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Sarasota Paradise Celebrate Their Inaugural Season

Sarasota Paradise Celebrate Their Inaugural Season

By: Travis Cornwell

The Sarasota Paradise, a dynamic and ambitious soccer team, officially wrapped up its inaugural season in July, playing in the highly competitive USL League Two. A proven developmental league in North America, the USL League Two (formerly the PDL) features 74 franchises in four conferences throughout the United States and Canada. These include 18 clubs that are owned and operated by a professional club, or that hold a partnership with a professional club. League Two has proven to be an important stepping stone for top professionals now playing throughout the world, with more than 70 percent of all selections in the MLS SuperDraft since 2010 having PDL experience, including 66 selections in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft.

The League Two season consists of 14 regular season matches for each team, seven home and seven away, and provides elite collegiate players the opportunity to taste a higher level of competition while maintaining their eligibility. In addition to league play, League Two teams compete in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as well as various exhibitions.

The Paradise is led by a dedicated ownership group. Marcus Walfridson aimed to bring high-quality soccer entertainment to Sarasota and foster a vibrant sports culture within the community. The team was committed to developing local talent and providing a platform for young athletes to showcase their skills, while also attracting talent from across the country and abroad. “Our goal was to create a soccer team that Sarasota can be proud of,” said Walfridson, owner of the Paradise. “We want to contribute to the growth of soccer in our region and provide an exciting and affordable entertainment option for families, soccer enthusiasts, and sports fans in general.”

With a strong vision for success, the team made its mark on the local soccer scene while captivating fans with thrilling matches. They finished the season with five wins, five losses, and two draws but were exceptional in front of their home fans, winning four out of their six home games.  

The Paradise management actively built a talented roster of players. These players were college-age and came from all parts of the country. However, most players were locals from around the Manatee area, which meant a lot to come back home and play in front of family and friends again. “It was such an incredible opportunity to be back in Florida. I used to play at IMG Academy, so it was fun to come back and play here again,” said Central Midfielder Ben Goldberg.

The Paradise played their games at Sarasota High School and averaged close to 700 fans per game, exceeding a thousand a few times. There was tremendous support from the community in their first season and that is something that they look to build on next summer. “It is always difficult to bring something new and exciting to a city. You never know what to expect and I cannot say thank you enough to everyone who was involved in putting this all together. All the players, staff, fans, and sponsors really were what made this season special,” said Walfridson.

With this special season in the books, the Paradise looks to continue that success next summer. “I hope to be back next season and be a part of this once more. I met a lot of close friends many of which I have played with or against during my college season. Looking forward to sharing this experience with new teammates next year,” said Striker Fabrizio Bernal. While many new faces may appear on the roster next season, the team’s culture won’t change, and they look forward once again to seeing you cheer them on. 

Photo Credit: Emma Decastro & Travis Cornwell with Next-Mark, LLC

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