Tombstone For Toros?

Bob Lenoir
Date Published: 
St. Petersburg Independent

TAMPA -- Steve David didn't come to Miami with notions of being mobbed on the street. He knew his name was not likely to be mentioned in the same breath as Bob Griese's. But he did assume a few people might shake the sand out of their shoes long enough to ankle down to the Orange Bowl to give the Miami Toros the once-over.

Well, a few did. A little fewer than 5,000 per game this past season, if you want to believe the Toros' mathematics department. And that was despite the fact the Toros were kicking their way into the North American Soccer League playoffs and Steve David was in the process of becoming the league's Most Valuable Player and leading scorer.

"You'd be surprised how many kids call me by name," says David, who has involved himself in soccer clinics all over Miami, "but their parents don't know who I am."

The Toros' high-water mark came when some 14,000 curiosity seekers ventured out one night to see what the Tampa Bay Rowdies looked like. But other nights, when people such as the Boston Minutemen and the Hartford Bicentennial cluttered the card, the Toros could have hand-delivered the "crowd" home in a Volkswagen.

That in mind, the Toro brain trust is beating a path back to well-known drawing board. There is even a long-shot the Toros will be loaded up the van and headed for greener Astroturf by time the NASL breaks out the short pants again next summer.

"If something doesn't happen soon," says Greg Myers, the Toros coach, "there won't be any Miami Toros. If you said the franchise was for sale, eight or 10 cities who never considered soccer before would be interested in bying because they know they's be getting a genuine contender."

So it goes in Miami, the city which once got a songwriter all in a lather over its moon. The Magic City, the travel brochures like to call it. Observers of the professional sporting scene would probably agree with the nickname. Miami has, after all, caused a number of franchises to disappear. The white sandy beaches down there are littered with the names of extinct organizations. The Miami Floridians (basketball), the Florida Flamingos (tennis), the Miami Seahawks (football) -- all have gone on to their reward, which, one would assume, was a ticket out of town.

The Miami Toros were born four years ago as the Miami Gatos, the nickname being Latin for something or the other. The idea was to appeal to the city's Latin populace. The Latins couldn't have cared less, as it turned out, a mistake management now concedes.

"We've been completely disoriented as far as our image goes," says Bill Sheldon, the club's publicist.

When the Toros repaired to the accounting department at the close of last season, the deficit side of the ledger tilted up to the $400,000 mark. This season, with attendance still down and inflation still up, they might have to send out for an extra ration of red ink.

"I'm disturbed," says Myers. "No, hurt would be a better word. We've worked very hard. When people don't seem to care, you wonder what it's all for. I don't know what we have to do to get people into the stadium. The way we've been playing and winning, it's baffling. I'm not talking about the fringe fan now, I'm talking about the hard-core soccer fan. Where are they?"

Well, a lot of them seemed to be among the 22,000-odd screamers in Tampa Stadium last Saturday night when the Toros and Rowdies mixed it up in the NASL divisional playoffs. A lot more, no doubt, are over in Liverpool and Manchester and other places where the tea and crumpets are assumedly served up alongside a copy of whatever passes for soccer's version of "The Sporting News." Wherever they are, though, they don't seem to be in Miami. And unless the Toros can sign up Larry Csonka to play fullback, they probably won't be there too much longer, either.