Writing this on the day of the NASL’s 2017 Soccer Bowl seems fitting. A day where any fan of The Miami FC would be much happier heading to the Riccardo Silva Stadium to see the culmination of an incredible season in the Soccer Bowl versus the Deltas.
But thanks to Gio Savarese’s stubborn Cosmos side our season has been over for seven days. A long week of thinking what might have been.It has been a season where the club has taken leaps and bounds forward on the field. Even the field itself is now fit for professional soccer. Miami FC took a look at what was not working last year, Riccardo got his checkbook out and we started the season in a rebranded and updated stadium.
But that home opener was one to forget. Again the Cosmos came to town and spoiled the party by taking the honors in a 2-0 reverse. Sweet revenge for Miami upsetting the odds a week earlier in the Big Apple.
But after that day Miami went on a scintillating unbeaten run, inspired by new signings Dylan Mares and Stefano Pinho. We all know the story now. A cakewalk to the NASL Spring Championship (if we can really call it a championship), and a U.S. Open Cup run which included unforgettable nights knocking off Atlanta United and Orlando City. That 3-2 win against Atlanta United might now be considered the highlight of the season.
Truth be told, it was a really enjoyable year for the Miami FC fan and after the winter of discontent the league went through, when March rolled around and we could concentrate on soccer again it was a huge relief.
Let’s look at a few things in a bit more detail.
OPEN CUP HANGOVER
I will never, ever understand why the washout against FC Cincinnati was not rescheduled for the following afternoon. Whatever the decisions for waiting two weeks to get the game played, heaven and earth should have been moved to get that game done as soon as possible. Instead we were made to wait and the cup run ended with a whimper. In itself disappointing but also a huge missed opportunity on many levels. I really believe if we’d got past Cincy we would have made the final and from there who knows. Also we blew it and played poorly in front of over 10000 fans. A shame to not give the first timers and casual fans a reason to come back.
BLOWING THE BIG GAMES
Good football clubs win important games. Great clubs win them in style. Miami FC had two huge games this season and threw them both away without recording a single goal scored. Against both Cincy and also against Cosmos in the Championship Semi we were favorites and could not deal with our opponents getting men behind the ball and playing on the break.
The ease with which both clubs kept Miami and all it’s attacking talent at arm’s length would maybe be forgivable once, but twice is difficult to swallow. The buck for this stops with one man.
THE NESTA PLAN
Alessandro Nesta. A phenomenal player but a coach still learning his trade. There is no doubt that he is a man the players love playing for and having him as a coach does give us credibility. But managers must also live with accountability, it keeps them on their toes and soccer is a results business, poor results must be addressed.
Is anyone telling Nesta when performances and results are unacceptable? I don’t think so because who would dare? Who’s got the balls in the dressing room, or the board room for that matter, to sit Nesta down after a loss and get him to justify his predictable selections and repetitive tactics? The long unbeaten runs paper over the cracks of his failure to get results when it matters.
Lets hope we see Nesta be more brave and bold next season. Especially at home where patiently playing possession soccer is not getting the best results which is even more clear now the whole NASL has cottoned on to Nesta’s one and only system of play. We have players who are capable of playing a much more dynamic style of soccer. We’re not in the 1950’s Serie A, Alessandro. Let’s stop this weird quasi-catenaccio possession play. You have the best attacking players in the league. Use them.
PINHO’S ON FIRE
Even though there were some frustrations in 2017, compared to our inaugural year it was a huge step forward. A more balanced and settled roster clicked. No Miami fan is going to forget the 7-0 mauling of the Deltas at the end of the Spring season and that performance highlighted just how good this team can be.
With a player like Stefano in your side you are always going to worry teams. The likable Brazilian smashed in 21 goals in 31 games and brought the goals that were lacking at times in 2016. He was complimented well by the guile of Enzo Rennella and the powerful play of Jaime Chavez. Jaime’s contribution cannot be understated. In a little spell from the middle of August he scored the game-winning goal in four straight games. While some complacency might have set in with some, Jaime took his chance in the first XI and delivered the goods when it mattered.
BIG AT THE BACK
Let’s not leave the other side of the field out here. It was a stellar year for Miami’s defense. Allowing less than a goal a game and of course the upside of Nesta’s system is the attacking fullbacks. What a season for Hunter Freeman, faultless down the right flank and always a danger creating chances in the final third. When called upon to fill in centrally he acquitted himself well. A real season of quality from the Texan.
Mason and Rhett were solid in the centre of defence. Mason’s inclusion in the NASL team of the year was fully justified. Assured in possession and totally dominant defensively he is a key player for Miami and how he did not get called up for international duty with Canada this year is baffling. It was a cruel twist of fate for him to miss his penalty in the shootout. Mason gets a pass. He’s already a Miami FC cult hero.
And imagine if you are a striker for another NASL team. You finally get behind Miami’s defense and there’s Daniel Vega waiting for you. A superlative shot stopper, brave, completely in control of his penalty area and solid distribution skills to boot. He must give the outfield players so much confidence.
I wish I could tell you.
For those not in the know, legal wrangling and the decision by the USSF to sanction the NASL as division III, not division II, raises some questions about the league’s future. There’s a lot of legal maneuvering to be done between now and next spring.
Wherever we end up, it won’t be the USL. It’s clear that Soccer United Marketing (SUM) and by extension the USL don’t want to do business with Miami FC and the Cosmos so it’s an independent league or bust. It should be business as usual for the NASL, it might be a move to the infant NISA, it might be something else.
But what we know is that each year the club gets that bit better, stronger. So might 2018 be the year we finally grab the NASL Championship? Could we go one or two rounds better in the US Open Cup?
Of course we can. Vamos Miami.