by JAKE NUTTING
For the first time in several years, supporters of the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers do not have any on-field matchups between the historic rivals to look forward to. The Rowdies have decamped from the NASL for the USL and the Strikers are set to take the entire year off as they look to secure new ownership.
However, the owners of each team remain in conflict with one another — and will meet in court to settle the score.
A hearing has been set for March 1 in Rowdies Owner Bill Edwards’ lawsuit against the Strikers’ corporate entity, Miami FC, LLC over unpaid loans. The hearing will address Edwards’ motion for a summary judgement against Fort Lauderdale’s ownership for $300,000 plus interest from two separate loans, as well as attorney fees and any damages the court deems appropriate.
A sworn affidavit from Edwards claims his company, Marketing Solutions Publications, entered into a loan agreement with Strikers ownership this past July and loaned the South Florida club over $700,000 over the course of the season. The Strikers were released from having to pay back an initial loan of $450,000 when the two parties agreed to an amendment to the original deal, but Edwards is still seeking payment on two later loans.
Court documents show a promissory note to repay a loan of $220,000 was signed by Strikers Managing Director Luis Cuccatti in August. Edwards alleges that an oral agreement was agreed upon to send the Strikers an emergency $80,000 in order for the team to be able to host its September 3 match against the New York Cosmos. MSP sent the Strikers a promissory note for the emergency loan shortly after, but the Strikers did not sign it.
The NASL is listed as a defendant in the case as a result of the secured interest agreement it entered into with Strikers ownership, which Edwards claims violates the terms of the deal he signed with the Strikers in July.
Fort Lauderdale filed an affirmative defense in the case last month, denying all allegations and requesting the case be dismissed as it would be unfair to enforce the loan agreement under the current circumstances. The defense also cited the clean hands doctrine as a reason Edwards should be denied in his pursuit, suggesting the Rowdies owner might have acted unethically or in bad faith in his dealings with Fort Lauderdale.
The Strikers have not filed any evidence in support of their defense at this time.
The legal turmoil comes as the Strikers and the NASL are trying to find new ownership for the team. Failure to meet payroll on time (or at all) plagued the team’s current Brazilian ownership group throughout the 2016 season. The troubles even persist into 2017, though, as several former employees told the Sun-Sentinel this week they had not been able to cash their settlement checks after being laid off by the team in December.
Discussions to sell the team to PSG Academy –which currently operates FC Miami City in the PDL — have been ongoing for weeks, but no deal has been finalized. The group’s initial offer for the Strikers was reportedly shot down by the NASL’s leadership as the league is in a desperate position to avoid any missteps in bringing on new investors and owners.
“[The Strikers] have had a number of ownership groups who have been interested in purchasing the club,” North Carolina FC Owner Steve Malik recently told Neil Morris. “Our league has been vetting them, and we want an ownership group in place who has the time to be successful in 2018.”