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Sarasota Paradise seeks on-field improvement in year two

The team's goal: Make the postseason — and bring in more fans in the process.

Seth Mahlmeister (orange) scored the lone goal in the Sarasota Paradise's first two games of 2024.
Seth Mahlmeister (orange) scored the lone goal in the Sarasota Paradise's first two games of 2024.
Photo by Ryan Kohn
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If year one of the Sarasota Paradise was about establishment, year two aims to be about development. 

Better play and bigger crowds are the goals, according to club founder Marcus Walfridson, and he believes both goals are realistic. 

The Paradise, a pre-professional soccer club playing in the United Soccer League’s League 2, went 5-5-2 in 2023, finishing fourth in the Florida division and missing the playoffs. Reaching the postseason is a main goal for the 2024 season, Walfridson said at a May 14 practice session at the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex.

He is also hoping to average 1,000 fans per game at Sarasota High’s Charlie Cleland Stadium — a number he admits may be too high, given that the Paradise averaged 540 fans per game in 2023, but the club is shooting for it anyway. Walfridson knows that winning and fan excitement go hand in hand: Find success on the field, and word will spread, bringing in more fans. 

The club’s journey to the postseason begins May 19 with an away game against Miami AC. Sarasota’s first home game is at 7:30 p.m. June 1 against Swan City SC. That game will be a youth soccer appreciation night. To find the success it wants, the club has created a roster mixed with returnees and new players, the combination of which Walfridson and coach Mirko Dakovic believe is just right. 

“The boys’ energy level is high,” Dakovic said. “They are keen. They are excited. The compete level is there. You can’t ask for more.” 

If the team ever needs some energy, Ryan Sims can provide it. Sims, a rising junior at Thomas University who was born in Sarasota, earned the nickname “The Spark” after coming off the bench in the team’s final game of 2023 against Altitude Rush and scoring a goal to tie the game, which ended in a 1-1 draw. Sims said the 2023 Paradise season taught him about the state of preparation, mental and physical, needed to play in League 2. Sims is currently nursing an ankle injury but is expected back soon; he’s making sure he’s fully ready to play. 

“You have to take care of your body,” Sims said. 

Sims’ goal against Altitude Rush was one of the team’s offensive highlights in 2023, highlights that everyone seems to agree were too few and far between. The Paradise scored two goals or fewer in eight of its 12 games. Sims said the team’s coaches have been emphasizing the importance of goal-scoring in practice — and how the team’s mentality plays as big a part in that as its talent. 

“We need to penetrate (the defense) whenever we are winning,” Sims said. “Don’t take our foot off the gas, keep going.” 

The team also added firepower in attacker Seth Mahlmeister, who has shown a scoring touch at the University of Purdue-Fort Wayne and in League 2 with Texas United; he was fifth in the league with 11 goals last summer. Mahlmeister has already earned the nickname "goal master" from the Sweden-born Walfridson, both because of the way his name sounds in Swedish — mål can mean goal — and for his talent. 

Goalkeeper Charlie Farrar, who attends the University of North Carolina-Asheville, is back for another year with the Sarasota Paradise.
Photo by Ryan Kohn

An increase in offense would be welcome news to Paradise goalkeeper Charlie Farrar, a rising senior at the University of North Carolina-Asheville who came to the U.S. from England to play the sport. Farrar stands out because of his two-tone, blond-and-brown hair, but also because of his play. 

Farrar and the team’s defense, which features several returnees, should be a strength of the team in 2024. At Asheville, Farrar was named the Big South Conference Player of the Week in October for a 10-save performance against Winthrop University.

Farrar said he’s excited to be back with the Paradise not only because of soccer, but because of the Sarasota area, which he called his “favorite place ever.” 

“I go up to Tampa, and it’s a bit more manic up there,” Farrar said. “It’s relaxed here. You’ve got Siesta Key. I went down the other day for the first time and I was like, ‘Oh my word.’ The beaches are unbelievable.” 

A successful season can mean just as much to individual players as it does to the club itself. 

The point of a pre-professional soccer team, in addition to winning, is to get players ready for the next level of soccer, with the best-case scenario being players reaching not just the USL’s upper league, but Major League Soccer. Though the Paradise is a 1-year-old organization, it can already boast a former player reaching that height. 

Hosei Kijima, a defender on last year’s team, was selected by Saint Louis CITY SC in the 2024 MLS SuperDraft in February and subsequently signed a one-year contract with the club. Kijima, who plays midfield for Saint Louis, made his debut in the team’s opening match of the 2024 CONCACAF Champions Cup against the Houston Dynamo and came off the bench in the 86th minute to score the game-winning goal. 

Will there be another Kijima on this year’s squad? Fans will have to watch to find out. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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