Looking at the two Miami teams you saw a real contrast. Miami United had come out of the gate well and had a great run in the cup which ended with a match up against an MLS side. The Miami FC 2 had labored early on but had grown as the season progressed. United’s season was over in the Sunshine Conference playoff semi. Dispatched comfortably by Armada by a 4-1 scoreline. It was to be the final many people expected at the start of the season in the Sunshine Conference. FC vs Armada.
Although FC had failed to score in Jacksonville they were up and running after just 7 minutes in the final. A fully-forgiven Kris Tyrpak scoring another trademark header. Beating everyone to a ball bouncing around the Armada area. Jacksonville would equalize through the dangerous Ciaran Kilduff. Honors even 30 minutes in but it wouldn’t last. Once again Dario Suarez calmed the nerves of the Miami faithful with a great goal just five minutes later. Ariel Martinez would put the polish on the win setting up a second for Tyrpak after a lovely bit of play in the second half. Miami FC 2 were Sunshine Conference champions. For the longest time FC have been the Kings of Florida with a great record against in-state rivals. They may have lost that crown during the season but had won it back by the end.
Pic courtesy: Miami FC
Just 72 hours later the South Region playoffs got going. The Sunshine Conference forms the south region along with the Southeast Conference, Lone Star Conference and Heartland Conference. With the NPSL seeding going off points per game we were drawn at home to the Atlanta Silverbacks who had ousted Chattanooga in controversial circumstances in the Southeast Final.
Slaying the Silverbacks
The south region semi-final against the Silverbacks would turn out to be one of the toughest games of the year. Miami got up and running through a delicious Sean McFarlane goal. Sean was a versatile guy and could do a job in a number of positions but he was so dangerous coming off the right flank. Atlanta could have folded but didn’t. They tightened things up and were level after Kemba Debba took advantage of some miscommunication in the Miami defense.
It was looking like extra time and penalties. Atlanta had just beaten Chattanooga on a shootout and the memory of that loss on spotkicks to the Cosmos was beginning to tighten the nerves. Ten minutes from time the game changed completely. The ref went to his back pocket and sent a Silverback off for a rash challenge. It was such a close call, but the cliche is that sometimes refereeing decisions even themselves out over the season.
Tyrpak piled on the misery with yet another header from the resultant freekick, nodding in a lovely delivery by Tomas Greco. A 2-1 win sent us to the south final against Little Rock Rangers who’d upset the form book against Laredo Heat. This was good news. Laredo had a higher seeding than us but a matchup with Rangers meant we would host the South Final.
Rangers can’t keep up
The only mistake Little Rock really made was in trying to outplay Miami. A positive approach was a bold move but was always likely to have only one outcome. We’d struggled against stubborn teams but the Rangers willingness to counter and take risks opened things up. Chavez lit up the scoreboard first before Dylan Mares once again highlighted his quality with a lovely chipped finish.
Little Rock did have chances as the game wore on but couldn’t find the net. Suarez snaffled another goal for his account after more good work from Greco. 3-0 at the whistle. Little Rock had definitely won some admiration from the home support for sticking to their principles. Miami FC 2 were South Champions. CEO Sean Flynn was probably on the Ikea website looking for a bigger trophy cabinet as the team were serving up cups quicker than a barista at Starbucks. Just four teams were left. FC Motown (from Morristown NJ, not Detroit), FCM Portland and Duluth completed the lineup for the national semifinals. Once again we’d host. Duluth FC were coming to town.
After losing at Jacksonville in the regular season we were now on an eight game winning streak, scoring 22 goals while conceding just three. It would take two more wins to seal our first national championship. It was going to take something special from Duluth to slow our roll. Determined to spoil the party was Duluth’s keeper, a massive obstacle of a man named Jan Hoffelner. Miami pushed forward and were turning the screw but time after time were denied by the impressive Hoffelner and his defense. Finally the backline cracked, bringing down Jamie Chavez for an FC PK.
