The Forward Madison FC Flamingos had a solid inaugural season, finishing with a 12–7–9 record and the distinction of being the only USL League One team to advance to the third round of the U.S. Cup Open. But the team still had plenty of room to improve, the most marked area being their scoring.
Last season, the team generated 304 total shots — 128 of them on target — and only 33 of those eventually found the back of the net. Their situation was only worsened when Forward FC lost one of their top scorers, Josiel Núñez, to CD Universitario.
The signing of veteran striker Wojciech Wójcik should help the team. Part of their low scoring last season was because they lacked a permanent striker. This should be remedied by Wójcik, who has five years of professional soccer experience under his belt and is a proven scorer. Just last season, Wójcik led the USL Championship Hartford Athletic in goals with his total of seven.
Wójcik also has prior experience playing with the Flamingo’s top scorer, Don Smart. The two played together for the short-lived Indy Eleven FC. Hopefully, their talents will combine to give the young team their first championship this year.
The Flamingos faced another challenge this postseason when they transferred their starting keeper, Brian Sylvestre, to the USL Championship team Miami FC. Sylvestre played a key part in the Flamingos’ strong defense, having only let in three goals in their last eight games. His transfer left the Flamingos with only their backup keeper, Brandon Barnes, whom they quickly re-signed.
But late last February, the Flamingos found their starting goalkeeper in Philipp Marceta. The 27-year-old Austrian boasts a decade-long career playing in Europe, and his performance in the preseason assured the Flamingos’ Head Coach Daryl Shore that the team had found a leader in the net.
“We brought Philipp in on our preseason trip when we were in Louisville, and you could tell right away that he’s a leader in goal,” Shore said in a Forward Madison FC article. “He’s very good at coming for crosses; we’re comfortable with how he can play with his feet; he’s a solid shot-stopper. He checks every box that you look for in a goalkeeper.”
Despite acquiring Marceta, the Flamingos still only have two goalkeepers. That’s something Forward General Manager Conor Caloia hinted they’re hoping to mitigate with their new affiliation with the MLS Chicago Fire FC. The agreement allows the two teams to host an exhibition game together and, more importantly, permits the Fire to loan the Flamingos players.
If Marceta gets injured, we might see the Flamingos borrow one of the Fire’s five goalkeepers.
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But for all the new players and affiliations the Flamingos gained, it didn’t seem to translate in the preseason, where they lost all three of their games before the season was suspended. Part of the losses may have been due to the level the Flamingos were playing against, as all three teams belonged to the USL-Championship league. The Flamingos were also still testing their team, fielding a number of preseason trialists for the second halves of their games. This would seem to be the case in the first preseason game against Memphis 901 FC.
The Flamingos lost their first preseason game 3–1 to Memphis. But on a positive note, the Flamingos kept a scoreless first half, despite Memphis being a division-two team and having already nearly completed their preseason.
The Flamingos’ second preseason game against Louisville City FC was not as encouraging. Though they started top scorers Smart and Paulo Júnior with new striker Wójcik, the Flamingos conceded four goals while scoring none in the first half. This was not exactly encouraging for a team trying to improve its offense.
Though they lost their third preseason game 1–2 to Saint Louis FC, the Flamingos showed promise. Most encouraging was the first half when the Flamingos took a 1–0 lead. They had played all their signed players — except for their goalkeeper, who was a trialist — and were rewarded when Paulo Júnior scored off a nice cross.
In a video on their Twitter, head coach Daryl Shore said he was pleased with how his team was playing.
“That’s what preseason is about, laying our foundation, the guys buying into our principles,” Shore said. “I know some people might think that the results of the game may not seem that way, but we’ve had some really nice practice sessions and today was the first game we focused on making sure those principles were put in place. But now we turn our focus to laying the foundation for what our attacking principles will be.”
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Unfortunately, it’s unclear how the Flamingos will continue to practice their attacking principles. March 12, the USL announced that they were suspending the season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a March 20 Facebook post, Caloia said the team had stopped holding practice, and each player was expected to train on their own. Caloia also said that though the Flamingos would not play until at least May 10, the team was working hard with the USL to reschedule their season so that fans would get all 18 of their promised games.
Despite the pandemic, the Flamingos have found ways to entertain their fans. Several players have live-streamed their workouts on Facebook, and last Saturday — in lieu of actually playing their season opener against the Richmond Kickers — the Flamingos played them in virtual Connect Four.
The Flamingos’ next game is scheduled against Toronto FC II, with the date still to be determined.