Parents, Strikers, Florida: Diego Meeroff of the Gold Coast Soccer Premier League
"Did I mention how crazy my parents are?"
Today's interview is brought to you by MeritFit. MeritFit.co is a Kansas City based fitness and nutrition blog run by one of my good friends and certified Personal Trainer, Dustin Duewel. He played soccer for 12 years, inspiring his passion for fitness and nutrition. Check out his blog for all kinds of useful information to up your game and get ahead of the competition.
Good morning everyone, welcome back to AP! Before we dig in, I want to let you know about an exciting new column that will be coming soon to AP, called The Soccer Heel. Heel is the term for a villain in professional wrestling, though heels often speak uncomfortable truth's and are booed for it. The Soccer Heel will be where you read about hot takes covering all kinds of uncomfortable truth's in the world of soccer, from the lower levels and beyond. Tweet us some topic suggestions using the tag #soccerheel.
Now, Diego actually started off by contacting to me to put his league standings on the site, which you can find by clicking Here. As part of a concentrated effort to promote the league, we decided to do an interview as well to help begin drumming up some more interest in the Gold Coast Soccer Premier League. Check it out.
Tell me a little about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, and what your roll is with the Gold Coast Soccer Premier League?
My name is Diego Meeroff. I’m currently the Director of Marketing for Florida Atlantic University, a State University of Florida, located in Boca Raton. Although I was born in Oklahoma City and my family moved all over the country, I’m truly from Coral Springs/Parkland, FL. Part of South Florida’s ever growing landscape, we are about 45 minutes (or 2 hours depending on traffic) from Downtown Miami and South Beach.
I’m currently the webmaster for the league and an occasional player for one of the teams in the league, the Academy Foxes. My parents, Jose Carlos and Susana run the league out of their passion for the game. My mom secures all the field permits and my dad mainly spends his time scouring the region for teams to participate. My parents also run the Academy Foxes team. My dad coaches and my mom is our equipment manager. My dad is 73 and my mom turns 70 next year. They are crazy, but in a good way.
How did you come to be a fan of soccer in general, and working with the GCSPL?
Did I mention how crazy my parents are? I’m not so sure that I became a fan at one point or I was just born this way. The American soccer world was my world from as early as I can remember. I lived and breathed soccer. Everything else was secondary, I almost missed my high school graduation because it was the same day as the state cup finals.
The game was literally all around me. In the mid 80s at the Orange Bowl, they used to have a mini tournament called the Marlboro Cup. It would have top South American Club teams and the US National team. I saw the squad that would eventually make it to Italy in 1990 before they were anybody. It was awesome.
The Gold Coast was here in South Florida before we got here and we always knew it had the best quality players in the area. My parents started to coordinate a youth/collegiate season of the league in the summer called the Soccer Development League. Eventually they ended up with the entire league altogether.
What's the story behind the creation of the GCSPL? I understand the league has quite a lengthy history behind it.
The story of the Gold Coast as an affiliated league began in the mid 70s and the rise of the original NASL and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The Strikers here were gods. There wasn’t much competition in professional sports either. One of the Strikers best players, Gerd Muller, opened a restaurant (Gerd Muller’s Ambry) and that became the watering hole for soccer folk. It was there that the Gold Coast was born and it was there that awards banquets would be held.
After the league started and stayed, it began to attract great talent from the Caribbean and Central America. Everyone with skin in the game played in this league. And everyone who played in the league was a soccer ambassador. They were high school coaches, youth club owners, soccer camp directors. As professional soccer leagues came and went, the Gold Coast survived. People needed a place to play and the Gold Coast provided just that. At one point the Gold Coast had itself 4 main divisions, an Over-30 and Over-40 division and a U23 summer league.
It was a model men’s local amateur league. We are not that big anymore and that is more than likely due to the culture of soccer in the States today. The Gold Coast today still exists because there is passion for the sport for the people who stay involved. And it has found a place in the current US Soccer pyramid. There are players in this league who will be on NPSL rosters. Some may make to the USL in a few years or play on a PDL team. Some players are Caribbean national team members and so on.
Soccer seems to be a changing life form here and the Gold Coast will always be a part of that.
Who's team has been in the league the longest?
The club that has been in the league the longest is The Academy Foxes. Originally named Lauderdale Soccer Club (LSC), they began playing in the Gold Coast starting in the summer of 1996 in the U23 division. LSC also was a youth club for a long time until about 5-6 years ago when they focused only at this level. At that point they changed names to The Academy.
What does a typical league season look like in terms of number of games played and teams participating?
The league really is a product of our environment. You will generally see seasons of 6 to up 18 teams depending on the need. League seasons will run about 3-4 months with each team playing each other 2 or 3 times before playoffs. We can have up to 3 seasons per year. We’ve had several teams throughout our history enter the US Open Cup. I would have to do some real digging to see how far they’ve gone. We’ve also had some notable players in the league as well. Back in the original NASL days, most of those guys played in the Gold Coast. In the 90s we had Mark Chung (USNMT and MLS) and Tyrone Marshall (Jamaica and MLS) in the league. Those are just to name a few.
