It’s been a long time. A long, long winter. But now spring is coming and the NPSL is back. Miami FC head into their second NPSL regular season as defending national champions after a celebrated run to the title in 2018. What can we expect this season?
Manager Paul Dalglish inherited an NASL roster when he took charge in the 305 last year. Riccardo Silva and the club honored the contracts the players had. Some stayed, some left. This year the boss got to put his own roster together. Again it was time for some players to move on. Indio Vega is now plying his trade in the MLS and it looks like the captain’s armband has passed to Dylan Mares. The handful of players who remain from 2018 along with Mares are goalkeeper Lionel Brown, utility player Shawn Chin, midfielders Ariel Martinez and Brian James plus forward Dario Suarez.
A returning familiar face is Robert ‘Baggio’ Kcira. The explosive left sided player was a fan-favorite in the NASL days. Proclaim Baggio is love, Baggio is life in front of the Dade Brigade and you’ll get a warm welcome. Baggio famously picked up a spot on the Miami FC roster from an open tryout and this year, two new recruits arrived by that route.
Centre back Callum Chapman-Page, who inherits the #5 jersey from Mason Trafford (no pressure Callum!), and midfielder Hector Morales both impressed during tryouts and were handed contracts. Callum, an English-Born imposing figure, is a commanding centre back. Hector meanwhile is a compatriot of Ariel and Dario. Much like his compatriots, Morales displays technical skills in the attacking midfield.
Between the posts the new #1 is Mark Pais. Vega’s gloves are big ones to fill but Mark has USL experience and should do just fine. Callum will be competing with Brenton Griffiths and Jalen Markey for starts in the centre of defense. Overall the backline has a lower average age which is a noticeable change from last year. Marco Franco arrived from Penn FC in USL and is a full back. Shawn Chin and John Neeskens provide options. They can fill in at more than one position and even step into midfield. Neeskens is also deadly from free kicks.
Moving on to the midfielders, another face Miami soccer fans might recognize is Tomas Granitto. The El Salvadorian international made the short move from Hialeah to Miami, signing up from rivals Miami United. Adding to central midfield depth is Lance Rozeboom who came from slightly farther away having played last season with Tampa Bay Rowdies. Youngster Brian James impressed towards the end of the 2018 season and will provide options in the centre of midfield along with Morales. Playmakers Dylan Mares and Ariel Martinez will be supporting the attackers along with Baggio and another new man Harrison Heath. Harrison has minutes in the MLS most recently with Minnesota United.
Up front alongside Dario Suarez are four new faces. Lloyd Sam, who should need no introduction to anyone who follows soccer in the US, Mohamed Thiaw, Miguel Gonzalez and last minute signing Othello Bah. It looks like Suarez – Thiaw – Sam will be the first choice front three.
MIAMI FC NPSL EXPECTATIONS
A successful defense of the title is what is expected of this team and while they are capable of that, it won’t be an easy task. The Sunshine Conference is down to six teams. As with last season it kicks off with back to back games vs Miami United but this time home then away. Naples United, Central Florida Panthers, Storm FC and a Jacksonville Armada U-23 team provide the rest of the opposition. Magic City Soccer understands that four teams will make the playoffs so even if FC win the conference there is already an extra must win playoff game between the Orange and Blue and another NPSL trophy.
The NPSL, certainly at the top level, is getting better in terms of quality and Miami did get the benefit of a couple of surprise results in the playoffs that meant an extended run of hosting playoff games. They’ll need to make sure they drop as few points as possible during the regular season.
Also in the fall there is NPSL Founders Cup. This new competition will see a group of teams who want an extended NPSL season take on each other in east and west conferences before a short playoff tournament. So there is even more silverware up for grabs for FC this year.
NO MORE CUPSETS
While Miami FC were matchless in the NPSL, the Open Cup was a disaster. And although it proved to be a turning point no FC fan will want another disappointing campaign.
A potential route to a likely 4th round matchup with Orlando City has already been mapped out. First up is a local game with impressive UPSL outfit Florida Soccer Soldiers. Win that and it’s a long trip to USL Championship side Charlotte Independence. Waiting after will be the winner of the Tampa Bay Rowdies v Lakeland Tropics/Villages SC. Tricky games but all winnable if the team play the right way.
KEEP ON MOVIN’
So the mission statement is clear. Defend the NPSL championship, try to set up that 4th round Open Cup matchup and win the inaugural Founders Cup. There is the quality on the roster to make that happen and Paul Dalglish and the technical staff have proved they are up to the challenge.
What is for certain is that we can expect more of the same. Open, attacking soccer that uses the whole width of the field. Goals. Lots of them. And hopefully more trophies. Last year Miami FC made the best of their post-NASL situation and it was a great thing to be a part of. The future for 2019 and beyond looks great.
Tickets are still available for the 2019 NPSL Season. Click here to order your 2019 Miami FC Season Ticket Membership.