The Fort Lauderdale Strikers open their spring season at home Saturday, and their roster now includes one of Germany’s most experienced goalkeepers and a German forward known for his finishing touch and his honesty.
Oka Nikolov, a 39-year-old keeper who played 19 years for Eintracht Frankfurt, was signed to bring veteran leadership. On the other end of the field will be 36-year-old Marius Ebbers, who scored 46 goals in five seasons with St. Pauli.
Ebbers made international headlines in April 2012 when in an important match with promotion implications, he got a referee to disallow his apparent game-winning goal because he admitted he hit it with his arm as well as his head. None of the officials had seen the handball. Fortunately for Ebbers and St. Pauli, they went on to win the game in injury time.
“It was a very difficult situation for me because it was a very important game,” Ebbers said. “I thought it was both head and hand, and this is what I told the referee. We won the game, at least. It was perfect.”
In addition to providing leadership, Ebbers also is the true finisher the team needed.
“What we were lacking was a real No. 9, and we think Marius can fill this hole,” Strikers coach Gunter Kronsteiner said. “Oka brings not only years, but the way he acts. Usually a player with his background has an attitude. Oka’s completely down to earth, talks to each player, even the last one.”
Ebbers had never played outside Germany. All he knew about the Strikers is that German legend Gerd Muller once played here. “For me, this is totally new,” he said. “It’s a great experience to meet other people, speak in another language. And the weather is much better than in Germany.”
Among the other newcomers is 20-year-old Opa Locka native Mitchell Lopez, a midfielder of Brazilian descent who impressed coaches in open tryouts. He played club for the Miramar Lions, and attended Miramar High and Deerfield Beach High. “It’s still so hard to believe this dream came true,” he said. “I am playing pro soccer in my hometown. Not too many people can say that.”