Ariel Martinez put the ball on the spot. Ariel had a good season in 2018. As a technically gifted player he was often marked for extra attention by opponents because he could win games single handedly. He really flourished in the playoff run playing some of his best football in a blue jersey. With the penalty he made no mistake. Miami piled on two more goals in the second half to book their place in the final.
Pic courtesy: Ariel Martinez Instagram
Many had predicted a battle Royale in the final between Miami and nemesis the New York Cosmos. And what revenge it would have been to best the green machine for the NPSL title but it was not to be. The Cosmos were overturned 2-3 by FC Motown in the NPSL northeast region final. Motown went on to beat FCM Portland in the other national semi final and the stage was set. The final would be in New Jersey due to Motown’s better regular season record. After a nervy opening half hour FC took the lead thanks to a thunderbolt from Ulsterman Jonny Steele. But FC Motown were in the final on merit and restored parity when Dilly Duka forced in an equalizer for the hosts.
One goal apiece at half time. The next goal would prove to be the vital match winner and how fitting that it was scored by Miami’s player of the season. A foul on the edge of the box meant Motown’s Riordan saw his second yellow of the match. He was off. And Motown would be 2-1 down after the resultant free kick was expertly whipped into the goal by Dylan Mares. Nightmares for Motown. Ecstasy for Miami.
Dylan had comfortably been the best player for Miami, the best player in the whole NPSL. He’d stuck by the team, got his head down and played his soccer with his trademark smile on his face and will go down in FC folklore for his decisive goal in the final. Jeff Michaud would pop up with a typical Jeff Michaud goal arriving late in the box to make it 3-1. Game over. We’d done it. Miami FC were NPSL champions.
Pic courtesy: Miami FC
It was a crazy journey, from suspecting the club might be on life support to lifting our first championship trophy. Credit to the players who stuck around and delivered another unforgettable chapter in the Miami FC story. Going from beating Atlanta United at the Ricky to midweek trips to Naples United and their Minecraft stadium. I’m sure to be ranting about Mason Trafford’s winning goal there to my grandkids when I’m old and few whiskys down. The staff and supporters who showed their loyalty to the team were well rewarded.
A new look squad is already warming up for the defense of the NPSL title and then the NPSL Founder’s Cup in the fall. Who knows how the NPSL Pro that will follow that will turn out but one thing is for sure, we’ve proved the club is here to stay. If the wheels fall off, we’ll show some fighting spirit to survive, we’ll just roll our sleeves up and put them back on. How do I know this? We’ve already done it once.
Player of the season – DYLAN MARES
Absolutely untouchable in the centre of midfield. A class act on and off the pitch. His return to the squad for 2019 is ominous for FC’s rivals.
Signing of the season – DARIO SUAREZ
Came into the side and became an instant fan favorite. An absolute glorious sight to behold when he’s bursting down the wing and he scored some great goals.
Rookie of the season – TOMAS GRECO
Always effective when he came on. A wonderful player to watch and fitted in well with the more experienced guys. Unfortunately not returning for 2019 but he will find game time somewhere for sure.
Goal of the season – SEAN MCFARLANE
Let’s relieve his banger against Atlanta one more time.
That’s it for this look back at Miami FC’s triumphant 2018. A truly fascinating experience to be a part of and while some might say the level of the competition or the quality of some of the opposition or the advantages of being big favorites to complete the job might take the shine off it, hopefully this first hand record might change a few minds. Someone is always the favorite. Favorites don’t always deliver. There was a whole load of hurdles to get over and there are times when any of us might have given up. It’s been an experience that has brought us together and made us stronger. No triumph without struggle.
Ultimately a milestone has been reached. Miami FC are the first professional soccer club to bring a national championship to Dade County and everyone should be happy about that. It signposts the start of what is going to be an amazing upcoming decade for the sport in this part of the World no matter what team you are following in the 305.