Since you have a day job and work for the league, what does your typical day look like? How do you go about balancing everything you have to do?
Two browsers! It’s the only way to be logged into Facebook or your gmail account and toggle between work and soccer. I keep two browsers open. I try to make sure I update standings and scores and schedules on Mondays. Then I scour social media every morning to see what else is going on. My father writes news posts on the league site while I maintain a separate blog (www.strikerlikers.com) to allow myself some room to talk about my soccer experience and opinions.
Is there any reason the turnover for teams seems to be so high, and what could be done to fix it?
The high turnover in teams can be attributed to the high turnover in population in our area. It is very transient at times. Also, these teams require funding and that isn’t so readily available. In fact, we have players that play in our league who have been on 3-4 teams. I think one possible solution could be having clubs tied to youth organizations that are more stable. If a team has a strong organization behind it, it would increase the possibility of sustainability.
Another reason could be that these teams are comprised of players looking to make the jump to another level. They may play in the league for a few seasons and then try to make the jump to another league, PDL, NPSL, etc.
Has the emergence of so many other leagues in Florida changed how you approach growing the league at all?
Yes, our approached has definitely changed. In South Florida it is very hard to travel. It takes a lot of effort to go from Miami to Fort Lauderdale for example. Leagues have sprung up to make things easier on that front. For amateur players, most who have full time jobs and have started families, 2 hours car rides for a soccer game is a big undertaking.
We actually have great relationships with the other affiliated leagues in the area. We try to coordinate schedules because we also understand that players play for several teams in different leagues at this level. For example, if you 21-22 and trying to make a PDL team, you can play in three amateur leagues that play on different nights per week.
How do you hope to see the league grow and stabilize over the next five years?
You always have to remember, especially here, is that all the leagues in our area are mom and pop outfits. Each league is the brainchild of a few people and the sweat and tears of even fewer. I don’t believe the players are aware of that and we run these leagues because we don’t want them to know. We just want to see these players play hard, have fun and succeed in their playing career.
That being said, our league’s most recent strategy for growth has been to align and partner with a professional team in the area. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a stable professional club for quite some time. In an ideal scenario we would have a working partnership with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Their own turnover in ownership made it difficult to progress those discussions and now they don’t really exist. But that was a promising idea. Especially when you realize that the league began because of the original Strikers.
So that could still be in the works. We are pushing and supporting a new ownership for the Strikers and getting them back on the playing field.
Another idea is too look the other way, at youth clubs. Take a look at FYSA (Florida Youth Soccer) and the South Florida region and see if our league could take on the older age groups past U18/19. We’d also like to tie in Coaching Licensing Courses through the league and even a separate training academy. Owning our own space, field, facility would be a nice touch as well.
You mentioned the Strikers and their search for new owner. A couple of rumors out there have two or three different groups trying to take over. Is there anyone you guys are really pushing to take over the club, or is it more being willing to support whoever wants to revives the team?
This is a little yes and no. We don’t know who is actually looking to take the club on as of yet. We’ve heard several rumors but haven’t reached out to anyone specifically. And we would enjoy having them back on the field.
We have been through enough ownership groups to understand what doesn’t work and we would hope that a new team would be open to listen to us. I think that previous ownership groups across South Florida have underestimated the soccer knowledge here and have presented a product that has been of low quality. We know we are not an easy market, but we are willing to work with any group that puts the community first.
Not sure if you know anything about this, or can even say anything, but I do have several Strikers fans who read this blog, so I have to ask. Have you heard anything at all about how the Strikers sales is going, and do you think they'll be back at all?
I have no direct connection with the current Strikers situation. Several former employees have tweeted that they feel a sale is around the corner and that this season is just a hiatus not the bitter end. Obviously we want them back, but we want to make sure they’re back for the right reasons. And that is to be an ambassador for the sport, a representative of our community and a partner with the entire South Florida soccer environment.
If you could get your own ground for the league, what would you do with it? I'm really curious about people in the lower levels would like to do if they could have their own field.
Having our own facility would really be something that cements what we are trying to do. For an amateur league, if you can keep all the games in one place it helps. Just one less thing for the teams to worry about. It makes it easier to assign referees, and so on and so on. Our own place would also be the linchpin for an academy setup. It’s pie in the sky thinking and would require major investment, but it is what we dream about.
What would you consider the 'must haves' at a basic field for your league?
It doesn’t need to be too much really. One of our current setups is pretty nice though. It’s a city owned field that was updated a few years back for the city’s youth tackle football team - Coral Springs Chargers. It’s a turf field (not my favorite, but more cities are adopting it because of the maintenance). It has a pretty seating area on both sides along with lights and a scoreboard. They have a concession stand and a press box as well. Good parking lot. Like I said, it’s got some nice bells and whistles. I have to look into if they have locker rooms as well, I’m not actually sure since our teams don’t necessarily need them. There is a multipurpose room adjacent to the field which is a nice perk too. It would be nice however to play on a field with out football goalposts and field markings.
With the USASA getting more and more vocal about restructuring the amateur leagues, do you have any thoughts about what they're doing? Excited or disappointed?
