there … I just think if it’s done right and you market it and you get top players, it’s going to work over here.
Do you feel like this movement is more of a resurrection of the Miami Fusion who played in MLS from 1998 to 2001 or do you feel like the club would be starting from scratch?
ES: I really think it’s starting from scratch, because they’re taking baby steps. I do believe if they did bring back the Fusion, people would jump on board because of nostalgia … If they start from scratch, it’ll take people awhile to get into what the team is called … When MLS comes back here, they have to do it [so it’s] an event, it’s a spectacle, or else people won’t realize it’s even here.
If MLS does what it did in the soccer-crazy Pacific Northwest, and approves 3 Floridian teams (Miami, Orlando & Tampa) into the league at about the same time – do you think Florida can emulate the same level of passion and rivalries that those 3 clubs (Sounders, Timbers, Whitecaps) have done?
ES: We have more people showing up to Strikers games than the Sounders did before going into the MLS. The thing is, the last year before, people knew they were going in. Look at Orlando – they’ve got some games where 10,000 people show up. There [are] soccer fans that are going to be there. I believe we could do something like that. If you look back in time when the original Strikers were around and the original Rowdies were around, they were the top in the NASL.
Would the group like to keep the NASL names of the past and their tradition (ie: Strikers), the Fusion or something completely new? If new, do you guys have a name you’d want chosen?
ES: I’d prefer to be the Strikers or the Miami Fusion if somebody decides to get the team. Starting from scratch with a brand new team would be difficult, unless you bring in some top tier players like [the] Henry, Beckham type players. Now if Beckham’s a part of the ownership group, I have no doubt the team in Miami would be successful, because he’d be able to attract any players of the world. And I know David Beckham with his personality will attract tons of women. And if there’s tons of women, there’s tons of men’s showing up. There’s a lot of hotties in Miami!
If its 2015 and still no movement or word from MLS on a successful ownership group and bid for a Miami team, will your organization give up? If not, is there a time at which you see that happening?
ES: I think we’re always going to be pushing because I think it’s only a matter of time before they bring a team here. They really want a team down here, there’s a lot of money to be made. It’s one of the biggest TV markets. There’s a lot of money to be made over here and that’s why they want to come over here. So there’s tons of money to be made and that’s what they want. There’s a whole area down here in the southeast that’s void of any MLS teams. And I think if Garber had a chance to choose between Orlando or Miami, he’d choose Miami any day. When it comes down to it, I think Miami over any other city, even Atlanta.
MLS wants its clubs to have soccer specific stadiums (SSS) and now most of the league has their own. Do you foresee a hard task in Miami being able to secure that?
ES: I think they have stadiums that could transform into soccer specific stadiums.
Where is the ideal place for a SSS to be located to make it easiest for a Miami MLS team to be successful?
ES: The ideal location for me would be where Dolphin Stadium is, between the larger population groups. Right there on the county line would be perfect. As long as you put it between both counties, I think a lot of people will show up. As long as they have top players and an ownership group that’s willing to stick around and get those top players, I don’t see them failing.
If MLS comes to Miami, do you think the city will help the new owners and club successfully navigate local politics to get their SSS built?
ES: Miami’s going to be pretty difficult because they’ve already built that baseball stadium. Will they want the team here? Of course they would, but it would be very difficult for them to push anything through the county and the city – especially after they built that huge baseball field.
If the club had to play a season or two in a temporary facility while its SSS was completed – which stadium would be best and get the most amounts of fans until then: Lockhart Stadium, FIU Stadium, Tropical Park Stadium, Sun Life Stadium or somewhere else?
ES: All of these are in the extreme. I would have to say it would be FIU or Lockhart, one of the two. Just because I think there’s a better chance of building those up. I think Claure had a deal with FIU. If he’s involved, he’ll push for FIU.
Besides ownership issues with Ken Horowitz, many blamed the failure of the Miami Fusion (though they turned around attendance in 2001) on the lack of support by fans in Miami to travel up to Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium. If the new club had to play there, would fans show up?
ES: I’m pretty sure fans would show up if they were up there. What really ended that team was Horowitz. The city of Miami offered him $18 million and he didn’t take it. Why he didn’t take it, I don’t know. I’m sure they’re pretty repentant about that now. I don’t think it was the fans that failed them. I remember hundreds of us who were protesting in front of Lockhart because we didn’t want the team to go away. I think their mind was already made up, they wanted the Fusion out … and there was nothing we could do about it at that point.
