The Miami FC, down to 10 men for 80 minutes, battles to victory over Loudoun United

The Miami FC got their 2021 campaign off to a winning start Sunday evening at Riccardo Silva Stadium, grinding out a 2-1 win after playing much of the game with ten men.

Keen to put the disappointment of 2020 to bed, Paul Dalglish and new assistant Jed Davies have clearly been putting in work in preseason to ensure their new-look roster was ready to perform from the whistle. The game started very well for the orange and blue. It was immediately obvious that the importance of being organized and disciplined has been drilled into the players. Ariel Martinez, wearing the captain’s armband, led the line with Christiano François and Pierre da Silva playing either side of him. There was a solid bank of three in the midfield: Speedy Williams, Bolu Akinyode and Lance Rozeboom. Then the trademark flat back four with the fullbacks given license to attack. Connor Sparrow starting in goal.

It is fair to say last season that Miami FC were sometimes slow to start games. There was no danger of that this time round. Central defender Paco Gigi Craig headed home the first goal with authority after a brilliant free kick from Martinez. A second came almost immediately. Da Silva battling for possession in the opponent’s penalty area and forcing a mistake led to an own goal. Just seven minutes into the game and a two-goal lead.

Then the entire match was turned on its head when defender János Löbe received a red card and his marching orders. In the moment it felt like the referee made the right decision. There was contact, however minimal, and with no one covering Löbe was the last man. The ref was left with little choice: If it was a foul it was also a red for denying a goalscoring opportunity.

Dalglish didn’t rush a decision to shore up the defense, moving Bolu Akinyode from midfield to left back to cover and give himself some time to think tactically. He sent for experienced Italian defender Luca Antonelli. In what must have been a tough decision, but almost certainly the right one, Martinez was replaced. Ariel was obviously disappointed to be withdrawn, but with a two-goal lead and one assist on the board already, protecting the lead was the priority.

The Miami FC positives

Despite the rest of the game being a defensive masterclass from the home team, which in itself was very encouraging, there were still some positives to take away. Gigi Craig will take a lot of credit for his goal and confident defensive performance. Connor Sparrow had a busy night and survived a tough examination. He might not have gotten the shutout, but without his eight saves this game would have ended in a draw or worse. Akinyode looks like a great addition. Assured on the ball and versatile. Williams looked right at home, even though he had to do a lot of tracking and pressing.

Ramon Martin Del Campo partnered Gigi in the center of defense. The Mexican made an impression by not only keeping Loudoun at bay, but also constantly talking and organizing. Teams need these kinds of vocal leaders at the back. Ramon likes to talk and that’s a good thing for the players around him.

When fans return to Riccardo Silva Stadium, Antonelli should easily become a favorite. He is here because he still enjoys playing soccer. His quality was evident in every touch. When he was subbed off with ten minutes to go he was insistent that he could see out the game. He wanted to finish the job and that’s great to see. He was loudly cheering his teammates from the sidelines right to the final whistle.

Loudoun did grab a consolation goal from Amoustapha Kairou, but it was too little too late. A fantastic team performance by Miami FC took all three points. Not the game many may have been expecting, but ultimately a great start to the season. The club is back at it in West Miami-Dade on Saturday, May 8th at 7:30 p.m. vs. Hartford Athletic. The game will be available on ESPN+.

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