Much was said before the game with Loudoun United about The Miami FC now having a string of cup finals to end the season. It was plain to see for everyone on Sunday afternoon that the performance from the Orange and Blue was not up to the standard required for any kind of big game.
The Miami FC turned things around in the last ten minutes of last night’s game versus Pittsburgh Riverhounds to grab all three points in an important matchup at the top of the USL Championship Atlantic Division.
As we enter the final month of the regular season, the playoff picture in the USL Championship’s Atlantic Division is beginning to crystallize. Miami FC–along with Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Charlotte–have separated themselves from the rest of the division. Now it’s simply a matter of positioning.
In many ways, Miami controls its own destiny. Miami FC (13-7-6, 45 pts) currently sits in third place, just three points behind the second-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds (with Miami still holding a game in hand). And they will host Pittsburgh twice at FIU Stadium in the next 14 days, including Saturday night’s match.
A Miami victory would pull the Orange and Blue even with their Steel City rivals. And with the surging Charlotte Independence breathing down their necks, Miami can ill afford to let down their guard.
Know Your Enemy: Pittsburgh Riverhounds
The Pittsburgh Riverhounds (14-7-6, 48 pts) have managed to maintain their spot behind the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the standings for most of the second half of the season. But their grip has started to loosen with Miami and Charlotte both challenging the Riverhounds for that pivotal second place position, which would ensure home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Miami and Pittsburgh have met twice so far this season–both times at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh. Their first meeting ended in a 1-1 draw on June 12. When they clashed again on Aug. 11, Miami erased a two-goal deficit to earn a 3-2 victory on the road.
Since the first tiebreaker in the USL Championship is based on head-to-head points earned in regular season, a Miami victory would give them the edge over Pittsburgh should the two teams finish with the same number of points at the end of the season.
Russell Cicerone and Hugh Alexander Dixon have been the go-to attackers for the Riverhounds all season. Cicerone has established himself as one of the league’s top goal scorers. He’s found the back of the net 14 times while adding seven assists to his name. Dixon, meanwhile, is right behind him with nine goals and also has seven assists.
And don’t forget about Kenardo Forbes. The Jamaican midfielder has six assists this season and loves to deliver dangerous crosses into the box (he is third in the league with 144 crosses). He can give opposing defenders headaches trying to contain him.
Keys To A Miami Victory
Devon “Speedy” Williams, who will join the Jamaican national team for their upcoming World Cup qualifying matches, scored twice in Miami’s comeback victory. Meanwhile, former Riverhound Cristiano François has scored twice against Pittsburgh so far this season. Both players will be worth keeping an eye on Saturday night.
Ariel Martinez has been a strong presence for Miami since returning from injury, earning a spot on the USL Championship’s Team of the Week after scoring a goal and tallying two assists in the club’s 6-1 rout over Loudoun United. Martinez now has five goals and a team-high seven assists this season.
Miami managed to keep Cicerone and Dixon off the scoresheet last time around, but still found itself trailing during their last meeting. Goalkeeper Connor Sparrow has been in top form over the past few weeks, and he will need to stay sharp against one of the more well-balanced attacking teams in the league.
After a tough midweek loss to Charlotte, Miami bounced back in a big way. They put up six goals against lowly Loudoun and enter the final month of the season with confidence. Miami also added some reinforcements to their lineup that give them the depth to make a deep playoff run.
Pittsburgh has appeared vulnerable at times in recent months, and Miami should be able to take advantage of that in front of a home crowd.
Miami FC 3 – Pittsburgh Riverhounds 1
WHO: Miami FC (13-7-6, 45 pts) vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (14-7-6, 48 pts)
WHEN: Saturday, October 2 // 7:30 pm EST
WHERE: FIU Stadium (Miami, FL)
- Miami FC – None
- Pittsburgh Riverhounds – Caution Accumulation Warning: Dani Rovira
If there’s one dark horse that could stir up trouble for Miami FC (12-6-6, 42 points) in the final month of the regular season, it’s the Charlotte Independence. While Miami is essentially a lock to clinch its first USL Championship playoff berth, they may have to watch their back lest Charlotte overtake them.
The Independence are tightening their grip on the fourth and final playoff place in the Atlantic Division. Riding a three-game winning streak, Charlotte has put a seven-point cushion between themselves and Charleston and Hartford. And a Charlotte victory Wednesday night would shrink the gap between the Independence and third-place Miami to a mere two points… with Charlotte still holding a match in hand.
Know Your Enemy: Charlotte Independence
Since Miami fought back to earn a 2-2 draw at home against the Charlotte Independence (11-8-4, 37 pts) on Sept. 4, Charlotte has caught fire. The Independence haven’t allowed a goal since that match, outscoring their opponents 8-0 during their three-game win streak.
French midfielder Sylvain Marveaux has played a huge role in Charlotte’s incredible turnaround this season. Since joining the club in late June, the 35-year-old has tallied four goals and three assists. His Premier League and Ligue 1 experience has transferred well to the United States thus far.
