It’s the evening of 5th of November 2017. I’m bent double with my head in my hands as the sounds of boisterous celebration by the contingent from the New York Cosmos in Riccardo Silva Stadium confirm that The Miami FC’s 2017 NASL season is over. Mason Trafford has just planted his shootout effort onto the woodwork. For the first time in my life I couldn’t watch a penalty. It meant too much. Of all the players I didn’t want to miss, it was Mason. He’d not put a foot wrong all year, the likable boy from Boynton Beach had become a fan favorite for his consistent performances in defense. Soccer is a sport that writes cruel scripts.
Thursday saw confirmation of possibly the worst-kept secret in US Soccer. The news that the National Premier Soccer League will start an elite national division on top of the existing NPSL in 2020. Leading into that, after the conclusion of the 2019 NPSL regular season and playoffs, the teams at the forefront of this movement will play a ‘Founder’s Cup’ as a way of ushering in the new era in the fall of 2019.
The UPSL fall season is in full swing and the fixture computer finally threw up an all-Miami clash on a Saturday evening. Florida Soccer Soldiers faced Union Deportivo Miami at the Orange Bowl Field at Ives Estates Park.
In just over a week, voters head to the polls in Miami. Regardless of the outcome on City of Miami Referendum 1 we know that David Beckham’s MLS franchise will be finally kicking off in 2020. Whether their permanent home is to be in Overtown or Melreese, Inter Miami CF will need a temporary home. Potential locations are already being looked at, but which option is best?
A stadium used primarily for college football at Florida Atlantic University. It’s been tossed around as a potential site by some as a way to forge links outside of Dade County early on. Let’s take a look.
Location – 1/10: It’s 50 miles away from the city of Miami. This is a huge issue. Since Mas and Beckham have teamed up they’ve got a lot of decisions right, you’d have to question the decision to take a temporary venue so far away from the final permanent home. This would be a real trek for anyone in South Miami or Kendall for example.
Transport links – 8/10: Just off the I-95 and actually not bad for public transit either. It’s a mile walk from Boca Raton’s Tri-Rail station.
Playing surface – 7/10: Nicely maintained natural grass. You’ve markings from other sports to contend with, but that’s an issue other venues will also face. Only downside is the operator doesn’t have much experience in transitioning the venue to accommodate soccer on anything other than a one-off basis.
Fan experience – 6/10: It’s designed for football and that always comes with the trade off of being quite far from the action on the field. It’s also completely open with no cover at all. The capacity is appropriate though. It can accommodate 29,419 people which would make it ideal for an MLS side. A full house would be a great atmosphere here.
Other tenants and issues – 5/10: FAU Stadium is used by two other teams. MLL’s Florida Launch and, of course, the Florida Atlantic Owls football team. Scheduling is never usually that hard if you’re sharing with one other team but sharing with two, even if they play at different times of the year, could throw up some headaches.
TOTAL 27/50: In another location it would really be a front runner as it scores very highly is some areas. But it will be difficult to make a big deal about wanting to be so identifiably Miami and then going and playing this far north. Inter Miami CF can’t afford to make mistakes, especially early on, and starting so far outside of Miami could be a massive own goal.
HARD ROCK STADIUM
South Florida’s showpiece stadium is now just over 30 years old and went through a recent update. Designed for football, it still does a great job of putting on other events.
Location – 5/10: The location is pretty solid if unspectacular. It’s Dade County but only just and in the middle of nowhere.
Transport links – 5/10: Your only realistic option is to drive and that of course means you are going to get stung for parking on top of everything. Forget public transport.
Playing surface – 9/10: Also has natural grass and has hosted some of the best soccer teams on the planet with no complaints. Ground staff are experienced at turning the surface around for different sports.
Fan experience – 7/10: The stadium is easy on the eye post-facelift but behind the cosmetic improvements it’s good without being great. Again as a football stadium, if you like to watch the game with a bird’s eye view you’ll be OK. If you want to be close to the action then it’s not so hot. There is more cover than FAU but although you’ll be protected from the rain and the sun it can get pretty windy in some parts of the stadium due to it being in such an exposed location. The capacity is 64,767, which is far too big. Closing off the top tier will help but empty seats are empty seats. The atmosphere will suffer at a stadium that isn’t close to capacity.
Other tenants and issues – 4/10: There’s just so much going on already. Would the franchise want to play second or third fiddle so much? The opening of the MLS season clashes directly with tennis thanks to the Miami Open moving to the Hard Rock from Key Biscayne. In the fall you are battling not one but two football teams. On top of that there is a big schedule of concerts and other events.
TOTAL 30/50: A safe choice but with quite a few little drawbacks. The biggest issues are finding the space for the games in the stadium’s busy schedule and it’s uninspiring location. It’s a place Miami’s sports fans are used to going to though, even if it’s not the best for soccer.
RICCARDO SILVA STADIUM
The spiritual home of pro soccer in Miami in this decade.
Location – 6/10: Similar to the Hard Rock, just on the other side of town. It’s a bit closer to the city and the possible permanent locations though and there’s a bit more going on in the surrounding area.