Is Miami a baseball, football, basketball or soccer city? If not soccer, can it be with a MLS club?
ES: I think Miami’s a closet soccer city. A lot of people don’t know, but whenever there’s a big event, bars are packed with people. And a lot of people don’t realize it because it’s kind of like an underground type of thing. You don’t see it advertised in the newspaper. That’s why we also created our group. We’re trying to bring all these soccer groups together. It’s difficult when it’s not like the Orlando which has a team that wants to go to MLS and we have fans that want to go to MLS … We’re just fans, it’s all word of mouth. It’s just fans to get attention. I think we’re going to keep on growing.
When somebody decides [to bring a team here], hopefully it’s Beckham. If it’s Beckham, things [are] going to blow up. All the closet soccer fans are going to come out.
How many immigrant groups love soccer in the area? Where are the biggest hotbeds of players from?
ES: Cubans, not really. I would say Colombians are a big percentage of fans that love soccer. I see Europeans all over the place, they are the ones that are a little more hardcore.
The 2001 Miami Fusion played some of the best soccer MLS has ever seen and though they won the Supporters Shield, they didn’t win the MLS Cup that year and didn’t have another chance. Do knowledgeable soccer fans in Miami need the club to play as entertaining to succeed?
ES: I think entertaining soccer is one of the ideal scenarios for it. I think a winning team would increase the chances of the soccer team being successful. No doubt. An entertaining team will attract people. I think if they have a couple of high-profile players than people will definitely stick around.
Would you like to see passionate coach Ray Hudson with the club?
ES: Yeah, or at least him being involved in some way. We talk to him a few times in person and he just comes up with these quotes that are just spectacular. The guy’s just incredible. To have him involved in some way as just a speaker for the club, wow, it’d be very entertaining. I never understood why he’s not on one of these big networks or why MLS haven’t hired him to follow these games.
Does MLS play good soccer?
ES: Yeah they do. I’m a fan of the Galaxy; I was actually born in L.A. I thought they were going to win the CONCACAF Championship this time around. Their type of soccer is entertaining. New York, when they want to, they can play really well when they want to. RSL, those guys plays really well. And Kansas City, man, I’m surprised.
When the Fusion weren’t around, I didn’t want to watch MLS ever again. But I’m coming around … more than anything because I want South Florida to have a team.
If FC Barcelona of Spain had become owners of a Miami MLS club with Claure or on their own before the economy fizzled, would there have been a backlash by any ethnic group in the area? Or would their positive style of play unite the many Miami tribes?
ES: Just because it’s Barcelona, it would have united, except of course the Real Madrid fans. And down here, they’re more Barcelona fans that I’ve noticed anyway. It didn’t happen so here we are.
With the wayward history of Chivas USA in Los Angeles, was there a backlash to the proposed name FC Barcelona Miami if FCB took over?
ES: A lot of people weren’t too thrilled with the idea of them having that name because it didn’t go. You mention Chivas USA, not too many people were thrilled with that except Mexican fans that have nostalgia for Chivas Guadalajara. Ideally, I don’t think we should emulate any other name of any team from out of the United States. I think we’ve got two good names with the Strikers and Fusion. It’s always going to come to who the owner is. If the owner wants to do whatever … whatever they want to do, they’re going to do it.
How often does the MLS league office keep in touch with your group? Who is your main contact?
ES: Our main contact is Gabe Gabor. I believe he’s in charge of Latin American teams.
What advice did Garber or the league give you in order to increase the chances for Miami?
ES: He said, more than anything, we have to support our local team, which changed its name at that point to the Strikers. He told us to step up and I think we have. We do all this on our free time. We do this all because we love the game, because we want to get the word out and I think it’s starting to work. A lot of people, when they think of Miami, they think of the Miami Ultras. In fact, I think we were one of the only scarves up in the MLS offices. I think we were the only scarf outside of the MLS teams there. That was pretty exciting for us, they’re including us, that’s awesome.
What other cities do you feel deserve an MLS club?
ES: I’m not too much of a fan of this whole New York. I know Garber’s totally about New York, but they already have a team. It just doesn’t give me a warm and fuzzy … I know why they’re doing it; they’re going to get much more money for a club like that. I definitely think San Antonio deserves it … I’m just really impressed with what they’ve done. Props to those guys, I think they deserve a team. I guess somebody would say Orlando, but I hate Orlando [laughs]. I don’t want them to get one before us, but if they did get one before us, I think that’d put us up next for an MLS team. The next natural selection would be Miami.
