Miami FC To Debut In USL Playoffs

Time to get excited. Miami FC finally take their place in the USL Championship playoffs. After a good showing in a really strong Atlantic division, Miami were handed a very tough opening match on the road against Louisville City FC.

It was exactly four years ago today that Miami played their last playoff game at Division 2 level. Despite being the #1 seed in the 2017 NASL playoffs things did not go according to plan. The green machine of New York Cosmos ground out a 0-0 draw at Riccardo Silva Stadium and took their place in the 2017 Soccer Bowl, winning 6-5 on penalties.

As many will remember, Miami FC were exiled to the NPSL (essentially Division 4) after the collapse of the NASL. There are fond playoff memories from these two years with back-to-back playoff national championship wins in 2018 and 2019. We did get some revenge against the Cosmos in the 2019 final. Following that there was also a brief stint in the NISA Showcase. We won that too.

So it’s been a winding road back to a playoff game at this level. How did we get here this season? Paul Dalglish has done a great job with his sweeping changes after a disappointing debut season in the USL last year. The brand of soccer has remained the same. A technical passing game which is fun to watch and sets up great opportunities for the attacking weapons in the final third of the pitch. We’ve seen some great goals.

The wholesale changes included a squad revamp and this is where the technical staff have really excelled with some fine recruitment work. From top to bottom this roster can compete for the championship. Connor Sparrow has been a revelation in goal. A true sweeper-keeper who the defenders have to confidence to use as an option for a pass when under pressure.

Regular center back pairing Paco Craig and Callum Chapman-Page have developed a great understanding. Captain Craig is a classy and experienced player who lifts everyone around him. It’s Callum’s second stint with the club after a year over in Tulsa in 2020. Callum has matured into a quality footballer and is an imposing figure at the back but has also managed to get among the goals. These two will need to be at the top of their game vs Louisville.

Paco is one of three players who will be returning to the Lou having previously played there. Another is Speedy Williams, a vital cog in midfield alongside Bolu Akinyode. These are another two players who are key elements of the Dalglishball system.

It’s going to be a night to remember for Rich Ballard. The third of the returnees to Louisville. Ballard was born and raised in the Lou. Played college soccer there and won back-to-back USL Cups alongside Craig and Williams. In fact Miami FC is the only non-Lou club Ballard has ever played for. Rich has been converted to an attacking full back and it’s tough to know who Dalglish will go for in this playoff game. Ballard and Sean McFarlane Jr are jostling for the start at right back. On the left Löbe and Baggio are options. Experienced Italian Luca Antonelli has also travelled with the squad. It’s a real headache for Paul. Who do you start?

We haven’t even talked about Othello Bah. He’s made an exceptional contribution this season playing in every position down the left, scoring four goals including vital strikes against the Rowdies and the Riverhounds. Bah is now 9th on the list of all-time appearances for Miami FC and even his national team took notice. Othello played for Liberia in a friendly.

Team selection doesn’t get any easier at the other end of the field. Club captain Ariel Martinez has a gift of talent a notch above most USL players. At the age of 35 he is still a stellar option for a start. So is the youngest player in the team Lamar Walker. The exciting Jamaican forward has progressed really well through 2021. Both these guys can operate in a central attacking role.

Nijah Reid, Pierre Da Silva, Billy Forbes and of course Christiano Francois could all play. Newcomers Josh Perez and Chris Cortez are available too. It’s a real treasure chest of attacking talent, fire in the box like matchsticks. If I was a LouCity defender I might have trouble sleeping tonight…

Though Louisville City will feel they are favorites. They have home advantage. The weather will be freezing. They won the Central Division and while it’s maybe not quite as tough a group as the Atlantic, LouCity were 4th overall in the USL regular season. They also knocked off Birmingham Legion 1-0 on the road in their last game. A result that cemented that top spot in the Central Division.

At the end of the day this is cup soccer and the result is tough to predict. If we circle back to that NASL playoff we know very well that a less-fancied team can come to a difficult environment and get a result. For fans of the club, the game is a deserved reward for sticking with the team through the NPSL exile and the forgettable 2020 season. Might we see penalties again? As much as that would be torture for all involved it may be the outcome.

What is a certainty is a great game of soccer. Both these teams started the season with hopes of an appearance in the final. One of them will be drowning their sorrows on Saturday night. Let’s hope it’s not the Orange and Blue. The USL Championship playoff encounter between Miami FC and Louisville City FC can be watched on ESPN+ in the US and free on YouTube around the world. Kick off is set for 8pm ET on Saturday, 6th of November. VAMOS MIAMI!

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