Miami FC ties Tampa Bay 1-1 in front of big crowd at home opener

Miami FC forward Ariel Martinez, left, dribbles against the Rowdies’ Eric Avila during Miami’s home debut.
Miami FC forward Ariel Martinez, left, dribbles against the Rowdies’ Eric Avila during Miami’s home debut.

Professional soccer returned to Miami on Saturday night, and other than massive traffic snarls caused by Dade County Youth Fair crowds and having to settle for a 1-1 tie, Miami FC’s home debut against the Tampa Bay Rowdies was everything the team had hoped.

An energetic crowd of 10,156 showed up at FIU Stadium to see what Miami’s newest pro team is all about. While David Beckham continues to get his Major League Soccer stadium deal in place, Miami FC owners Riccardo Silva, a sports media mogul, and Italian soccer legend Paolo Maldini, got their team up and running.

Miami FC plays in the NASL, the second-tier U.S. league, but the team put on a first-rate show for its nascent fans.

“You dream about it, you wish for it to happen, and now, it’s actually happening,” said NASL commissioner Bill Peterson, who attended the match. “It’s a very impressive gathering here. I love the stadium. It’s right, the fans are right on the field, it’s a great atmosphere. It’s only the first game here, but already feels like their home.”

The fans went wild when Argentine forward Dario Cvitanich scored Miami’s first goal in the 17th minute, off a cross from Brazilian midfielder Matuzalem. Cvitanich scored Miami’s lone goal last Saturday in its 1-1 tie at Fort Lauderdale in the team’s inaugural game.

For the second week in a row, Miami FC led 1-0 most of the match and wound up settling for a tie after a late-game penalty kick.

“We played a good first half, the second one I didn’t like because we didn’t manage to kill the opponent,” Miami FC coach Alessandro Nesta said. “When we are 1-0 that is not enough. He have to score more goals. It was a good opportunity for us to involve the fans and I hope they come back next time.”

Said Forward Dario Cvitanich: “I’m disappointed because once again we made errors because of our inexperience and we didn’t finish off the match and wound up with a tie again in the final minutes.”

The fans were into the game. In one end zone, Miami FC’s fan club “The Dade Brigade” cheered and waved flags, including two that read: “Forza Miami” in keeping with the team leadership’s Italian roots. Nesta was a former star on the Italian World Cup team and also with AC Milan and Lazio.

Across the stadium was Tampa Bay fan group Ralph’s Mob, dressed in yellow and green rugby shirts and banging on giant drums, especially in the 85th minute, when Goergi Hristov tied the game on a penalty kick after Miami defender Hugo Leroux was called for a foul on Eric Avila.

“It is great to finally have soccer back in Miami,” said Ramon Rodriguez, a season-ticket holder from Coral Gables. “The venue is the perfect size for this team. I am very impressed with the quality of soccer being played. There are so many youth soccer clubs from all over the city united to cheer for the FC. Great memories being made for the kids.”

Gaby Garcia, a midfielder for Coral Reef High and U16 Pinecrest Premier, said: “Being a youth soccer player, it’s great to have a home team to cheer for. It’s exciting that soccer has a future and a home here.”

Dean Iodici and Jimmy Zapata of Pembroke Pines were there with their young soccer-playing sons.

“It’s nice to see a team in orange and teal winning,” Iodici joked after Miami’s first goal. “The level of play is much better than I expected.”

Said Zapata: “I was not expecting such a professional atmosphere. I think it will catch on, but it will take time.”

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