From an outsider’s perspective, Forward Madison FC exceeded almost every expectation placed on the club in its inaugural season. But for Head Coach and Technical Director Daryl Shore, as Year 2 arrives the Flamingos have room to raise the bar even higher.
“We [need] to be better than last year,” Shore told Todd Milewski of the Wisconsin State Journal asked about his first message to this year’s group of players. “Everything that happened last year is in the past.”
What happened last year was a top-four finish and a trip to the first-ever League One Playoffs despite a slow start that saw Shore’s side win just twice in its first 10 games. Madison contended for a top-four finish throughout the second half of the year and clinched a playoff berth with a 1-0 win on the final day of the season.
With that set as the standard, Shore expects to improve in 2020, and is getting the backing to accomplish it.
Alongside former Forward Madison Managing Director Peter Wilt and current COO Conor Caloia, Shore assembled a team he thought was capable of winning a title in 2019. The Flamingos ultimately fell short of that goal, losing 2-0 to League One Title-winners North Texas SC in the semifinals. Now that Shore has the experience of assembling a roster for a first-year club under his belt, he’s adjusting and adding pieces to help Madison go two steps further in 2020.
“This year, we looked at a couple things that we thought we needed to do,” said Shore. “We felt like we needed to get younger. We felt like we might have needed to get a little more athletic. But we also needed somebody who we could rely on up top to be our go-to guy.”
Enter Wojciech Wojcik. The 6-foot-4 center forward brings a wealth of professional experience to Madison and will give wingers Don Smart and Paulo Jr. a true target to play off this season. Smart led Madison in scoring last season and had a direct hand in just under 40-percent of the team’s 33 goals. Wojcik - who has notched 16 goals and six assists previously in the USL Championship - should help carry some of the goal scoring burden and free up space for Smart to work in, which could make the Jamaican forward even more dangerous.
In addition to Wojcik, Forward Madison added former FC Tucson winger Jamael Cox and creative midfielder Michael Vang to fill holes left by off-season departures.
“We lost some good players, some key players,” said Shore “Losing Josiel [Núñez, to CD Universitario in Panama] is going to be a big challenge for us. But we also feel like we found some young guys that can come in and fill that role. Our roster's not finished yet. We've still got a few more pieces to fill and then some other things that we're working on as well.”
Regardless of what happens with the roster, one thing Shore anticipates will carry over from the club’s standout first season is the in-stadium atmosphere at Breese Stevens Field. The Forward Madison faithful packed the club’s home stadium week-in and week-out in 2019, creating one of the best game day experiences in the league. With The Flock and company behind them, Shore expects his side to improve on its home record in 2020.
“We feel like we still owe it to our fans to be better at home,” Shore explained. “We lost four games at home [last season]. Even though they were all 1-0 games in the league, we felt like we let them down a bit. So if we can come in and make Breese Stevens a fortress and make it really difficult to play in, with the help of our fans — what goes on in that stadium is absolutely amazing.”
Madison will open the 2020 season with back-to-back road matches against the Richmond Kickers and FC Tucson before returning home to host a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match on April 8 and Toronto FC II on April 11. With preseason preparations already underway, when the calendar turns to April, Shore’s Flamingos will be ready to take center stage in Madison for Act II.
“It's going to be a hard act to follow. The bar has been set high. But if anybody can go higher, I think it's our organization.”