Meanwhile, forward Irvin Parra continues to wreak havoc on opposing defenses, leading the team with 12 goals so far this season. In Charlotte’s last outing, Parra scored the game-winner in the 81st minute in a 1-0 victory over Pittsburgh on Sept. 18.
Goalkeeper Austin Pack appears to have won the trust of Head Coach Mike Jeffries and he’s earned three straight clean sheets, thanks in large part to a solid backline in front of him led by defender Christian Fuchs.
Keys To A Miami Victory
Miami’s backline will have its hands full now that Charlotte has a plethora of weapons on the attack. Defender Paco Craig has been excellent all season long, and he made a potential game-saving clearance this past weekend against Charleston that may have single-handedly kept Miami’s unbeaten streak alive.
Craig and the rest of the backline will need to keep the traffic away from goalkeeper Connor Sparrow if the club wants to keep that streak going. They will need to keep close tabs on Irvin Parra, who scored the
Forward Ariel Martinez returned to action this past weekend after missing a handful of games with an injury and immediately made his impact help. Martinez provided the assisted on Lamar Walker’s goal and nearly scored the game-winner in the final minutes against Charleston, but his 88th minute shot went off the crossbar. Can Martinez, who has four goals this season, find the back of the net against Charlotte?
Against a Charlotte team riding momentum, Miami may want to attack early and often to try to capture an early lead. After all, Miami is 9-2-0 when scoring first this season. Too often during this unbeaten streak, Miami has found themselves playing from behind and forced to settle for draws.
Charlotte has put all the pieces together to make a splash over the final few weeks of the regular season. And Miami is catching them at just the wrong time. Having to travel to the Queen City in the middle of the week against one of the hottest teams in the league is a tough test for Miami.
The fact that Charlotte is very tough to beat at home (7-1-4) does not bode well for the visitors. This could very well be the end of the road for Miami’s impressive nine-game unbeaten streak.
Charlotte Independence 2 – Miami FC 1
WHO: Miami FC (12-6-6, 42 points) vs. Charlotte Independence (11-8-4, 37 pts)
WHEN: Wednesday, September 22 // 7:00 pm EST
WHERE: American Legion Memorial Stadium (Charlotte, NC)
- Miami FC – None
- Charlotte Independence – None
Miami FC’s current eight-game unbeaten streak can be traced back to a thrilling comeback victory at FIU Stadium against the Charleston Battery back on Aug. 1. After falling behind 2-0, Miami flipped a switch and scored three unanswered goals to earn a 3-2 win over the Battery.
Miami FC’s unbeaten streak appeared to be on the ropes after falling behind by two goals at halftime against the Charlotte Independence on the road last weekend. But the boys in Blue and Orange once again showed their resilience, clawing back and earning a 2-2 draw and leaving with a hard-earned road point.
As the end of summer draws near, Miami FC will try to stay hot as they host the New York Red Bulls II at FIU Stadium on Sunday night.
Miami (10-6-4, 34 pts) has to be feeling great about where they stand heading into the final two months of the season. After a rocky start to the season, the Blue and Orange have earned at least a point in 10 of their past 11 matches dating back to June 26. That impressive stretch has given Miami FC a legitimate shot at competing for the Atlantic Division crown along with Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh.
NYRBII, on the other hand, has headed in the opposite direction. The wheels have come off for the Baby Bulls, who have lost five straight matches heading into Sunday’s match.
They say there’s no place like home, and that’s been true for Miami FC this summer.
FIU Stadium has been a fortress for the Blue and Orange lately. Miami has won four consecutive home matches dating back to June 26, including two wins against the first-place Tampa Bay Rowdies. But that streak will be put to the test Sunday night when Miami hosts the Hartford Athletic, the only team division rival Miami hasn’t won against this season.
This will be the fourth and final regular season meeting between the two clubs. Hartford has dominated the series so far, winning the first two matches with Miami fighting to a draw when the two teams met last on Aug. 4.
Can Miami FC (9-6-4, 31 points) finally crack the code and earn a victory against the Connecticut-based club? A win could pull Miami neck-and-neck with Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh at the top of the table. Another loss to Hartford, however, could put them in a dogfight for the final two playoff spots in the Atlantic Division.
Know Your Enemy: Hartford Athletic
The playoff race in the Atlantic is heating up, and the Hartford Athletic (8-6-3, 27 pts) are still right in the thick of it. After a hot start to their season, things have leveled off for the Athletic in recent weeks. They’ve lost three of their past five matches, but are coming off a huge 2-1 midweek victory against the Charleston Battery on Aug. 17 to jump back into fourth place.
As they prepare for the final stretch of the season, the Athletic brought in some reinforcements to help them get to the postseason. They added midfielder Justin Haak on loan from New York City FC and Guatemala international Darwin Lom to bolster their attack up front. Both made their debut in the win over Charleston, adding a much needed jolt to their lineup.
But Miami still needs to watch out for Danny Barrera, who leads the club with five goals and eight assists. Interestingly, Miami has held him scoreless in their three meetings so far this season. But he has assisted on three of Hartford’s four goals during those matches.
