Paul Dalglish had only been in his new job for a matter days when he found out that his new team had nowhere to play, no fixtures to look forward to, no league to call home. Miami FC were expected to be challengers in this season’s NASL having won both the spring and fall titles in 2017. But just one week before the 2018 campaign was due to start, the league, which acts as North American football’s second tier, cancelled its season.
The explanation for this can be found in various complex court documents involving litigation between the NASL and US Soccer, who stripped the league of its division II status following the collapse of a number of clubs towards the end of last year, among other issues. Whatever the intricacies of the ruling, Miami FC – who are co-owned by Paolo Maldini – found themselves without a league.
“It was something that I was aware was a risk before I took the job,” says Dalglish, who replaced Alessandro Nesta as Miami FC head coach after stints at Ottawa Fury and Austin Aztec. “It makes things very, very hard for everybody at the club. We’ve lost players and conversely it has made it more difficult to sign players. The current situation isn’t what anyone at the organisation wants.”
Indeed, Miami FC, along with the rest of the surviving NASL teams, find themselves floating aimlessly. Others have already sunk, with some, like North Carolina FC, Indy Eleven and San Diego 1904, jumping ship to the USL, the former third division which has replaced the NASL as the second division. It’s been speculated that Miami FC could follow suit.
“I think all options are on the table,” Dalglish explains. “We just want to play, it’s just a very complex landscape in this moment in time in Miami and soccer in general.” He’s not wrong. The American game has come to something of a juncture in its recent growth. A lot of underlying issues have bubbled to the surface following the USA’s failure to qualify for the World Cup. US Soccer’s recent presidential election was a messy affair, as elections now tend to be on the other side of the Atlantic. Miami FC and the NASL claim they are victims.
For now, Dalglish’s team have been entered into the National Premier Soccer League. It’s not a division befitting of Miami FC’s stature and ambition, with matches watched by just a handful of spectators. “It’s the most ambitious club that I have been a head coach at and we will be back at some point,” says the former Hibernian and Kilmarnock forward, who also enjoyed a spell at the Houston Dynamo as a player. “All we can do at the moment is take each game every bit as seriously as we would if we were playing in the NASL.
Some rare good news came earlier this month when it was confirmed that Miami FC will be permitted to compete in this season’s US Open Cup, the American game’s FA Cup or Scottish Cup equivalent, but as a form of mitigation, it’s a minor measure.
On top of all this strife, Miami FC now find that their toes are being trodden on by none other than David Beckham. The former Manchester United, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy midfielder, pictured left, has announced his intention to form an MLS franchise in Miami, with reports already claiming that moves for Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlo Ancelotti as manager are being lined up. Miami might have Maldini as a co-owner, but they must fear being blown out of the South Florida water.
Not Dalglish, though. “I think it’s brilliant,” he says. “Last weekend, between the two LA teams, was probably the most intriguing match there has ever been in MLS.” He is referring to the game decided by debutant Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who came off the bench to smash home a half-volley and head home a later winner.
The Swede might have stolen the show, but the real story was in the growing rivalry between the LA Galaxy and newbies Los Angeles FC. Dalglish wants something like that in Miami. “That’s the type of games that are going to get people talking about soccer in America,” he adds.
“For me, it’s that kinda rivalry, that sort of pressure, that attracts fans. Those are the best games. I welcome them. It brings attention to Miami.
“Listen, there’s a lot of competition for entertainment dollars in Miami – there’s a baseball team, a basketball team, a football team, there’s the beach with all the bars and restaurants… Beckham coming and putting a team here can only bring attention to the game in the city, which ultimately benefits everyone.” Maybe by the time Beckham gets his team up and running Miami FC’s future will be clearer.