South Florida soccer fans don’t have to wait for David Beckham to see Major League Soccer in Miami.
Atlanta United, the first-year MLS team drawing home crowds of 44,000, is in town Wednesday night for a U.S. Open Cup Round of 16 match against Miami FC, the top team in the North American Soccer League.
The inter-league clash, at 7:30 p.m. at FIU Riccardo Silva Stadium, is another chance for Miami FC to prove that teams from the second-tier NASL can compete with – and sometimes beat – teams from top-tier MLS. Miami, riding a 13-match unbeaten streak, advanced to this game by knocking off MLS team Orlando City 3-1 on the road.
The U.S. Open Cup is a 103-year-old tournament (third-oldest in the world) that includes teams ranging from amateur clubs to MLS. It is the American version of England’s FA Cup. Of the 16 teams left standing in the 2017 tournament, 13 are from MLS, and four are from the second-tier leagues – three from USL and Miami FC from NASL.
If Miami pulls off another upset Wednesday, it will host the quarterfinal against the winner of Chicago Fire vs. FC Cincinnati, probably on July 12.
“There’s all this talk about MLS coming to Miami; well, we have MLS soccer coming to Miami on Wednesday night,” said Sean Flynn, CEO of Miami FC. “This will be the first time an MLS team plays in South Florida since the Miami Fusion folded 20-plus years ago, and the first MLS appearance ever in Miami-Dade. I would classify this as the most important match in our club’s short history.
“This is a big one. This is the one to show up for.”
Flynn said there has been a palpable buzz in the lead-up to Wednesday’s game.
First-time buyers are ordering tickets, and more media members than usual have requested credentials for the match.
“We’ve definitely noticed an uptick since we beat Orlando City two weeks ago,” Flynn said. “People always want to compare how would an NASL team do against an MLS team. A lot of eyebrows were raised when we won that game in Orlando. It was like, `Oh, these guys are for real. They’ve had a great run in their league and beat a team a level up the U.S. Soccer pyramid.”
Miami’s leading scorer, Vincenzo Rennella, leads the league with eight goals and four assists in 13 games. Brazilian forward Pinho scored a hat trick in the 3-1 won over Orlando. And the defense is rock solid under head coach Alessandro Nesta, the legendary Italian defender.
“For us, as players, this game Wednesday is a reward for the display we put on in Orlando, and the hard work and attitude shift we made after last season,” said Miami FC captain Michael Lahoud. “We came into this season ready to make waves locally and nationally, and we’re doing that. We want to play the best – in NASL and MLS, and we’re getting our wish. We’ve earned the opportunity and it’s here. I’m really excited to test our mettle against Atlanta.”
Atlanta is coached by Gerardo “Tata” Martino, former manager of the Argentine national team. Forward Josef Martinez is on one of the best strikers in MLS. The team is in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a 7-7-3 record, but has struggled on the road (0-4-1 over the past five road games).
“We’ve earned Atlanta’s best game, and expect them to take us seriously,” Lahoud said. “For us, this isn’t about pretty soccer. It’s about surviving, advancing and continuing to write this story. MLS hasn’t been in Miami since the Fusion, and this is an opportunity for us to show we belong in the top division in America. I had four neighbors in my apartment complex say they’re going to be at the game. That’s what you live for.”
Tickets are $10 for children, $20 for adults and $30 for beer garden seats. Go to www.miamifc.com for more information.
U.S. Open Cup Round of 16
Who: Miami FC vs. Atlanta United
When: Wednesday, June 28, 7:30 p.m.
Where: FIU Riccardo Silva Stadium
Tickets: $10 for children, $20 adults, $30 beer garden. Available at the box office or at www.miamifc.com