I’m always excited but with caution. It’s not easy just to have a good idea and have it trickle down the associations. I’ve been attending Florida State Soccer Association (our USASA affiliate) meetings with my folks since forever and there has always been this talk. It will take a lot of buy-in to reach local levels. What we are seeing more of now is communication between leagues from across our country. I think that will make a huge difference. Lead by example in a way. In the 80s and 90s no one knew what other leagues were doing, not even in your own state. Now we can see the successes and failures play out on Twitter and that is a good thing.
There has been a silo effect with a lot of local/regional leagues, us included. Imagine an amateur league system that was nationally coordinated and provides opportunities for player to be seen by bigger clubs. It may need more resources, more finances, but the rewards would be greater. There are a lot of moving parts here, and I think we are just taking the first step - open ourselves up and talk to each other.
We have 3 major affiliated leagues in South Florida, ours, CASA (Caribbean Americas Soccer Association - www.casasoccerleague.com) and the APSL (American Premier Soccer League - www.apslsoccer.com). You’ll see that a lot of our teams play in all three leagues. We all work with each other and we all have slightly different motives. We are all coexisting at the moment and with the emergence of the NPSL, I think our area is getting a big boost. This is another conversation but our pro soccer setup is a bit lacking when you think about how many players from our area have made it to the USMNT, MLS, etc. We have the talent here and we have teams and leagues. I think we are on the verge of something special in South Florida. Don’t be surprised if we have a few full-fledged pro teams in this market in a few years. MLS, NASL and USL.
Having been involved in the Florida soccer scene as long as you have, how you describe the interest in the game, willingness of people to support a team, and talent level of players to an outsider? Your area of Florida consistently gets a bum wrap for supporting teams, especially in soccer.
I guess I started some of this in the last question but here it goes. Interest - this is not a simple category. There is interest in playing the game, there is no question. Troves of players are produced down here, we have 2 USMNT players currently in Jozy Altidore and Alejandro Bedoya. I’m not up to speed on the women’s team so I won’t speak about that. But we have the talent here and it can be produced here. Now, is there interest in supporting an MLS team? An NASL or USL team? The answer is yes, but it is not as simple as it sounds. Miami for example needs their stadium. I think that is important. The Miami sports fan is demanding and they won’t show up for something that is sub-par. Not even the NFL can deny that. It’s a Miami mentality. That is who they are. I say they because I’m not Miami, and I don’t really associate. And that is true for a lot of South Floridians who don’t live in or directly around Miami. We will see how Miami FC fares, but another obstacle to interest is ownership. Fans don’t like to be pandered to and unfortunately that is what has happened over the years when groups transplant themselves here and don’t realize how educated this market it.
The further North you go it changes. There is a different mentality that will respond to a team that works hard and is open about its management. The Strikers failed because they tried to be flashy but couldn’t back it up. They pranced Ronaldo around for one game, but never updated the stadium and didn’t operate using best practices or transparency. I think the bum wrap is definitely deserved but it’s not to be for the fans and the lovers of soccer to take the blame. There really hasn’t been an ownership that “gets it”. Across the country it is working, it’s not working here because these groups don’t believe in the community as much as they should. When that happens you will see pro teams here. And like I said, don’t be surprised if we end up with 2 MLS teams, or more USL and NASL teams.
As far as talent level, it’ here. We’ve got 2 players now on the USMNT and we’ve had several over the years. Some names I can remember off hand are Eric Eichmann (played in 1990 WC Qualifying), Cory Gibbs, Marc Chung, Steve Ralston (not from here but played at FIU), Peter Marshall (LA Galaxy and played for the Jamaican National Team), Bobby Boswell, Craig Ziadie (Jamaica), David Winner, the list goes on.
Favorite league and or team to watch for fun?
Racing Club de Avellaneda in Argentina's Primera. (I got a soft spot for them since that was the team my dad grew up with).
Would you rather attend the Euros, AFC Nations Cup, or Gold Cup?
Favorite players, one past, one present?
Like asking me my favorite movie or band (you can't have just one). Also, every USMNT player is my favorite player.
Past - Enzo Schifo (Belgium '86 and '90)
Present - Antoine Griezmann (France, Atletico Madrid)
Any books or podcasts, soccer related or otherwise, that you think people could benefit from?
I'm not big podcast guy, I like the long-form article - Sports Illustrated has a site dedicated to this - www.si.com/longform. And I'm a sucker for documentaries - Once in a Lifetime (NY Cosmos), Sons of Ben, Planet FIFA.
Where can people find out more about you and the GCSPL?
sdleague.com for info on the league and strikerlikers.com for my personal views on soccer in SoFlo.
What would you say to someone about why they should get out there and support their local team or league?
There is something special about this game, so special that so many of us will make huge efforts just to play for 90 minutes a week. It brings joy to our lives, so come join us!
Thank you for your time again Diego, I really appreciate it. Remember, if you are enjoying the weekly content coming out on AP you can Follow AP on Twitter, or Like AP on Facebook. And if you want make sure you never miss an interview, and want to read articles before everyone else, click here and sign up for the Newsletter. You'll be the first to know when articles are released and learn about other exciting content down the road.
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