As South Florida awaits the arrival of David Beckham’s Inter Miami, the city’s long-suffering franchise, Miami FC, continues to win championships but struggles to get noticed.
Although they had a successful run last year, crowds are thin. On Sunday, the team received Atlanta SC on their home field at Barry University in front of a small crowd. Paul Dalglish’s team looked solid defensively, going into the first half with a 1-0 lead courtesy of a goal by forward Mohamed Thiaw in the 18th minute.
In the second half, Atlanta tied the match in the 53rd minute with a goal from Nazeed Bartman, but Miami upped the score 2-1 with another goal from Thiaw six minutes later. The highlight of the match was a late equalizer scored by Bartman at the 92th minute, ending the game in a 2-2 tie.
Founded in 2015 by Riccardo Silva and soccer superstar Paolo Maldini, Miami FC started the 2016 season in the now extinct North American Soccer League. The team’s main goal was to connect Miami’s communities through the language of soccer, as stated on its website, but it has been a bumpy ride.
Although they’ve managed to win eight trophies in the last four years in two different leagues, some of their seasons have been plagued by controversy. Legal disputes between the United States Soccer Federation and the league resulted in the cancellation of the 2018 NASL season.
As a result, the club spent fall of 2018 without league support, scrambling to find opponents to stay competitive.
Miami FC CEO Sean Flynn said the uncertainly of the last two years have been difficult, but said the team was trying to start a new league called the National Independent Soccer Association.
Hector Morales, a midfielder for the team, agreed.
“Playing NASL was a big deal in the city for a lot of fans,” he said. “The last few years have been tough, now that the NASL does not longer exist. We have lost a lot of fans and popularity.”
And, of course, the fact that Inter Miami FC is coming to town as part of Major League Soccer looms large. Still, Flynn said he believes there’s room for his club.
“There’s opportunity for multiple teams to play in a market like Miami,” he said. “It’s already happening in Los Angeles, New York, in the U.S and it happens obviously around the world.”
The club’s fans, for their part, say they’ll stay loyal.
“I’m going to stay here, this is my team,” said Drew Houseman, 33. “I’ve been involved with them for the past four years so you can’t just abandon them.” Felipe Acosta, 21, a fan of the team since 2015, said he likes the club’s style of play.
“The single characteristic I like about Miami FC it’s that we always play hard, we never give up, we [are] just kind of trying all the time.”
Despite the threat to the team and its fanbase from Inter Miami FC, players and officials say they are keeping their heads high.
“They are going to play in a different and higher league, which is the MLS, and obviously it’s going to get more interest from other fans, but this team is growing a lot,” said Miami FC midfielder Tomas Granitto, adding he looks forward to the budding rivalry.
And Flynn said he believes the addition of the MLS team will increase the visibility, and viability, of his club.
“Again, there will be competition, but I think both teams will find new supporter base and be able to grow on that and as the teams play each other the rivalry will become bigger and bigger,” he said.