Defender Josiah Trimmingham and midfielder Michael Vang both enjoyed standout 2020 seasons for the Flamingos / Photo courtesy Forward Madison FC
In its first two seasons, Forward Madison took American soccer by storm with its colorful identity, creative kits, and passionate fanbase, leading League One in attendance in 2019. After finishing fourth and reaching the playoffs that year, the club’s on-field performance dipped in 2020, with the Flamingos finishing seventh. The team was solid at the back, allowing only 14 goals - the second-fewest in League One. But goals proved hard to come by at the other end of the field, and the team’s struggle turning draws into wins prevented it from challenging at the top end of the table.
Madison’s 2021 outlook appears as bright as its pink-and-blue color scheme, however. New Head Coach Carl Craig has an exciting and talented squad at his disposal, with a good mix of youth and experience. The key pieces of last season’s strong defense are all still there, including Christian Diaz, Jiro Toyama, Connor Tobin, and Trinidad and Tobago international Josiah Trimmingham. Talented youngsters Michael Vang and Noah Fuson both brought creativity to the squad last year, while the attack has a new look with the addition of proven League One goal-scorer Jake Keegan from Greenville and former USL Championship winger Derek Gebhard.
Madison’s target for 2021 seems to be a simple one: make the playoffs and challenge for a title.
Jake Keegan, Forward: Spent 2019 and 2020 seasons with Greenville Triumph SC, and has the most League One goals to his name of any active player in the league (14).
Aaron Molloy, Midfielder: Played his rookie professional season with Portland Timbers 2, USL League Two’s Top Prospect in 2018.
Phil Breno, Goalkeeper: Spent 2019 and 2020 seasons with the USL Championship’s Charleston Battery.
Carlos Gomez, Midfielder/Forward: Played 2019 and 2020 seasons with Greenville Triumph SC.
Don Smart, Forward: Joined Greenville Triumph SC.
J.C. Banks, Forward: Retired.
Chris Brady, Goalkeeper: Returned to Chicago Fire FC of Major League Soccer upon the expiration of his loan deal.
Michael Vang, Midfielder
Vang might be just 20 years old, but he plays with the composure of a veteran attacking midfielder. In 13 appearances for the Flamingos last season, he led the team with four goals while providing two assists and setting up 26 chances. Skilled with the ball at his feet and capable of finding teammates almost anywhere on the pitch, Vang is one of League One’s most exciting players to watch.
Jake Keegan, Forward
With 14 League One goals to his name across two seasons with Greenville Triumph SC, Keegan doesn’t need to prove to anyone that he can put the ball in the back of the net. A key member of the Triumph SC team that won the title in 2020, Keegan joined Madison during the offseason and will be one of the centerpieces of new Head Coach Carl Craig’s revamped attack. The Flamingos struggled to score goals at times last year, and Keegan may just be the perfect remedy for that problem.
Carl Craig (1st season)
Carl Craig might be the most interesting man in Madison soccer. The Newcastle, England native was a punk rocker in his youth, and applies the same fun-loving, free-spirited approach to soccer that he does to life. That’s good news for a club and supporter base that shares those values, and for a team that struggled to create on the field last year. Under Craig, Madison promises to entertain.
0.875 Forward Madison allowed less than a single goal per game on average last season, with only title-winners Greenville outperforming the Flamingos defensively. The club returned almost its entire defensive core while strengthening in other areas of the pitch. If Madison can learn to score as well as it defends this season, this team could contend for top honors - but the first focus will be reaching the playoffs as they did in 2019.
4-3-3: P. Breno; C. Diaz, C. Tobin, J. Trimmingham, J. Barriga Toyama; E. Leonard, M. Vang, C. Gomez; D. Gebhard, J. Keegan, N. Fuson