The Forgotten Story of the Tampa Bay Mutiny

With all of the fanfare from MLS around Orlando City joining the league and David Beckham's team in Miami, it bears remembering that before all of this, there was the Tampa Bay Mutiny.

MLS is set to unveil it's newest franchise, the David Beckham-owned club in Miami. This is shortly on the heels of Orlando City being added last year. By 2016 or 2017, the Sunshine State will have two clubs once again.

But before Beckham F.C., before Orlando City, and even before the Miami Fusion, there was the Tampa Bay Mutiny.

The Mutiny were one of the original 10 MLS franchises that were awarded on the heels of the 1994 World Cup in the United States. The club was awarded to Tampa by MLS without an owner - something that would ultimately prove to be its downfall. Around the same time, current Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz and former San Antonio Scorpions manager Tim Hankinson were hired by MLS. Sakiewicz was in Corporate Sales with Major League Soccer from 1995-1996 According to Hankinson,

"Originally, the MLS Headquarters occupied the ‘94 World Cup Headquarters out in Los Angeles. And when Doug Logan, the commissioner, took over MLS he wanted to move the league headquarters to New York - to Manhattan. And they ended up securing office space right across from Grand Central Station. And I have a funny picture that was taken because while construction is going on, there are no desks, there are no chairs, there is just construction - and two boxes. Nick would sit on one, because he was in Corporate Sales, and I was the Director of Player Development and had asked to go ahead and move to New York. And he would sit on one box and I’d sit on the other and we’d share a telephone that’s just sitting on the floor."

The Tampa Bay Mutiny would be Sakiewicz’s next stop. The Mutiny were a club in peril when Sakiewicz took over the club in October 1996. Sakiewicz became President and General Manager of the club shortly after team official Mark Fortunat was arrested for stealing more than $100,000 from the Mutiny. "Being a league owned team, they had chosen him (Sakiewicz) from within." said Hankinson. The club ended 1996 with 58 points - good for first place in the East and making the Mutiny MLS’ first Supporter’s Shield winner. In 1997, the club ended with 45 points (2nd in the East). Former Mutiny manager John Kowalski said this about the early part of Nick Sakiewicz's tenure in Tampa Bay:

"He attempted to do something in Tampa with the team. When he took over the team, the team was in a bit of a crisis situation. They had some issues after the first season. It was a very difficult situation for him and for me to step into, to weed out the issues and the problems. But we were able to achieve some of those things."

In early 1998 according to the New York Times, Tampa Bay traded star player Carlos Valderrama to rival Miami Fusion for an allocated player and future draft pick. This however contradicts Kowalski, who said that "he (Valderrama) was an allocated player taken by the league and given to the Miami Fusion."

Kowalski went on to say this about the 1997-98 offseason:

"There were certain rules within the league when MLS decided to bring in Miami and Chicago as expansion teams, with dispersal drafts, we lost so many players including Carlos Valderrama. The team was based - he (Valderrama) was the centerpiece and everything was organized around the star player Carlos Valderrama - and outside of his (Sakiewicz) power and outside of my power Carlos Valderrama went to Miami, and to rebuild the team would have taken probably a couple of years. That affected the press and the image of the team. Carlos Valderrama was unhappy about the move as well. We were very unhappy about the move. It was one of those things where we lost 10 players in the dispersal draft, and that affected the quality of the team. And once you lose that many players, we became less of a team than expansion teams. Key players. Certain players who were on visas were automatically (allocated) by the rules of the league at the time. We (the Mutiny) were owned by the league, not by individual owner - that affected immensely the quality of the product that was on the team. That was very difficult to promote the team the right way and to really promote yourself as a major team. They had a great accomplishment during the first year but they also created a big, big mess - you can look into what I am talking about with law cases, people went to jail and prison - that type of things. I won’t elaborate on that because I was not around during the first year. He (Sakiewicz) came in to clean up a lot of different things and did a very good job with all of that."

1998 (the season after Valderrama was traded/given to Miami) was a disaster for the Mutiny. The club ended with 34 points - 5th in the East and out of the playoffs for the first time in their history. Roy Lassiter - the remaining star player, was traded to DC United after 6 games. Kowalski had this to say about that season

"Roy’s game was very fast. He scored 27 goals the first year in 1996 with Tampa, but most of those goals - like 19 or 21 - were assisted from Carlos Valderrama. Once Carlos left, there was no one who would feed quality passes that Roy needed, so that he gets 3 or 4 through balls for Roy to finish with one goal, but that combination was extremely effective.

There was some issues outside of the field and Roy was also in trouble with different things, and there was a terrific player who was from Tampa - Roy Wegerle. And Roy (Wegerle) was doing very well with DC United and at that time also there was a big drive to combine in Tampa ex-Tampa Bay Rowdies fans American and English because was it was a little bit catered towards the Hispanic crowd, and the Hispanic crowd was not necessarily to bringing in Brits and Americans, and Roy Wegerle was very popular from his previous days playing in Tampa, and Nick made the decision to go for that and to do that trade, and both players at that time expressed interest. Roy Lassiter to go to DC and Roy Wegerle to come to Tampa.

