Few things in life are guaranteed, death, taxes, and the certainty that Memorial Day weekend will be a washout in South Florida. Oh did we leave out, an NPSL ref will send a Miami FC 2 player off in every game? Few people were predicting a classic. A tricky away trip for MFC2 up the I95 to tackle the rebranded Palm Beach United (formerly Beaches FC), who were coming off a surprising 1-2 away win against Miami United. That result gave extra motivation to the Orange and Blue, three points from this jaunt would really shake the Sunshine Conference up.
Despite the weather, torrential rain and a driving wind blowing across the open field at Benjamin School in Palm Beach Gardens, the small but determined crowd were treated to a fairly open and entertaining, end-to-end match. The game was played at some pace, the ball zipping about on the slick surface like a greased up pinball.
MFC2 lined up in Paul Dalglish’s favored flexible 4-3-3 formation. Shawn Chin slotted in at right back with Ruthven dropping to the bench. Enzo Rennella and Jaime Chavez were rested. New cult hero Dario Suarez led the line supported by Tyrpak and Don Smart. There was an unfamiliar look to the midfield, Dylan Mares lining up along Coy Craft and Jeff Michaud.
The selection of Michaud turned out to be a great call. Jeff knows this level inside out and his ability to steady the center of midfield was invaluable against a physical Palm Beach team. This wasn’t the game for “Enzo Marino: to play quarterback. Dalglish has come in for some unfair criticism recently but once again he picked the right team for the job in hand.
Palm Beach United are a good outfit, technical and strong. With MFC2 piling forward early on they did a good job of playing on the break, finding space behind Polak and Chin on the wings more than once. The clear cut chances though were falling to the visitors. Tyrpak, Suarez and Mares might have troubled the scoreboard but the final touch was lacking, either the slippery turf got the better of the players or a covering PBU defender was on hand to avert the danger.
Palm Beach were also dangerous from set pieces and the referee was in the mood to give them plenty of practice. With the game fizzing nicely along the man in the middle was constantly on his whistle. After a soggy first half, during the interval the rain mercifully abated.
Half time came with the scores deservedly level but that wouldn’t last. MFC2 were immediately knocking on the door at the start of the second half and PBU finally let them in. Michaud was sent clear in the area and went to round the keeper. The match was played at a high school, but this keeper must have failed trigonometry 101, he got his angles all wrong and cleaned Michaud out with the MFC2 player going harmlessly away from goal. The ref had a long, hard look at it, the look of a man who really didn’t want to give a team from Miami a penalty, but his assistant confirmed the foul. A stonewall penalty.
When this season is done we may look back at this as a turning point. A combination of unlucky breaks and moments of indiscipline has made this a frustrating season so far. A missed penalty would have summed all that up. Don Smart stepped up, carefully placed the ball on the spot and hammered it home with confidence. 1-0 MFC2 and the game would end that way with three valuable points in the bag.
PBU went looking for the equalizer and were kept out by another highlight reel of saves by Mario Daniel Vega including one sensational fingertip stop to keep a free kick out. Tempers started flaring. Coy Craft was given his marching orders for a second yellow, a shame as he’d done very well all game.
MFC2 hung on to remain unbeaten in the league and finally record their first NPSL victory. With three more stops on the road before the rematch of this game at The Bob on June 13th, the boys in Orange and Blue will be looking to keep this momentum going and keep racking up the wins. Overall a great performance against tough opposition in tricky conditions.