And then there’s Goalkeeper of the Year nominee Jeff Caldwell. Caldwell leads the league in saves (68) and has shut out Miami FC twice this season.
Keys To A The Miami FC Victory
Miami FC’s depth will be put to the test this weekend. They will have to make do without goalkeeper Connor Sparrow and forward Cristiano François. Both were issued red cards in Miami’s scoreless draw on the road against Austin on Aug. 14. Now Head Coach Paul Dalglish will have to make some interesting decisions with the lineup.
Backup keeper and Haitian international Brian Sylvestre filled in admirably for Sparrow in his first taste of USL Championship action all season, and he will have to be sharp again on Sunday against a lethally efficient Hartford attack. And Sylvestre will certainly need help from his backline, led by defender Paco Craig (who was nominated for Midseason Defender of the Year honors).
François’s absence, meanwhile, may open the door for midfielder Speedy Williams to build on his terrific performances against Pittsburgh and Austin last week. Williams was voted Player of the Week after scoring twice in Miami’s comeback win over the Riverhounds on Aug. 11. Can he deliver another big performance against Hartford?
Miami has been stellar at home over the past two months and has shown resilience in recent victories. But with two key contributors forced to sit out and Hartford coming in with some fresh blood in its Starting XI, it may be difficult for Miami to come away with three points.
Miami FC 1 – Hartford Athletic 1
WHO: Miami FC (9-6-4, 31 points) vs. Hartford Athletic (8-6-3, 27 pts)
WHEN: Sunday, August 22 || 6:30 pm EST
WHERE: FIU Stadium (Miami, FL)
- Miami FC – Connor Sparrow, Cristiano François
- Hartford Athletic – None
It’s starting to feel a little crowded at the top of the Atlantic Division. And it could get even more crowded by the end of the weekend.
After a rocky start to the season, Miami FC (9-6-3, 30 pts) has stormed back with a tremendous summer stretch. The Blue and Orange have only lost once in its past nine matches dating back to June 26 with six victories during that span. That includes a thrilling come-from-behind road victory over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds on Wednesday night to tighten the race.
If Miami FC wants to prove that they are the best in the Atlantic, they will have to beat the best. And right now, the first-place Pittsburgh Riverhounds are the best.
There are plenty of reasons to be cheerful about Miami FC (8-6-3, 27 pts) as enter the back half of the 2021 season. And yet, Miami has struggled to find that “big win” on the road this season.
A win on Wednesday night in the Steel City could change that and turn the race for the Atlantic Division’s top spot on its head. But what will it take for Miami FC to take down the red-hot Riverhounds? Let’s find out.
Know Your Enemy: Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Riding a four-game winning streak, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (10-4-3, 33 pts) surged past Tampa Bay and now sit atop the Atlantic Division.
Russell Cicerone and Hugh Alexander Dixon have been pivotal to the Riverhounds success this season. Cicerone leads the club with eight goals and four assists. Dixon, meanwhile, is right behind him with six goals and four assists.
In Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory over Charleston last Friday, Cicerone opened the scoring in the 24th minute. Dixon then added a pair of goals in the winning effort. Dixon, for his efforts, earned his third straight selection to the USL Championship Team of the Week.
The Riverhounds are one of the toughest defensive teams in the league. They’ve only allowed 18 goals so far this season (1.05 goals per game). And they have been formidable at home, compiling a 4-2-1 record at Highmark Stadium this season.
Miami and Pittsburgh will meet again two more times this season. Both will be late season matches at FIU Stadium in October. If both squads continue on their current trajectories, those two matches could determine playoff positioning for Miami FC and Pittsburgh.
Keys To A Miami Victory
In their only meeting this season, Miami FC and Pittsburgh fought to a 1-1 draw at Highmark Stadium on June 12. Cicerone gave Pittsburgh the early lead, but former Riverhound Cristiano François leveled the match for Miami just before the end of the first half to help Miami earn a point. Can François, who has three goals and three assists so far this season, help lift Miami to a huge victory against his former club?
Miami must find a way to shut down Cicerone and Dixon and keep them off the scoresheet. Miami’s backline, led by Paco Craig, will need to be at their best and goalkeeper Connor Sparrow may need to make a big stop or two to help the Orange and Blue steal three points on the road.
If Miami wants to compete for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, they will need to find a way to beat teams like Pittsburgh–especially away from the friendly confines of FIU Stadium. But they are running into Pittsburgh at the worst possible time.
The Riverhounds are making a case that they are the new team to beat in the division. Despite Miami FC’s impressive play lately, it’s hard to see them taking down the hottest team in the division on the road.
Pittsburgh Riverhounds 3 – Miami FC 2
WHO: Miami FC (8-6-3, 27 pts) vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds (10-4-3, 33 pts)
WHEN: Wednesday, August 11 // 6:00 pm EST
WHERE: Highmark Stadium (Pittsburgh, PA)
WATCH: ESPN+ in the US, YouTube internationally
- Miami FC – None
- Pittsburgh Riverhounds – None