Shortly after that, Roy Wegerle in 97-98 he went with the national team, and he got injured. And then it didn’t work out for the national team and it didn’t work out for us because he had a really bad groin and hamstring injuries - those are lingering, long-term injuries. At that time issues happened with the National Team - I don’t know if you remember Eric Wynalda and John Harkes - John Harkes was dropped from the team and there were all kinds of issues and that affected that entire team, but that was a separate issue. Anyhow, Roy Wegerle unfortunately for us got injured while on national team duty and then we were left without the type of player that the intent was to have."

Kowalski was sacked 15 games into the 1998 season, having gone 3-12. Tim Hankinson was brought in to manage the club. "The league budgets were very tight at that time for the league owned teams, and Nick interviewed me to see if I would be the right guy to come on board, and he hired me" said Hankinson "Nick had a crisis going on with this team, and I came in to try and turn it. So we worked on these things and were able to turn the team into a playoff team the next two years." Hankinson went on to be the winningest coach in Tampa Bay Mutiny history,

"Sure I'd love to have Carlos,'' he said."Anytime you have an opportunity to have a player like him, you have to consider it. We're not going to be making any moves just to satisfy the league. Ultimately is my and Tim's call." - Nick Sakiewicz as quoted by the Tampa Bay Sun-Sentinel on April 21,1999

In 1999 - his last season with the club - Sakiewicz managed to bring back Valderrama. "That second year, the team that had Mamadou Diallo and Carlos Valderrama – top in assists and top scorer – was just a dynamic group to watch play. I think it was a great turnaround for both of us." said Hankinson

The Mutiny, however would go on to have their second-worst season ever to win 32 points (3rd in the East). Despite all of this, Sakiewicz was named MLS Executive of the Year in 1999. Sakiewicz was appointed as Vice President and General Manager of the New York MetroStars on January 12, 2000. The Mutiny improved slightly in 2000, finishing second in the Central Division, however they were eliminated in the MLS Cup Quarterfinals by Los Angeles. Attendance also sagged, down from a record 13,106 in 1999 to 9,452. In 2001, the club finished dead last in the Central Division, however their average attendance rose from to 10,479 in 2001. In a CNNSI.com article from December 17, 2001:

"MLS has increased the asking price for the league-operated Tampa Bay Mutiny in negotiations with the Glazer family, owners of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- who already earn revenue from Mutiny games at Raymond James Stadium.

Mayor Dick Greco told the Tampa Tribune that he is working with community leaders to save city's team. He said MLS had proposed that the Glazers fund operation of the Mutiny without initially becoming full investors, similar to an arrangement that the San Jose Earthquakes have with Silicon Valley Sports and Entertainment, owners of the NHL's San Jose Sharks.

"From what I understand, Joel Glazer, who loves soccer, did what he could to keep the team. He was willing to pick up the Mutiny's losses and operate the club," Greco told the paper. "But the MLS owners upped the price on the investment, which changed things.

"I've had discussions with [MLS] commissioner [Don Garber] regarding three potential owners of the Mutiny who have emerged since the threat of contraction came up this week," Greco said. "The city wants to keep the team, but contraction has come up so quickly that we need time to respond."

"(Tom) Veit, the Mutiny's former senior VP of sales and marketing... said the Mutiny generated $2.5 million revenue in its best year in 1999, primarily through corporate sponsorships and ticket sales. Yet expenses far exceeded that amount to the point that concession and parking, which generated less than $1 million per season, would have helped only to make up an annual shortfall.

Lack of attendance hindered the Mutiny despite its front office's best marketing efforts, including discount game tickets, free post-game concerts and Fourth of July fireworks displays. The Mutiny averaged around 13,000 fans for each game in a market where its predecessors, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, achieved sellout crowds at Tampa Stadium during the late 1970s.

The Mutiny briefly considered building its own smaller stadium, comparable to one built for the MLS franchise in Columbus, Ohio." – Tampa Bay Business Journal May 23, 2005 article

MLS folded the Mutiny on January 8, 2002. Sakiewicz told the New York Times the day after:

''I'm pretty excited about the fact that we'll have a stronger league tomorrow than we had yesterday, on and off the field,'' the MetroStars' Sakiewicz said. ''And we'll get two high-impact players out of the deal.''

Malcolm Glazer instead went on to take over Manchester United, and that seems to have worked out pretty well for the Glazers, Manchester United, and the English Premier League - everyone involved except the Mutiny.

Twelve years later, and soccer has returned to the Tampa Bay area. The latest incarnation of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, whose General Manager Perry van der Beck was an assistant with the Mutiny under Alfonso Mondelo before becoming the club's final manager, won the NASL's Soccer Bowl in 2012 and finished second overall in the league in 2013. English soccer academy VisionPro Sports Institute started VSI Tampa Bay in 2011, and while the USL PDL team still exists, the USL PRO club ceased operations in 2013. But ever since contraction, there has not been any plans of bringing an MLS franchise back to the Tampa area.With all of the fanfare from MLS around Orlando City joining the league and David Beckham's team in Miami, it bears remembering that before all of this, there was the Tampa Bay Mutiny.

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