Everyone’s favorite Flamingos are getting their roster ready for the season.
With only a month to go before the inaugural USL League One season kicks off, Forward Madison FC is pulling together a strong roster combining local talent and youth with international experience and veteran journeymen. A day before setting off to start the preseason in St. Louis, the ‘Gos supplemented their lineup with four players from the club’s MLS affiliate, Minnesota United FC. The four Loons (MLS veteran mid Collin Martin, sophomore MLS defensemen Wyatt Omsberg and Carter Manley, and rookie keeper Dayne St. Clair) brought the number of traveling Flamingos to 20, 21 if you count the anonymous trialist dubbed P. Flamingo.
Let’s break it down, starting (how else?) with the forwards.
- Paulo Jr: The 30-year-old Brazilian is a veteran of both the MLS (Real Salt Lake) and NASL (Ft. Lauderdale Strikers and Indy Eleven, among others), but played for USL side Penn FC in 2018. Despite his age, Paulo is still producing, four goals in 18 appearances for Penn, though that was not as frequently as he used to.
- J.C. Banks: A Wisconsin-native, Banks has been playing pro (NASL and USL) since 2010. MN United fans remember his one-on-one style that made an impact even when he wasn’t scoring goals himself. Banks only notched five goals in 44 appearances, but we always enjoyed seeing him in the lineup.
- Brian Bement: This is the 25-year-old’s fourth season in the pros and he still has some work ahead of him, but Bement looks to be a versatile addition to the lineup. Madison plans to use him as a forward, but Transfermarkt lists him as an attacking mid which leads me to believe he’ll be used like a No. 10. (Feel free to troll me later.)
- Zaire Bartley: A rising star from the New York Red Bulls pipeline, Bartley could be the forward of the future for Madison. He’s only twenty, but the RBNY Academy product played for Jamaica’s U-17 team in 2015. Like Bement, Bartley is listed as a mid elsewhere on the internet, but the youngster has already made his mark on Forward Madison’s history, having scored the club’s first goal during a training match on home turf against Indy Eleven.
- P. Flamingo: The anonymous trialist listed in Madison’s preseason match in St. Louis is sure to impress. And he shall be forever dubbed ‘P. Flamingo’ in my book. Stay tuned.
- Eric Leonard: Leonard is young, but the Illinois native returns to the Midwest after a stint with Australia’s Nerang Soccer Club. The Gold Coast Premier League Players’ Player of the Year is just as comfortable on the back line as he is in midfield and greatly impressed Forward’s staff with his work rate and communication skills.
- Don Smart: Another NASL and NPSL veteran, Smart rules the midfield. An attacking mid who can cover both wings is a huge tactical advantage in the modern game. The Jamaican also holds the honor of being the club’s very first signing and could easily become a franchise player despite his age (31).
- Jeffrey Michaud: Another young mid who has floated around the USL for a few years, Michaud isn’t as flashy as some of the other Flamingo signings, but he should be effective. His goal solidified Miami FC 2’s berth in the 2018 Open Cup in the final minutes of the play-in match against FC Miami City.
- Danny Tenorio: This is only Tenorio’s second season in the U.S. and stats from his native Ecuador are hard to come by, but the central mid definitely did something right to earn the club’s second-ever contract. Check back here for more on Tenorio soon.
- Josiel Nuñez: Another attacking mid who can also play the wings (I’m sensing a trend here), Nuñez comes to Madison on loan from Panama’s CD Universitario. He seems to have played the last few seasons on loans across Panama, but Nuñez is capped with the U-20, U-23 and senior national teams, so look for him to make a quiet impact (i.e. not on the stat sheet) in the Mingo midfield.
- Brandon Eaton: After an ACL tear cost him his spot on the Richmond Kickers last year, Eaton left his home state for a chance to renew his career in Madison alongside former teammate – now assistant coach – Neil Hlavaty. The 24-year-old will still get plenty of one-on-one time with his old team – from the right-back spot on the other side of the ball.
- Connor Tobin: Tobin most recently played for North Carolina FC, but he is a well-known figure here in the Midwest. He played on the 2011 NASL Championship side, the Minnesota Stars, and stayed with the club through its reincarnation as Minnesota United FC before heading east in 2014. His veteran presence is a fantastic addition to the defense.
- Vital Niziglyimana: The 22-year-old defensive midfielder won a spot on Madison’s roster after impressing the coaches first at the open tryout, then the invite-only tryout. His soccer IQ and incredible work ethic (both on and off the field) mark Niziglyimana as an obvious rising star.
- Carl Schneider: A Madison native, and Badger alum, Schneider most recently played in Sweden but was invited to try out for his new hometown team by coach Daryl Shore. He’s another up-and-comer who will be a key piece in the development of Madison’s soccer community.
- Christian Diaz: The young Liga MX vet characterizes himself as an offensive winger who plays defense (there’s definitely a trend here) and Diaz has another offensive winger to thank for the chance to play in Madison. He is a good friend of Miguel Ibarra, the MNUFC winger who played shortly for Liga MX’s Club Leon before returning for the Loons’ inaugural MLS season. No matter who recommended him, Diaz will be an exciting feature in Forward’s offense. And midfield. And, especially, the defense.
- Ryan Coulter: The Irish journeyman, who has also played his way around America, will have double-duty as a player-coach in Madison. Coulter nearly walked away from the game after a complicated career split between the League of Ireland and American lower divisions but will get a fresh start on multiple fronts in Madison.
- Brian Sylvestre: Once a depth goalkeeper in MLS, Sylvestre is the young player who will most benefit from Coulter’s dual role. He spent much of his MLS career on loan to affiliated USL sides but has struggled for minutes. Look for him to develop quickly in Madison.
There are more players – and more in-depth profiles – to come, but next up I’ll dive into the Flamingos’ competition with a preview of the USL League One inaugural season.