Behind the Magic: Magic City SC excited ahead of inaugural season

Published 7:23 pm Saturday, February 3, 2024

By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

As soccer season begins in the Birmingham area, fans can now experience a new style of the beautiful game right in their own backyard.

New professional indoor soccer club Magic City SC will play its first home game in club history on Saturday, Mar. 2 at the Pelham Civic Complex and Ice Arena, and its players and coaches are ready to entertain fans and build relationships with the community that will last for years to come.

“You should see a good game, but you should also see a good team that you want to be around and that should be in the community,” Magic City SC head coach Jennifer Pfeiffer said.

The club will begin its season on the road on Sunday, Feb. 4 and play in the National Indoor Soccer League (NISL), which blends the rules of soccer that fans have come to know from its 11-on-11 outdoor version with fast-paced indoor sports like ice hockey.

Like hockey, each team is allowed five field players and one goalkeeper and coaches can substitute players at any time.

Fouls are rewarded with a free kick or penalty kick, but in addition, a referee can give a player a two-minute or five-minute penalty and create a power play similar to hockey.

The game is shorter than its outdoor version at 60 minutes in length instead of 90 minutes, and it is divided into 15-minute quarters. Unlike outdoor soccer, the clock can stop in the final minute of each half.

Pfeiffer grew up playing and watching indoor soccer, which has prepared her to coach the club. She enjoys the tactical differences that come with a shorter field with walls, such as passing the ball off a wall or the increased physicality along the boards.

“You have to play short, you have to play smart, you have to know the tactics of the game,” Pfeiffer said.

The result is an exciting game for fans to watch as players score more frequently than outdoor soccer and play in an intimate arena with fans right up against the boards, much like the street soccer cages which are popular with soccer players around the world.

“You’re right there in front of the fans, and the fan in the arena is just so close,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s like you’re a part of the field.”

Those differences add up to a slight learning curve for the players on the roster who haven’t played indoor soccer before.

However, Pfeiffer and her staff are working to close that gap in training and scrimmages leading up to the inaugural match, and they’ve been encouraged by the results.

“It’s just a higher-scoring game,” Pfeiffer said. “You’re not going to get a clean sheet as a goalkeeper. We had a conversation with our goalkeeper yesterday, ‘We don’t expect you to have a clean sheet. We expect this game. We may give up a goal, but then we should be able to score one or two more just to make up for it.’”

Like all of the teams in the NISL, Magic City SC will field both men’s and women’s teams, and they will play doubleheaders and receive equal pay and promotion.

Many of those players have ties to the Birmingham area and played locally in high school, college, or semi-professionally for a club like FC Birmingham.

That creates a unique opportunity for players on both the men’s and women’s teams to come home to Alabama and play in front of their hometown fans while building relationships with the next generation of soccer players in the area.

“A lot of them are just local players and they may have gone somewhere, played somewhere else or they came in to play for a local college and they stayed,” Pfeiffer said. “So that connection will be interesting because a lot of them, they can say that they played locally, so I think it’ll be a lot of promotion for our local clubs of what the opportunities are and where you can go play.”

That includes men’s striker Michael Millirom from Montevallo, Jordan Walton from Pell City and multiple FC Birmingham players such as Orlando Gomez, Reinhard Mensah and Jeremy Kirkland.

Elsewhere on the men’s roster, Aaron Bravo-Martinez is expected to be one of the leaders on the team and brings experience from pro academies in England and Germany. He will play on defense with his brother Niko, a former Division II soccer player.

On the women’s side, forward Briana Morris is a former Vestavia Hills player who has since made her name at South Alabama and in Denmark.

Allyssa Rabinowitz will be one of the experience midfielders looking to push the ball to Morris and the front line, and Briarwood fans may know her name from her coaching career there. She will play alongside former UAB midfielder Alanna Dineen.

Anchoring the defensive line will be Ali Castaneda, who has four years of NAIA experience on her resume.

In addition to Pfeiffer’s professional coaching experience, she works as the Executive Director of Alabama Soccer Association (ASA) alongside her coaching duties with Magic City SC. Combined with assistant coach Barry Spitzer, the pair have a vast network of former players and coaches from clubs, high schools and colleges around the state, which has helped in recruiting players.

Pfeiffer has found that her two jobs work well together, and she has leveraged her experience with ASA to kickstart Magic City SC’s development and give local players another place to play professionally.

“I think they’re actually going to complement each other with me working with the clubs across the state, working in coaching education and just as a whole state body,” Pfeiffer said. “I think that opened the doors for some of the players and some of the coaches to send their players and for some of the colleges to know that their players will enjoy playing with us.”

She and the rest of the club hope that those local connections lead to deep and lasting bonds with the city of Pelham and the Birmingham area as a whole.

She actively wants the coaches and players to get into the community and help people around the area to discover not just what the team is, but also the people who wear the club’s badge.

“I think people will come in for games and become fans of us,” Pfeiffer said, “And hopefully, we’re out there signing autographs, and whether or not you want to invite us to a high school practice or a club practice or any of that, we’re willing to do that. If there’s some volunteer opportunities so we can be a part of your community, we would love those opportunities.”

In the end, Pfeiffer hopes that Magic City SC and the NISL can grow soccer in the Birmingham area and beyond as the game takes center stage around the country in the buildup to the 2026 World Cup in North America.

Her goal is for Magic City SC to come alongside the state’s soccer teams and be part of the community, joining professional and semi-pro clubs like Birmingham Legion FC and FC Birmingham, dominant college teams like Alabama, Auburn, Samford and UAB and the region’s thriving high school scene.

“I think the indoor game is just another opportunity for players to see where they can see themselves,” Pfeiffer said. “And I think that’s important as a player in wanting to play the game and continue to play the game. There are so many more opportunities with the Legion, with FC Birmingham, with Alabama FC to play at the semi-pro level, so using those opportunities and being a part of that mix is exciting for us.”

To see the full schedule, read more below. Tickets can be purchased on Ticketmaster or Magiccitysc.com. All times listed in Central Time.

-Magic City SC at Fayetteville Fury, Sunday, Feb 4 at 1 p.m. in Fayetteville, North Carolina

-Magic City SC Exhibition, Saturday, Mar. 2 at 6 p.m. in Pelham

-Magic City SC vs. Albany Aces, Sunday, Mar. 3 at 3 p.m. in Pelham

-Magic City SC at Albany Aces, Sunday, Mar. 17 at 2 p.m. in Albany, Georgia

-Magic City SC vs. Central Florida Crusaders, Friday, Apr. 5 at 7 p.m. in Pelham

-Magic City SC Exhibition, Saturday, Apr. 6 at 6 p.m. in Pelham

-Magic City SC vs. Tampa Bay Strikers, Friday, Apr. 12 at 7 p.m. in Pelham

-Magic City SC at Central Florida Crusaders, Saturday, Apr. 27 at 2 p.m. in Orlando, Florida

-Magic City SC at Tampa Bay Strikers, Sunday, May 5 at 2 p.m. in Tampa, Florida

-Magic City SC vs. Fayetteville Fury, Saturday, May 11 at 6 p.m. in Pelham