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bana2166
04-23-06, 05:49 PM
Brazilian Romario & Diego Walsh and Haitian Stephane Guillaume debut on hold with Miami FC due to visa problem.


MIAMI FC USL aims for higher profile
Miami FC makes its debut today in the United Soccer Leagues, which hopes to gain marketing and exposure to close the gap with MLS.

BY MICHELLE KAUFMAN
mkaufman@MiamiHerald.com

Anybody who follows soccer in South Florida probably has heard that there is a new team called Miami FC, and its roster includes 40-year-old Brazilian legend Romário, who is awaiting a visa and won't play today in the season opener at Tropical Park.

Other than that, fans might not know much about the rest of the Miami roster, the league in which they play, and the opponent they face at 4 p.m., the Montreal Impact.

First, the league. Miami FC is a member of United Soccer Leagues, which has three teams in Canada, eight in the United States and one in Puerto Rico. Formerly known as the A-League, it is a notch below Major League Soccer on the American soccer chain, though top USL teams have beaten MLS teams on occasion in recent years.

The average USL crowd last season was 4,527, while the MLS average was 15,100. Montreal, the USL regular-season champion last year, drew a league-high 11,176, and Rochester also did well with 9,570. The worst draws were Atlanta (1,805) and Virginia Beach (1,240). Los Angeles led MLS with 19,265 a game, and San Jose was last with 12,526.

There is also a considerable gap in payroll between the two leagues.

The average USL player makes between $10,000 and $40,000 for the five-month season with the top players making $80,000. Major League Soccer's average salary is $80,000, and top players can make in excess of $300,000.

PLAYERS' RIGHTS

When Traffic Sports, the Brazil-based Miami FC owners, were deciding which league to join, they chose USL, partly because it is cheaper, but also because the USL allows more flexibility with players and broadcast rights, said Miami FC president Julio Mariz and general manager Luiz Muzzi.

MLS operates largely as a single entity, owns players' rights and has revenue sharing.

''We were able to get Romário because of our relationship with him, and that would have been harder to do in the MLS model,'' Muzzi said. ``What USL needs is more exposure and marketing, a higher profile, and we hope we can help with that.''

Added USL vice president Tim Holt: ``We offer an alternative business model that gives owners full autonomy, and we feel we are a big-time league in our own right. The addition of Traffic will only add value to the league because of the international connections they have that can help us get players, broadcast deals and sponsors.''

Former Miami Fusion coach Ray Hudson, an analyst on GOL-TV, said he is eager to see how the new Miami team does.

''The USL is a tier below MLS, but its quality, credibility and popularity are growing, and the gap is shrinking between the two leagues,'' said Hudson.

In addition to Romário, the Miami FC roster includes 1994 Brazilian World Cup midfielder Zinho, Guatemalan national team forward Mario Rodriguez, Haitian national team defender Stephane Guillaume, Jamaican midfielder Sean Fraser, and Yaikel Perez, who defected from the Cuban national team last summer. Brazilian player Diego Walsh played in MLS the past three years, and Michael Erush played MLS last year.

Goalkeeper Chris Doyle spent three seasons with USL's Charleston Battery.

STRONG OPPONENT

Like Romário, Walsh and Stephane Guillaume are still awaiting visas and will not play today, which will hurt against a team such as Montreal, which had the best league record at 18-3-7 last year.

''I know all the talk has been about Romário, and that's understandable, but the only thing we care about is winning,'' said Doyle. ``We are all here to win, and Romário will help us win and be a great asset to the team, but it's not just about him.

``We have a lot of good players, and I think we could be one of the best teams in the country.'

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Visa delay puts Romário's & Haitian Stephane Guillaune debut on hold
BY MICHELLE KAUFMAN
mkaufman@MiamiHerald.com

South Florida soccer fans will have to wait nearly two weeks to see Romário's debut with Miami FC. The 1994 World Cup star is in Brazil awaiting a visa and will not be available for Miami FC's inaugural game Sunday at Tropical Park against the Montreal Impact.

Another Brazilian player, Diego Walsh, and Haitian defender Stephane Guillame also are awaiting visas and will not play Sunday.

General manager Luiz Muzzi said he is ''very, very disappointed'' with the news, especially considering all the hype surrounding Romário.

''It is very frustrating and disappointing that we can't put Romário on the field for the fans, who are all dying to see him,'' Muzzi said. ``I don't want fans to think we are promising something we can't deliver. His visa application has been approved, and he is just awaiting the stamp from the consulate. We fully expected this to be taken care of by now, but there have been delays, and they don't care if it's Romário.''

Miami FC's next game is May 5 against the Rochester Rhinos at Tropical Park. Muzzi said he expects Romário to be back in camp this week and ready to go for that game.