It was a blip on the radar of one of the most significant careers in American soccer history. But Ron Newman, who passed away Monday at age 82, had an active six months with the Miami Americans in 1980. His time in the Magic City is instructive in how far the sport has gone, but also reminds us that if the history of the game in the United States doesn’t repeat itself, it tends to rhyme.
According to the Miami Herald’s Greg Cote (yes, the well-known columnist cut his teeth covering soccer in South Florida a few decades ago), after Newman was let go from the Fort Lauderdale Strikers by the Robbie family after failing to see eye to eye, he refused to just walk away. Spurning an offer from the San Jose Earthquakes of the North American Soccer League (where the Strikers played), Newman decided to try to pull the support of the Strikers out from under the team. He found partners, bought the New Jersey Americans of the second-division American Soccer League, and moved them to Miami.
Miami had failed in soccer support before. The Miami Toros (originally the Gatos) never drew big numbers to the Orange Bowl, and failed to hit before the great success of the NASL in the late 1970s. The club was moved to Fort Lauderdale just in time to ride the wave. That didn’t faze Newman.
“I enjoy being told it can’t be done. It motivates me,” Newman told Cote back in 1980. “I’ve been told before it can’t be done.
In classic Newman style, he entered the club with a splash. A million-dollar project and a promise to scout then-president Jimmy Carter for the new second-division side. In a few weeks, Newman would reveal the team’s logo to local media by challenging them to work together to complete a puzzle displaying the design. Showmanship and presentation were keys to Newman’s success wherever he went.
The hope was that Tropical Park, then a recently renovated racetrack would provide a unique and high-quality viewership experience for fans. Compared to Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, the home of the Strikers, ownership believed it offered a better experience. Looking back, it’s so quaint as to almost inspire a laugh, knowing the fate of the grandstand at Tropical Park (torn down and replaced by bleachers) and Lockhart (renovated to host Major League Soccer matches, only recently falling into disrepair).
A disappointing start
The season finally kicked off on April 20, with the Americans getting bested by the Pennsylvania Stoners in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Things didn’t improve from there, with on-the-field results (2-4-3 in Ron Newman’s time with the club) disappointing ownership, but not nearly as much as attendance numbers (1,487 turned out to Tropical Park to watch what would be Newman’s last match, a loss to the New York United on June 15, 1980) and Newman’s massive contract. Something had to give, and four days later, on June 20, Newman resigned to give the club a chance to succeed without his massive salary on the balance sheet.
Just like that, it was gone. The Americans folded within the year. While other clubs did form (Miami Sharks, Miami Freedom), the next major splash in Miami-Dade soccer wouldn’t come for nearly another two decades, when the Miami Fusion arrived. Ron Newman’s time in Miami, while featuring flashes of what he was known best for, was just a few words in what is otherwise one of the fullest biographies in American soccer history.