Transport links – 5/10: Just off the turnpike. Don’t want to drive? Good luck on that #11 bus!
Playing surface – 6/10: Artificial turf. It might be new artificial turf but it’s still not the real thing.
Fan experience – 6/10: The stadium is a bit barebones and open to the elements. Its asset is its small size. Even though it’s designed for football, you’re a little more on top of things than at Hard Rock or FAU. The capacity is exactly 20,000, which might make it a bit small but on the other hand Becks will be able to boast sellout after sellout.
Other tenants and issues – 3/10: This is where things get tricky. The Ricky has demonstrated it can host a whole soccer season alongside the FIU Panthers but are Miami FC about to make a return? Although FC’s future is up in the air there’s an expectation that they will back to bigger things soon, possibly as early as 2019 with the rumored NPSL Pro. If Miami FC are playing here, it’s out of the running as the MLS will not sanction a ground share. And that’s before you even get into what an unpopular figure Silva is with the folks at SUM. If Miami FC vanish it’s a good option but that’s almost certainly not going to happen.
TOTAL 26/50: Well-known to soccer fans in Miami and solid scores across the board. But Miami FC have first dibs. If they are going back, it can’t be considered.
The much-maligned ballpark in Little Havana needs a PR win. Could hosting the new soccer franchise be just the ticket?
Location – 8/10: You’ve got to get people used to coming to a centrally located stadium early on. Say what you want about Marlins Park, the location is second to none.
Transport links – 7/10: Close to the Dolphin but the public transit could be a little better. Metrorail is the other side of the river, although there are free shuttle buses during sports events. A short Uber or Lyft journey from surrounding areas like Doral, Gables and the Grove, Downtown and Miami Beach is a big bonus.
Playing surface – 6/10: Natural grass. The challenge is that there can be big differences in how baseball fields and soccer pitches are prepared. Also you are constrained with the dimensions of the pitch. Not ideal.
Fan experience – 7/10: Once you get over the weird shape of the stadium there is a lot to like. The biggest plus is the roof. This means you can sidestep all the weather delays that would come with the other options. It’s also the only stadium that officially has a standing area, albeit a small one. You can get fans behind both goals so it so overall should score pretty high on atmosphere. It’s a far nicer stadium to actually be in than the other options. Capacity of 37,442 is maybe a little high, but if the team starts off winning they could fill it.
Other tenants and issues – 6/10: Sharing with a baseball team is manageable and they are the only other tenants. Compared to Hard Rock there are far fewer other events to negotiate on the schedule.
TOTAL 34/50: On balance Marlins Park is a nose ahead of the other options. The geometry inside the stadium is not ideal but it’s a temporary venue. The huge advantages it has in other areas should make it first choice. A full stadium will be good for the operator and the team will be starting as they mean to go on, as close to the heart of Miami as possible.
If FAU Stadium is an option, so should Lockhart be. The only existing, if deserted, soccer specific stadium in South Florida. It has even hosted MLS in the past.
Location – 3/10: We are outside Miami-Dade again. Not as much of a mission as FAU but still a good distance from the City of Miami.
Transport links – 8/10: Pretty much the same as FAU here. Moments from the I-95 and a short walk from Cypress Creek on the Tri-Rail.
Playing surface – 7/10: Was a good natural grass surface in it’s heyday and could easily be again. It would need some attention to get back up and running though.
Fan experience – 7/10: You would be hard-pushed to find anyone with a bad word to say about Lockhart. It’s hosted many famous evenings of soccer through the years and is a treasured part of the history of the sport in South Florida. The stadium is open without many places to take cover when it rains but that is surely the only true negative. The combination of it’s historic charm and soccer-specific design make it a great place to watch the sport. It’s small though: 17,417 is its capacity, but that could mean a full house every game.
Other tenants and issues – 6/10: With Lockhart you get exclusivity and you can completely make the place your own. It would require a little cosmetic attention to make it fit for use again but that’s easily doable in the year and half the Beckham Group has. Its age isn’t an issue for the regular fan but it does lack the flashy executive pizzazz the suits might want.
TOTAL 31/50: It would be a great gesture to restore this stadium and hand it back to the community, that would be a big PR win. It could even be retained for a USL affiliate or B team or even an NWSL team. Its soccer heritage brings something to the table that no other venue can.
There’s not much in it. All five are great options and all have their strengths. Which venue do you prefer? Where should Inter Miami CF start out? Let us know on social media.
Tropical Park was the scene for another exciting U.S. Open Cup qualifier with two local heavyweights going toe-to-toe for a chance to progress one step closer to the tournament proper. Florida Soccer Soldiers edged out 10-man Red Force FC 1-0 to reach the next round.
With the sad demise of FC Kendall it looks like Red Force have found a new rivalry already. These two teams have been playing some of the best local elite amateur soccer over the past year and a fair crowd of about 125 stayed out late on a Sunday evening to watch a compelling encounter.
