A squad full of young and hungry players, Fort Lauderdale will aim at improving upon last season's tenth-place finish this year / Photo courtesy Fort Lauderdale CF
Fort Lauderdale didn’t challenge at the upper end of the table during the club’s inaugural League One season in 2020, but the team was home to some of the best young talent in American soccer. The precocious duo of Ian Fray and Edison Azcona both earned Homegrown contracts with the club’s senior team Inter Miami CF of Major League Soccer after each featured among the League One All-League selections.
This season, they’ll again be stocked with young talent. Among the key returners are Sami Guediri and Brian Rosales, each of whom started in 14 of the team’s 16 matches last season, and Francisco Raggio, who was one of the first two players signed to professional contracts with Fort Lauderdale from the Inter Miami CF Academy.
Defender Ethan Hardin, who excelled as a USL Academy signing last season, returns as well, while Braxton Taghvai-Najib joins as a USL Academy signing after making six appearances with Birmingham Legion FC in the USL Championship during the 2020 campaign.
This season, Fort Lauderdale will aim to continue providing its top young players with a high-level platform for exposure while trying to push up the table and end the year among the playoff places.
Braxton Taghvai-Najib, Midfielder: Joined from the USL Championship’s Birmingham Legion FC.
Mitchell Curry, Forward: Joined from Sunderland AFC of the EFL League One, where he made his senior debut in 2020.
George Acosta, Midfielder: U.S. youth international, joins on loan from Inter Miami CF.
Ricky Lopez-Espin, Forward: Left club.
Eduardo Sosa, Midfielder: Signed for Colombian side Jaguares de Cordoba.
Dylan Castanheira, Goalkeeper: Signed with Inter Miami CF.
Edison Azcona, Forward
Azcona excelled in League One last season, scoring three goals on nine shots while notching a 55.6 percent shooting accuracy rate. He also tallied three assists on 17 chances created, and won a team-high 22 tackles. He'll return to Fort Lauderdale on loan from Inter Miami for certain matches this season, and is clearly a highly-valued prospect at the club. In March, he scored for the Dominican Republic U-23 national team in a Concacaf Men’s Olympic Qualifier against Mexico, and earned his first two appearances with the Dominican Republic senior national team during the League One offseason as well.
Ethan Hardin, Defender
In his first season as a professional, Hardin impressed just about everyone, playing in 13 of Fort Lauderdale’s 16 matches. He led the team in successful passes with 741 (eighth-most in League One) and in passing accuracy (90.7 percent). The young defender also had the second-most interceptions on his team (25) and tied for a team-high 17 aerial duels won.
Darren Powell (1st season)
Inter Miami CF’s Director of Player Development, Powell’s new role as Fort Lauderdale’s Head Coach will see him expand his influence on the organization’s youth development efforts. After finding success at the collegiate level for nearly a decade at Elon University, Powell also spent time as Head Coach of San Antonio FC from 2016 to 2019. He’ll use his many years of coaching expertise to bring this group of young players together.
15 years, five months, and 18 days. That’s how old Felipe Valencia was on August 19, 2020 when he scored for Fort Lauderdale in a 3-2 win over North Texas last season, becoming the youngest professional goal-scorer in USL history. The previous record-holder was someone named Alphonso Davies - ever heard of him?
4-3-3: L. Zamudio; B. Rosales, M. Mendez, E. Hardin, S. Guediri; B. Taghvai-Najib, G. Acosta, F. Raggio; A. Cardenas, M. Curry, E. Azcona