After a disappointing 2020 season, no one can blame The Miami FC for wanting to put last year behind them as quickly as possible.
Miami has a chance to do that Sunday night when they kick off their 2021 campaign against Loudoun United. It will be the first meeting between the two teams. They will get to see each other three more times later this season as Atlantic Division rivals.
This match will give fans a chance to see if a litany of changes spearheaded by Head Coach Paul Daglish and new team president and former Inter Milan executive Michael Williamson will pay dividends right away. There will be many new faces making their Miami FC debut Sunday night at Riccardo Silva Stadium, including former Louisville City midfielder Speedy Williams (2020 USL Championship All-League selection) and forward Christiano Francois (who had a breakout year in Reno in 2020). And seeing fan favorite Ariel Martinez back in the blue and orange will put a smile on the faces of long-time fans of the club.
Let’s dive deeper into what to look for when Miami FC takes the pitch Sunday night.
Know Your Enemy: Loudoun United
Like Miami, Loudoun United would probably like to leave 2020 in the rearview mirror. The club finished in the basement of Group F with just one win in 13 matches. To make matters worse, the club was forced to cancel its final three matches of the season after several members of the organization tested positive for COVID-19.
Loudoun made some changes to try and right the ship for the 2021 season, most notably bringing in former Sacramento Republic midfielder Drew Skundrich to become a reliable fixture in the midfield and provide some leadership.
Up front, fans might also want to keep an eye on 19-year-old Venezuelan forward Jovanny Bolívar, who is on loan from Loudoun United’s affiliate club, D.C. United. Bolívar, who played for the Venezuelan U-20 national team, might pair nicely with forward Kairou Amostapha, who was one of the few bright spots for the Red-and-White in 2020. The 20-year-old Nigerian international tallied three goals in nine appearances last season.
The Miami FC: Keys to Victory
There’s no getting around it: One of Miami’s glaring weaknesses in 2020 was defense. The Blue-and-Orange had a -14 goal differential and surrendered 2.13 goals per match last season. To put it in perspective, there were only two teams in the Eastern Conference — the New York Red Bulls II (37) and Philadelphia Union II (45) — that gave up more goals in the Eastern Conference. In other words … not great.
The good news is the club went to great lengths to address the problem in the offseason by bringing on former Italian international Luca Antonelli, former Louisville City FC defender Paco Craig, and Jamiacan international Seth McFarlane.
Together, they should be a tougher wall for opponents to crack through in 2021. And if Miami FC wants to earn three points to start the season, the backline will need to find a way to frustrate Loudoun’s young attackers and keep them from putting the ball in the back of the net.
Miami FC also needs its new attacking corps to click. With Romario Williams, Sebastian Velasquez and Vincent Bezecourt no longer with the club, all eyes will be on midfielder Speedy Williams and forward Christiano Francois. Midfielder Bolu Akinyode coming over from Birmingham Legion will provide leadership in the middle. Former San Antonio FC forward Billy Forbes provides another scoring threat for opposing defenders to deal with.
The question is, can they develop the kind of chemistry that was missing last year and bolster Miami’s ability to score goals?
Both Miami FC and Loudoun United are coming off disappointing seasons and made lots of changes hoping to turn things around in 2021. But it’s clear that Miami FC is the better team on paper. They’ve added a plethora of playmakers who have proven themselves at this level and can cause headaches in the newly-formed Atlantic Division.
While Loudoun made some interesting additions in the offseason that should make them more competitive in 2021, it’s not clear these changes will be enough to lift them out of the bottom of the table.
Simply put, if Miami FC wants to make the playoffs in its second season in the USL Championship, these are the sort of games it has to win. Prediction:
Miami FC 3 – Loudoun United 1
WHO: Miami FC (0-0-0, 0 pts) vs. Loudoun United (0-0-0, 0 pts)
WHEN: Sunday, May 2 // 7:30 pm EST
WHERE: Riccardo Silva Stadium (Miami, FL)
TICKETS: No fans allowed at Miami FC home games to start the season.
INJURY UPDATE: None
- Miami FC – Callum Chapman-Page (Suspended)
- Loudoun United FC – Alexxon Saravia (Suspended)