Memo to all you South Florida soccer fans sitting around waiting for David Beckham’s Major League Soccer team to materialize: In the meantime, check out Miami FC, which on Saturday night took over sole possession of first place in the NASL standings with a come-from-behind 2-1 road victory over Puerto Rico FC.
The second-year Miami team, coached by Italian legendary defender Alessandro Nesta, made a few key offseason acquisitions and appears talented enough to contend for a title this year.
Italian owner Riccardo Silva lives part-time in Miami and has spared no expense getting his team off the ground. Last year, the team signed veterans Michael Lahoud, Richie Ryan, Ghana national team member Kwadwo Poku and Vincenzo Rennella, an Italian forward who has played for Genoa and Spanish club Real Betis and is on loan from Spanish club Real Valladolid.
This season, Silva brought in a pair of Brazilians — former NASL Golden Boot winner Stefano Pinho, who spent many years at Fluminense, and 2016 Best XI member Michel, who was previously with Brazilian club Atletico Mineiro and Belgian team Standard Liege.
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Silva also spent $3.76 million for a new turf field and other improvements at FIU Stadium, which was renamed Riccardo Silva Stadium.
FC Edmonton coach Colin Miller’s team lost at Miami 2-0 last week and said after the game: “They are easily the most-expensively assembled team in the NASL and you can see that they are, for me, the class of the league at this moment in time. It’s going to take something to beat them, especially in Miami with this heat and such.”
With Saturday’s victory, Miami FC has 11 points and sits atop the standings ahead of Jacksonville (10), San Francisco (9) and the N.Y. Cosmos (9). Miami FC is home this Saturday against Indy Eleven. The 7:30 p.m. game is being billed as Brazilian Heritage Night, featuring Brazilian music and food. Tickets start at $15.
▪ Atlanta averaging 49,000 fans: Greg Garza has been a soccer gypsy for his entire life and is inked with a gypsy tattoo on his right forearm as a tribute to his vagabond ways.
The U.S. national team and Atlanta United defender moved from his home in Grapevine, Texas, to Sao Paulo, Brazil, when he was 12 so he could better his game with a Brazilian youth club. His mother, who spoke only English, went with him and his father, a Mexican-American telecom salesman, stayed behind.
Greg became fluent in Portuguese and learned “La Ginga,” the Brazilian style of soccer that employs rhythm and dance moves with the ball. He then moved to Bradenton at age 14 to train at the U.S. Soccer Residency program, where he spent two years before playing in the Under-17 World Cup in South Korea.
At 16, Garza signed his first pro contract with a Portuguese club and moved overseas alone; and at 18 he got married to a Brazilian woman whose brother and father had played pro soccer.
From there, it was on to Mexico, where he spent five seasons with Tijuana. He is now 25 and expecting his second son.
“I don’t really have a true home,” said Garza, who was in Miami last week promoting the league. “I just move from place to place, wherever soccer takes me, and I adapt. I never had the normal teenage life because I was chasing my soccer dream. I have made a lot of sacrifices to reach this point.”
Of all the places he has played, the most pleasant surprise has been Atlanta, where the MLS team is drawing a league-high average crowd of 49,077, ahead of the Seattle Sounders (43,004), much better than Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves (28,107) and slightly better than Georgia Tech football (47,503), which shares its Bobby Dodd Stadium with Atlanta United.
Team owner Arthur Blank, who also owns the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, built a $60 million training facility for the MLS club and hired coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino, formerly of Barcelona and the Argentine national team.
“It’s really been an unexpected atmosphere,” Garza said.
“There are about 15 different cultures on the team. For every single one of us, whether they’re German, Paraguayan, Venezuelan, Trinidad and Tobago, Irish, the few Americans on the team, to have almost 65,000 people the first game and the city completely behind us, it’s taken our breath away.”
Garza hopes Beckham and MLS can get a team in Miami.
“Guys around the league, we want Miami to be an MLS city,” Garza said.
“What kind of player wouldn’t want to come live and play in a city like Miami? To me, David Beckham is the player who had the biggest impact on the growth of MLS and it would be great to see him have a team.”
Premier League: Chelsea (81), Tottenham (77), Liverpool (70), Manchester City (69), Manchester United (65).
La Liga: Barcelona and Real Madrid (84), Atletico Madrid (74), Sevilla (69), Villarreal (63).
Serie A: Juventus (85), Roma (78), Napoli (77), Lazio (70), Atalanta (65).
Ligue 1: Monaco (86), PSG (83), Nice (77), Lyon (63), Marseille (58).
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (76), Leipzig (66), Dortmund (60), Hoffenheim (58), Freiburg (47).
NASL: Miami FC (11), Jacksonville (10), San Francisco and N.Y. Cosmos (9).
MLS: East — Toronto (19), Orlando City (18), Columbus, N.Y. Red Bulls and NYCFC (16). West — Dallas and K.C. (18), Portland (17), Houston (16).
Monday: Chelsea vs. Middlesbrough (3 p.m., NBCSN).