With a steady wind whipping in from the north Red Force looked the more composed of the two sides early on. Florida Soccer Soldiers had quite a high defensive line and were almost undone by the diagonal ball over the top a couple of times. Danger man Stiven Salinas getting behind his marker and trying to create chances for his team mates. He and David Holguin combined to set up a chance for the latter but the big Colombian couldn’t get his effort on target.
What the Soccer Soldiers might lack in experience they made up for with youthful enthusiasm. Two players especially catching the eye were Manuel Coll and Valentin Sabella. Sabella, a 19 year old Argentinean, is as fast as lightning and good with the ball at his feet very reminiscent of his countrymen Messi, Maradona or Tevez. Short, quick and tricky. His powerful runs down the left flank were a constant threat to Red Force. Manuel Coll got in on the action with Soccer Soldiers’s best chance in the first 45. Sending an accurate shot on target from outside the box that was well-covered by Red Force keeper Anton Widen. Nil-nil at half time.
Although this match was played in the right spirit, there were flashpoints as the game wore on. A yellow card apiece for the two teams in the first 45 and five more in the second. There was a competitive physical element to the game and it boiled over on the hour when Fabio Fernandes was shown a straight red for a high elbow in a challenge with an opponent. The decision was controversial. It was certainly a foul and a card but perhaps a yellow would have sufficed in the context of the game.
The game-breaking goal
Down to ten men, it got worse for Red Force when the Soccer Soldiers finally made the difference count. With the defense stretched Manuel Coll found livewire Sabella in the box and he made no mistake from close range. It was a fine goal to cap off Sabella’s man of the match performance. It was almost 2-0 not long after that. Julian Hoyos Cadavid with an effort that Widen was equal to.
Into time added on, which there was a lot of because of a few injury breaks and the red card, and Red Force almost got back into it. First hitting the post with a looping effort and then a glorious change for midfielder Jesse Kehoe. Kehoe was through on a one-on-one with the keeeper but Estrada Soto was quick to react and snuff the chance out.
Time was up and the Soldiers march on to the third qualifying round. Red Force had won six Open Cup qualifying games in a row stretching back to September 23rd, 2017. That run came to an end. They’ll be looking for revenge next year when they head into the UPSL themselves.
Post match interview with man-of-the-match Valentin Sabella.
RED FORCE FC
Anton Widen (GK); Richard Perdomo, Lucas Compos Coro, Chris Munoz, Jesse Kehoe, Gilbert Ruiz, Steven Salinas, Fabio Fernandes, Cesar Murillo, David Holguin, Franco Alvaro. Subs; Daniel Gomez, Scott Gordon, Marcello Palucci, Omar Parsad
FLORIDA SOCCER SOLDIERS
Omar Estrada Soto (GK); Antonioni Gonzalez Gutierrez, Adolfo Suazo Williams, Valentin Sabella, Julian Hoyos Cadavid, Mario Ferro, Juan Carlos Paredes Rios, Manuel Coll, Andres Ruiz de Somocurcio, Carlos Meneses Freire, Cesar Moreno Ramos. Subs; Heatclif Castillo Delgado, Daniel Espantoso, Fernando Hernandez Aguirre
RED CARD ’60 Fabio Fernandes (Red Force)
GOAL ’73 Valentin Sabella, Assisted by Manuel Coll (Florida Soccer Soldiers)
MAN OF THE MATCH Valentin Sabella
Sad news this morning for the local soccer world. Established local club FC Kendall has decided to cease operations, possibly permanently. Club president Mauro Grignola broke the news on Twitter this morning.
Sad days these last, we have to put a stop/pause to a historic club @_FCKendall due to economic, organizational and infrastructure issues. The underlying reason is the @ussoccer competition framework that does not provide incentives for a Non-MLS Adult Club to stay in operations
— Mauro Grignola (@MauroGrignola) September 25, 2018
Red Force advanced to the second qualifying round of the 2019 U.S. Open Cup thanks to a last-gasp matchwinner from Marcello Palucci, a strike that gave his side victory over FC Kendall 2-1 after a good 90 minutes of soccer.
The United Premier Soccer League tweeted out some expansion news early this morning. One of the most successful local amateur teams over the last 10 years, Red Force FC, will field a team in the UPSL. The team has previously competed in the American Premier Soccer League.
Red Force FC captured their first APSL Summer title Sunday after vanquishing South Florida FC 4-3 on penalties after an exciting, end-to-end battle that ended 2-2 after extra time. This was an encounter that had pretty much everything you could want in a game of soccer. Passion, aggression, good fútbol and an ultimate prize on the line.
The Miami FC 2 signed off a six-game stand at home by easing past Duluth FC with three unanswered goals.
Somehow the deluge engulfing the rest of Florida on Saturday evening missed the Opa Locka-Miami Gardens area and the fans were treated to lovely evening perfect for soccer. And the fans showed up. The hype of the International Champions Cup and the hoopla of Futbol Miami MLS has not dampened the enthusiasm of the Miami FC faithful. Many people in this part of the World claim to love soccer, the 1289 people who showed up to this claim are probably the ones who mean it. The second highest attendance of the season at the Bob.