WAUWATOSA — For the second straight year, Forward Madison FC’s home opener ended in a scoreless draw against Greenville Triumph SC on Friday.
Just change the city, the venue, the weather, the time of year, a few of the key players and the overall atmosphere.
With its home at Breese Stevens Field unavailable in 2020 because of restrictions established in Dane County during the COVID-19 pandemic, Forward Madison moved to Hart Park for the first of eight scheduled USL League One games.
The Flamingos earned a point from their second game of the season but found major faults in the performance.
“What we’re putting into training and what we’re putting into games right now isn’t good enough,” captain Connor Tobin said. “The effort’s not good enough. The intensity’s not good enough. And that showed up tonight. We were not anywhere near where we need to be if we’re going to be competitive this year.”
Goalkeeper Philipp Marceta made five saves for Forward Madison (0-1-1), which didn’t create enough in the attacking end to threaten first-place Greenville (2-0-1) until the final 15 minutes.
What Forward Madison coach Daryl Shore called a lapse in concentration put his team on its heels in the opening minutes. A flubbed pass back to Marceta in the fifth minute forced the goalkeeper to illegally pick it up in his penalty area before an oncoming attacker controlled it.
That gave Greenville a rare indirect free kick from inside the area, about 11 yards out from the goal. In another unusual sight, Marceta set up his wall of defenders on the goal line behind him but didn’t need them as he dived to his right to turn away Omar Mohamed’s shot.
“We did a great job keeping it out there,” said Marceta, who was signed in the offseason to replace Brian Sylvestre in the Forward Madison goal. “It was not easy the first five, 10, 15 minutes.”
Shore took blame for not having his players ready to adjust to a different style out of Greenville than expected. The visitors played direct at Forward Madison’s back line and when Shore’s players won the ball they didn’t make enough of possession.
“I had said we needed to dictate the pace of the game,” Shore said. “They dictated the pace of the game. That’s what’s a little bit unsettling — we talked to our guys about doing that and then we don’t.”
Unlike the 2019 home opener, when an announced crowd of 4,462 saw a 0-0 tie on a snowy late April night at Breese Stevens Field, gorgeous weather awaited an announced gathering of 535 people Friday at Hart Park.
Capacity was limited to just over 1,000 to put distance between groups of spectators, who were reminded — in signage and occasionally in person — to keep a mask on their face.
The boisterous cheering from kickoff to the final whistle that was a staple last season at Breese Stevens Field was absent; USL League One put a halt to many organized fan group presentations in its return-to-play protocols.
Forward Madison is the only league team playing outside its home market this season.
“We’re making it work,” Marceta said. “We can’t let that be our excuse. That’s just something that we have to deal with.”
Attacking chances were few and far between for Forward Madison in the game’s first 75 minutes. Wojciech Wojcik drew a free kick 2 yards outside the area in the first half, but his effort went into the wall of Greenville defenders.
Second-half substitutes Gustavo Fernandes, Alex Monis and Brandon Eaton helped create more of an offensive buzz late in the game.
Still, Forward Madison finished without a shot on target from eight attempts and had to survive one final Lachlan McLean header that went wide off a corner just before the final whistle.
Tobin gathered the team’s players in the locker room afterward for a players-only meeting.
“We need guys to dig deep and look at themselves,” he said. “There’s a lot of excuses floating around that are easy to latch onto but it goes back to fault versus responsibility. If guys want to point at things, we’re going to struggle. The only person they should be pointing at, regardless of whether it’s their fault or not, is themselves.
“Right now, just from a pure effort and competitive standpoint, we’re not where we need to be. The football’s not where it needs to be but the football can’t get corrected until the effort’s there.”
Greenville Triumph SC 0 0 — 0
Forward Madison FC 0 0 — 0
Saves: G (Jaye) 0, FM (Marceta) 5.
Possession: G .468, FM .532. Shots-on goal: G 15-5, FM 8-0. Corner kicks: G 7, FM 1. Fouls: G 11, FM 14. Offsides: G 3, FM 2.
Yellow card: Pilato, G, 90th+4. Att. — 535.
Greenville Triumph SC — Dallas Jaye; Abdi Mohamed, Trevor Swartz, Cesar Murillo, Tyler Polak; Noah Pilato, Omar Mohamed (Lachlan McLean, 86th), Carlos Gomez (J.J. Donnelly, 72nd), Aaron Walker, Alex Morrell; Jake Keegan.
