Haitian native and Fort Lauderdale Strikers defender Stephane Guillaume has what he thinks is an easy way to bring in additional fans: Sign more Haitian players.
“Once they know there is a Haitian player here, they will come and support,” said Guillaume, who is the only Haitian on the current roster. “Soccer is our first sport [in Haiti]. It’s the only sport we really go after. The fans are very passionate, and they like me.”
Those fans will get to show their support starting Saturday, when the Strikers open their season with a 7:30 p.m. home game against FC Edmonton.
Guillaume, 29, is an experienced player with 29 caps with the Haitian national team.
He also has a history with this organization, playing for them from 2006 to 2008 when it was called Miami FC.
His best position is right back, where he can use his speed to make plays. But, as of now, Guillaume is behind third-year Striker Scott Gordon in the battle for a starting spot.
Strikers coach Daryl Shore said Guillaume is a valuable addition to this year’s team.
“We feel he will eventually help us,” said Shore, who begins his fourth season coaching the Strikers. “He had an injury in the beginning of preseason. He is not 100 percent fit yet, but he is getting better every day.”
Guillaume is one of several additions the Strikers made in the offseason with the intention of strengthening their defense.
Team captain Toni Stahl, 27, of Finland, returns to anchor the central defense, but his new partner inside will be Shavar Thomas, 32, who has 49 caps with the Jamaican national team and has played 10 years in the MLS, making 171 starts.
At left back, the Strikers added Ivan Guerrero, 35, who has 84 caps with the Honduran national team.
Also key to the Strikers’ defensive plans are a pair of one-named Brazilians — Pecka, who started 22 games for the Strikers last season, and Rubens, a 23-year-old newcomer.
Pecka and Rubens will be used as holding midfielders.
When all else fails, the Strikers have a veteran goalie in 6-5 Matt Glaeser, 27, who is starting his fourth season with the franchise and is the team’s longest-tenured player.
Last season, Glaeser had five shutouts and a 1.63 goals-against average in 27 starts.
But Shore said Glaeser, who is from Fredricksburg, Va., is getting his biggest challenge yet from Cody Laurendi, 24, who played the past two years in the NASL for Puerto Rico, mainly as a reserve.
“If we had to start the season today, Glaeser would probably start,” Shore said. “But I consider them co-No. 1s.”
The Strikers’ defense is an eclectic group comprised of players from Brazil, Honduras, Jamaica, Finland and the United States.
And if Guillaume can break into the lineup that would add to the mix — and it could only help a team that averaged 3,609 fans last season, good for middle of the pack in the NASL.
“We’re not idiots,” Shore said when asked about the value of Guillaume in a market that features a large Haitian population. “If we’re going to create an atmosphere in our stadium, we need fans of all ethnicities and generations.
“I told [Strikers management] that if you find me a good Haitian player, I’ll sign him.”
The rest is up to Guillaume — and his fans.