Do your members watch MLS every weekend? Any particular team?
ES: There’s a big group of guys here from New York. There’s a lot of New York people here in South Florida. Some other guys watch the Red Bulls, some say they prefer the name MetroStars. Right now, when the NASL seasons on, everybody’s focused on the Strikers.
Are most of your group fans of the NASL Fort Lauderdale Strikers?
ES: Yeah. I’ve got to tell you that there are guys who are in the group, but don’t go to the games. There are [people] who want to see Miami, there are some who are Strikers or nothing. There are the Miami or nothing guys too. I just want to bring all of these groups together. I’m the peacemaker. I’m trying to bring everybody together.
Do you think the Strikers Brazilian ownership group TRAFFIC might be interested in MLS? Is the group close with their staff?
ES: We’ve always been asking them why they don’t push the Strikers into the MLS and stuff. Last year, the Strikers were the main team that they were pushing. Oddly, I think it was a month ago, they met up with the MLS in Carolina – and they own the Carolina team. For me it’s like, what’s the deal? I mean, you guys could do the same thing for the Strikers, but they don’t. Why couldn’t you do the same thing for the Strikers? I don’t get the warm and fuzzies for that. We’re pretty close with them. We may not agree how they do things, but we’re close with them.
How would a club in Miami help American soccer grow?
ES: I think the final puzzle for MLS to actually have a grasp of the whole United States, I think the final piece, is in South Florida. It basically covers that entire southeast section that’s void of a team. Everybody wants to come to Miami, everybody loves Miami, I think it’ll be attractive for everybody – for MLS and for other teams as well.
Do you agree with Commissioner Garber’s previous assessment of Miami fans that they know they love soccer, but they aren’t convinced yet if they love MLS?
ES: I think when he mentioned that, he wasn’t convinced yet, but I think now he’s starting to come around. Things have changed and I think we’re going in the right direction. I don’t think it’s if it’s going to happen, but when South Florida gets a team.
In January 2011, Garber visited and told Miami supporters that they need to rally and lead the charge for expansion. Have you worked on that and how so?
ES: That’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to get people out to the Strikers’ games, we’ve been pretty successful. Every time we’re trying to get people to take more people. Sometimes we give away tickets, tickets we bought with our own money, out to people.
Is Miami the Latin “Soccer City USA”? If so, why does it earn that title?
ES: I don’t know if it’s Latin. It’s a little bit of everything. If you go to the games … you see British guys, Scottish guys, Colombians, Argentines, you get a little bit of everything. It’s not just Latin, it’s people from different corners of the United States, of the world. That’s what you get when you show up, not just Latin guys, but people from all over. And for me, that’s very encouraging. I’m hoping that continues and people will keep joining us and we’ll get bigger. Like I said, it’s only a matter of time before this gets bigger.
As the de facto capital of Latin America, is Miami the most soccer-intelligent city in the USA?
ES: I think we’re soccer snobs is what it comes down to. Are they soccer-intelligent? Yes, they want entertaining soccer. The day that we do have a top league here is when a lot of these soccer snobs will try to give it a chance, you know? I think once we get these guys and once we get the mission blown up, we can get these guys hooked.
Do you foresee the Miami team becoming the 20th MLS squad? Or do you think that spot is destined for New York?
ES: Just listening to Garber, it looks like it’s destined for New York. It looks like there could be some road blocks right now, so it could be whoever has the money first. If we could get someone who had the money and said they want Miami, we could get the team first. I just think it comes down to whoever has the money. I just get that feeling, every time they talk about Miami. To me it really sounds like they want to come back.
At what point in the future do you see another Miami club joining MLS?
ES: I wish it was sooner, but they’re going to find a way for New York to happen. Probably 2015 when it might happen, I think that’s when they’re going to. I don’t know when they’ll stop, probably 24 or something.
What’s the next step for South Florida soccer fans to take in getting a club back to Miami?
ES: Right now we’ve got to keep pushing for people to watch our second division team. I think that’s what we got to continue doing – try and get people to support. Anytime there are internationals … just push for people to show up. And keep showing MLS that this area deserves another shot.