In an unexpectedly tight matchup, The Miami FC of the North American Soccer League survived a serious challenge from South Florida Surf of the Premier Development League in order to advance to the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Cobb Stadium on the campus of the University of Miami on Wednesday.
South Florida Surf proved to be a team that punched above its weight, showing off some of its skill against Red Force FC in the first round of the competition. In fact, it was the Surf who jumped out to the early lead in the 20th minute with a goal thanks to Darwin Espinal, a player who saw time with the Tampa Bay Rowdies just last year.
“It was a sloppy start in the first half,” Miami FC captain Michael Lahoud said after the game. “We created some pretty decent chances, but in these games, against some lower-level opposition, you have to put them to the sword first.
Miami FC began to find its footing after the opening goal, but the Surf would remain in the lead until halftime.
After halftime, the complexion of the game began to change. In the 48th minute, Kwadwo Poku leveled the game thanks to a cross from Blake Smith. Miami grabbed a second goal in the 60th minute, thanks to some help from the Surf.
Dylan Mares, who usually starts but was given time as a sub, sent a cross into the box that deflected off South Florida Surf’s Andrew Booth and into the back of the net.
The pressure would be dialed up, but South Florida Surf hit Miami FC with an unexpected attack finished by Jeff Michaud, who turned defender Hunter Freeman around before finishing with style in the 74th minute to tie the game at 2-2. It was Michaud’s third goal in two U.S. Open Cup matches this year.
“This isn’t a tournament where you play your prettiest soccer: That’s what the league is for,” Lahoud said. “You do whatever it takes to survive and advance, and this is just the first, hopefully, of many games.”
But Jaime Chávez, who entered the game in a scoring slump, was the player who decided the match with a header in the 79th minute. The South Florida Surf put in maximum effort until the end, but it just wasn’t enough.
Miami FC will likely advance to play a familiar foe in the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the United Soccer League, who were an NASL competitor just last season.
Lahoud made it clear there would be no love lost in the matchup of rivals. When asked about the possibility of facing Tampa Bay, he had a chuckling two-word response.