BY ADAM H. BEASLEY
For a team whose very existence was in question just 14 months ago, Miami FC sure has some grand plans for the future.
By the summer's end, the Blues' roster will likely feature several of the nation's most promising young players, who are currently finishing their seasons abroad.
Fast-forward a few years down the road, and the vision is even more auspicious. The Blues' parent company Traffic Sports hopes to have a vibrant soccer development academy located at vacant Fort Lauderdale Stadium.
But for all the Blues' designs for days yet to come, they are awfully excited about the here and now.
And with a new coach, a deeper and more skilled team than a year ago plus a stable and defined home, that enthusiasm is not without justification.
"There's more talent than last year," said Miami FC general manager Luiz Muzzi, who was largely responsible for putting together the 24-man roster.
When asked if this group, which opens its season at home against the Rochester Rhinos Saturday, was a playoff team, Muzzi responded: "For sure. We think it's more than that."
Muzzi purged all but five of the players who were on last year's club, which nearly folded in the preseason due to poor fan interest then struggled through an 8-17-5 season. Zinho, the Brazilian World Cup champion who coached the last two years, is also gone.
Instead, this year's team will be led by first-year manager Victor Pastora and former MLS MVP Christian Gomez, a midfielder already given the prestigious No. 10 jersey. Other key additions include goalkeeper Lance Parker, forward Abe Thompson and midfielders Paulinho Le Petit and Sean Cameron.
In the coming weeks, Miami FC is also expected to welcome back Tony Taylor and Bryan Arguez, Traffic players and former U-20 U.S. national team members currently in competing professionally in Portugal.
But the changes don't end just with the roster.
Miami FC will play this year in USSF Division-2, a hybrid league formed hastily after the Blues and four other teams defected from USL-1 during the offseason.
Also, the team will unveil its sleek, Carolina-blue uniform against Rochester Saturday. Game-time is 7:30 p.m.
That game, like all 15 home contests this year, will be held at Lockhart Stadium. The Blues alternated between the Fort Lauderdale facility and FIU Stadium in 2009, but will stick to Broward County this summer - and likely the foreseeable future.
The plan is to rent out adjacent Fort Lauderdale Stadium and turn it into a youth player development facility, in the hopes of improving soccer in the United States and unearthing talent for Traffic.
Still, putting fans in the seats remains a high priority for the Blues, entering their fifth season. But instead of pouring money in a marketing campaign to broaden the franchise's name recognition, team executives decided to use the limited resources to make the team competitive.
"We can't ask for respect. We have to earn the respect of the rest of the league and the people of Florida, too," said Fernando Clavijo. "We have to show that we are quality, that we can play."