Florida Soccer Soldiers celebrate in the locker room after a game. Photo: Lee Ifans
Florida Soccer Soldiers were founded in 2018, and in just one year, they have already marched their way to the top of the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL). Now they have their crosshairs on the 2019 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
In their inaugural league campaign they were Florida South Division regular season champions and playoff winners. The UPSL Southeast Conference title came soon after. At the national playoffs they won a quarterfinal match 2-0 against Inocentes FC (Ft. Worth, Texas) before losing 2-0 to eventual national champions Bavarian SC in the semifinals.
As you might expect from a team from South Florida, there is a strong Latin American identity to the side and an especially visible Venezuelan influence. Head coach is Daniel Godoy, a man with an impressive resume. In his professional career he played with Caracas FC in Venezuela winning plural national titles and playing in three Copa Libertadores tournaments. With Deportivo Lara he appeared in the Copa Sudamericana. Godoy also has international experience with one appearance for the Venezuelan under 23 side in an Olympic Games qualifier against Chile plus two full international caps with the Vinotinto in 2006 and 2007 against Uruguay and Ecuador. Closer to home he has NPSL titles with Miami United in 2016 and Miami Fusion in 2017 before taking the reins with Florida Soccer Soldiers.
Antonioni González | Photo: Florida Soccer Soldiers
“I was very happy when I heard I would be coaching the team. I talked to the owners and they showed me a good project thinking for the future, to have a youth academy and give young players opportunities to play for the first team,” said Godoy. “And yes, I liked the name because we are as soldiers committed with one idea. The name transmits respect. You know how honorable soldiers are fighting for a country or ideology? This team needs soldiers fighting to win games together with respect, pride and commitment. This group is thinking with the same ideology. Win games and help grow the club.”
Soccer Soldiers were the only team from South Florida to make it through the Open Cup qualifiers. Defeating UPSL rivals Miami Sun 2-1 in the first qualifying round, established Miami non-league outfit Red Force 1-0 in the second round and then hammering Hurricane FC of Delray Beach 6-0 in the third.
They received a bye in the fourth and final round when opponents America SC from the Orlando area forfeited
due to them leaving the UPSL league system. Florida Soccer Soldiers were drawn to play at Miami FC in the first round of the 2019 Open Cup tournament proper.
It promises to be one of the games of the round, with two teams fighting for a shot at the Charlotte Independence (USL Championship) in the second round. The Soccer Soldiers are a technical side who build patiently from the back and have a talented roster who can pull that kind of game off.
“That’s my style, that’s the way I like to transmit my knowledge as an ex-professional players,” said Godoy. “I try to teach the same way of playing I learned in the past. I don’t like to send balls to the front and wait for mistakes. I rather build play from the back, make connections and move the ball so that we have clear options for the forwards. I am lucky to have good players, ex-pros and very good young kids who want to improve. Soccer Soldiers like to give young players a chance to get exposure so universities and colleges can come and watch players and give them scholarships and opportunities.”
Florida Soccer Soldiers head coach Daniel Godoy | Photo: Florida Soccer Soldiers
One of those young players is Valentin Sabella. An exciting winger raised in Miami who likes to take on players and score goals. In the qualifiers he got on the scoresheet decisively in the first and second rounds and grabbed a brace in the rout of Hurricane FC. Sabella is also one of the team’s top free kick takers.
The midfield is anchored by experienced Venezuelan Antonioni González, the captain. A deep-lying playmaker, he is the embodiment of the Soldiers’ philosophy. Calm in possession and capable of opening up teams with a great range of passing. Both the old hands and the young guns are sure to be excited for a crack at the Open Cup.
“It’s a very honorable competition, the oldest competition for club soccer in this country,” said Godoy. “Everyone is proud to be part of this and be at this level. It’s an amazing opportunity for my players. Some of the ex-pros have played at a high level and had this chance before, but for those who haven’t played at this kind of level it’s a great opportunity. Everyone’s excited to be a part of this competition.”
Looking ahead to the team’s opening round matchup, according to their coach, playing against a team that fields some professional players isn’t going to intimidate them.
“If look honestly at our weaknesses and our strengths, if we focus and work hard and not worry about the other team, Miami FC, we have a great chance to advance,” added Godoy. “Everyone knows it will be an intense, hard game but we have been preparing with international games against sides like Boca Juniors, Penarol and the Puerto Rico national team. So this game won’t be a surprise for us. We trust in our strengths and we are working on our weaknesses to be in the best shape to face this game.”