Drowned out by the buzz surrounding the World Cup, the International Champions Cup and David Beckham’s continuing quest for a Miami Major League Soccer team is the story of Miami FC, a team still vying for titles and fighting to keep its identity in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty.
Left without a league when the floundering North American Soccer League canceled its 2018 season, Miami FC, which had beaten two MLS teams last summer and finished atop the NASL standings, opted to play in the predominantly amateur fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League under the name Miami FC2.
Rather than play at FIU’s Riccardo Silva Stadium, where they had drawn crowds as large as 10,000, they played in front of hundreds of fans at St. Thomas University. Italian legend Alessandro Nesta quit as coach and was replaced by Paul Dalglish, son of Scottish legend and longtime Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish. Half the players from the 2017 roster — including fan favorites Stefano Pinho, Kwadwo Poku and Michael Lahoud — moved on.
Despite the changes, Miami FC2 won the Sunshine Conference and will play for the NPSL championship Saturday night against FC Motown of Morristown, New Jersey, at Ranger Stadium in Madison, New Jersey. The 7:30 p.m. game will be livestreamed at MiamiFC.com.
“It’s a testament to the guys on the team that they’ve been able to focus on soccer with the hardships, uncertainties and stresses that were laid before us,” said center back Mason Trafford, one of 11 holdovers from the 2017 team. “Miami FC created a winning culture, and we do things right no matter what league we’re playing in. This was a tough year, not ideal circumstances, but hopefully we can cross the finish line, bring home a trophy on Saturday and have brighter times ahead.”
Goalkeeper Daniel Vega added: “It’s a shame we couldn’t keep building on what we achieved last year, on and off the field. We took a big step back this year, and have no idea about our future, so there’s a lot on our minds as we head into this championship game. We are loyal to Miami FC, all we can do is play our best and hope to find a strong league to play in for 2019.”
Upon being hired, Dalglish was faced with the task of replacing half the roster and maintaining positive energy in a locker room that was devastated by the cancellation of the NASL season.
“My challenge was keeping them happy and trying to create an environment where they could just enjoy football because we still at this stage don’t know where we’re playing next year, so we’ve got people who just had their first child, people that have children already, mortgages, car payments,” Dalglish said.
“We’re just trying to do our best when we cross the white line to play a game. The guys have shown unbelievable mentality and great character. Nobody can ask them to achieve more than they’ve achieved this year and I’m really, really proud to be the coach.”
Sean Flynn, CEO of the team, remains optimistic that the club has a viable future. “In the midst of the trouble and uncertainty, we found a home to play in the NPSL, a great league with 98 teams. We wanted to keep the brand alive, remain active in the Miami community, and compete for championships, which we did. The league issues are a big hurdle, but we’ll get through it and hopefully have a resolution soon.”