It’s always hard to read too much into preseason friendlies, but The Miami FC 2 fans were finally treated to a glimpse of Paul Dalglish’s footballing philosophy last weekend with an emphatic 5-0 win over Weston FC from the PDL. The affable Scot had been saying all the right things since being unveiled earlier in the year. Open, expansive soccer. An attacking mentality. Exciting play. He duly delivered on a lovely Sunday lunchtime in Miami.
MFC2 started with four along the back, three central midfielders, two players out wide and one center forward. It’s a tried and tested system which offers some fluidity. It can, for example, be tweaked between 4-3-3, 4-5-1 and 4-1-4-1 very easily during a match. The first half started with Mike Lahoud anchoring the midfield, kind of quarterbacking the team, Manny Gonzalez helping him in the middle and Greco given more of an advanced role supporting Enzo Rennella. Coy Craft and Don Smart were playing wide left and right with Enzo leading the line.
The second half saw something closer to the Nestaball of the last two seasons. More of a 4-3-3 with the fullbacks providing width while Fanfoni and Hassan operated close to big Jaime Chavez, so very similar to the Pinho-Poku-Enzo front line of last season, supported by Smith and Freeman. Sunday saw two trialists in those two positions, Atassi and Rubiano, both turning in good performances. Rubiano sent in an excellent cross which was acrobatically finished by Stefano Fanfoni for the best goal of the day.
The center of midfield in the second 45 was very exciting to watch. Manny Gonzalez, the only player to start both halves, was tasked with the heavy lifting with Dylan Mares and Ariel Martinez being given the freedom to express themselves.
It’s clear that coach Dalglish wants some flexibility in his formation and he is not afraid to make tweaks and changes. A very strong contrast to Nesta’s rigid system. In terms of approach, very early on in the game it was clear that MFC2 were looking to press into the opponent’s half as much as possible and the team were looking for through balls and diagonal passes constantly. It was direct and attacking play and enjoyable to watch. Very, very different to the slow and laboured build-up under Nesta. Alessandro looked to control games and grind teams down. It looks like Paul wants to get stuck into the opposition and kill them quickly. Nesta was a cautious general, aloof and careful. Dalglish looks like he might be a smiling assassin.
The team played so well as a whole but three of the new guys caught the eye during the game.
We haven’t talked about the defence much but they all did a good job keeping Weston at arm’s length. Starting his first game in central defence, Sean McFarlane looks like a quality acquisition. He’s a big, strong player but looked very comfortable with the ball at his feet. Very calm in possession too. He read the game superbly and made some sharp interceptions but he also has the feet to step out of the back line and start attacks with some good passing.
Don Smart was involved right from the start and was a constant threat on the right wing. The Jamaican arrived from Indy Eleven with a reputation as a pacy and tricky winger. His turn of speed and the timing of his runs created several chances for the team. Plus, if the lovely free kick he curled in for Miami’s second goal is anything to go by, he is going to be a real danger from set pieces too.
Keeping a little Italian flavour in the team is Stefano Fanfoni. A busy little midfielder with a lot of technical ability, he tore into Weston time after time and came away with an assist on the Mares goal. His finish for the fourth goal was sublime, timing a scissor kick from eight yards out perfectly from a great cross by Rubiano.
Two players still on the team who will be looking at increased responsibility will be Mike Lahoud and Ariel Martinez.
Lahoud has long been a fan favourite and an important first team player but this season will see him become a key player. Lahoud is perfectly placed to move into that role as the team’s main pivot with Richie Ryan gone . One of Mike’s main assets is his versatility and this fits in well with Dalglish’s tactical approach. You can ask Mike to fill different roles and he will be able to. But at this level he is going to be able to control games and that is going to be great for him and great for the fans. On Sunday his passing looked very sharp despite a long off season.
Ariel Martinez took the #10 jersey this season and as we know the Cuban was criminally mis-used by the previous coach. Ariel might be close to being the best player technically on the team, he is certainly right up there with Mares and Enzo, he’s just never really got the chance to show it in orange and blue. When he has the ball at his feet and running in full flow he terrifies defenders. But he is also really good at creating chances, an inch-perfect through pass for the final goal proved he has it in him although at times he did look rusty but this is to be expected as he hasn’t played much first team soccer recently. This season he should make the transition from super-sub to playmaker and he deserves that opportunity.
Summarizing the season
An encouraging start by the whole unit. To score five unanswered goals is definitely getting off on the right foot. The squad looks balanced and good fit for the NPSL. In this game the midfield did very well but there may be a question mark on the lack of physicality. It’s a very technical group but they might struggle against a team that brings the rough stuff. Weston themselves put on an absolute beast of a defensive midfielder in the second half to get stuck in and it did seem to rattle some players. They will need to be prepared for that but that one negative is picking holes. It was a great attacking performance built on a solid defensive base.
MFC2 are in action this weekend in another warm up against our gameday hosts St. Thomas University, kick off 7pm on Sunday 25th.