Forward Madison FC — Philipp Marceta; Jiro Barriga Toyama, Connor Tobin, Josiah Trimmingham (Gustavo Fernandes, 46th), Christian Diaz; Louis Bennett (Alex Monis, 46th), Eric Leonard, J.C. Banks (Brandon Eaton, 67th); Paulo Júnior (Jamael Cox, 90th+2), Wojciech Wojcik, Don Smart.
Catch up on Forward Madison FC signings, other news since the end of the 2019 season
Forward Madison FC reworked some of its roster since finishing in fourth place and losing in the playoff semifinals in its inaugural USL League One pro soccer season in 2019. Then the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start of the 2020 season for nearly four months. Here's all the news that happened since last season ended.
Wilt, who joined the USL League One team as it was launched in May 2018, will work with communities to develop supporters groups in new USL markets and assist existing teams with fan engagement.
Forwards Don Smart and Paulo Júnior, midfielder J.C. Banks and goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre will return for a second season with the USL League One team, the Flamingos announced Wednesday.
Leonard played in all 29 USL League One games in 2019 and finished in the top 10 in the league in tackles (61), duels won (182) and interceptions (54).
Díaz played left back and right back in the Flamingos' inaugural season, scoring two goals in all competitions.
The Flamingos will open their second season with a road game against Richmond Kickers.
The 28-game league schedule was unveiled Friday, with the Flamingos playing six opponents three times and five others twice.
It'll be the team's second exhibition against a top-division German team.
Forward Madison FC re-signed 25-year-old midfielder Brandon Eaton, who spent two months sidelined with a knee injury last year but impressed the coaching staff with his attitude during rehabilitation and his performances when he came back.
A former Madison College and Madison 56ers player, he made the inaugural roster last year through an open tryout.
Wojcik, 27, led USL Championship team Hartford Athletic FC in scoring last season with seven goals in 31 league appearances.
"We think we may have found a diamond in the rough with Mike," Forward Madison coach Daryl Shore said.
Crisler won a spot on the roster with his play during Forward Madison's combine earlier this month.
The team on Thursday accepted a transfer bid from USL Championship side Miami FC for Brian Sylvestre, who played most of the minutes in Forward Madison's inaugural season.
Barnes, 25, didn't appear in any USL League One games in 2019 but saw time during exhibition matches against Hertha Berlin and Minnesota United.
Schneider, 27, played at Madison La Follette and the University of Wisconsin before starting his pro career.
Lockaby, 24, started 22 USL League One games for Richmond last season.
The Shorewood native, who started last season with Memphis 901 FC in the USL Championship, is the third player from Wisconsin on Forward Madison's roster.
Trimmingham, 23, was a guest player in the Flamingos' friendly against Minnesota United. He played the rest of the season with FC Miami City in USL League Two.
Tobin, the team's captain in 2019, took six to eight weeks to decide whether he had another season left in him.
A one-year affiliate relationship will include the Fire playing an exhibition game at Breese Stevens Field at a date yet to be announced.
Forward Madison originally was scheduled to open its league schedule March 28 at Richmond Kickers, with the home opener April 11 against Toronto FC II.
The third-division pro soccer league will attempt to reschedule teams' full, 28-game slate if the season is able to start in mid-May.
Marceta, 27, played last season in the German fourth division and was on trial with MLS' Seattle Sounders FC this preseason before landing with Forward Madison.
Forward Madison said in a release that the teams will attempt to find a date to play in 2021.
A $10 purchase through the team's online store will get buyers a commemorative Match for Madison ticket and their name on a mural that will be installed at Breese Stevens Field.
A look inside the design process after the team on Saturday unveiled its alternate kit, with three shades of blue and two shades of pink swirling in a hypnotic design.
The workouts starting Wednesday aren't necessarily an indication that a return to play is drawing nearer for the pro soccer team, but it's a step to get players ready for that possibility.
Second-tier USL Championship is planning to resume its season from a COVID-19 hiatus on July 11 after its board of governors approved the provisional start date on Thursday.
The league board of governors approved a return-to-play framework during a Friday meeting.
Forward Madison FC is among the teams that may not be able to play in its home city because of local restrictions on mass gatherings.
The league lifted the ban on full-team workouts, but Forward Madison is still limited by Dane County restrictions.
The team will conduct workouts at the Woodside Sports Complex in Wisconsin Dells starting Friday.
The pro soccer team will play its 10 home games at Hart Park after considering around a dozen venues in and around Wisconsin.
The third-division pro soccer league announced home openers for the 11 teams that will play in the 2020 season.
The team opens July 25 at defending champion North Texas SC, followed by its first home game in Wauwatosa on July 31 against runner-up Greenville Triumph SC.
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