Red Force FC captured their first APSL Summer title Sunday after vanquishing South Florida FC 4-3 on penalties after an exciting, end-to-end battle that ended 2-2 after extra time. This was an encounter that had pretty much everything you could want in a game of soccer. Passion, aggression, good fútbol and an ultimate prize on the line.
Eight teams had played the regular season in the APSL (American Premier Soccer League) and the top six qualified for the playoffs. South Florida had finished the season in 2nd place just behind FC Kendall giving them a bye through to the semi-final stage. There, they brushed aside Boca Raton FC 3-0 to book their place in the championship game.
Red Force had to do it the hard way. After finishing 5th with three wins in seven games they were forced into a quarter-final with UD Miami, coming out on top 3-1. Then in something of an upset they knocked off the regular season winners FC Kendall, who had been unbeaten in league play, by the same scoreline.
So the final matchup was set. In the APSL teams only play each other once. The regular season meeting between the teams was actually the season opener back in April. That time South Florida ran out 4-2 winners. However back in November 2017 Red Force had dumped these opponents out of US Open Cup qualifying with a 2-1 victory in extra time. This was a close one to call. South Florida were the form team but you can never count out Red Force in a knockout game.
Conditions were ripe for a good game of soccer. Although there was the usual mid-August heat there was neither a breath of wind in the air nor a drop of rain in the sky. Perfect for the occasion.
After an opening flurry of chances for Red Force, South Florida began to tighten their grip on proceedings. Midway through the first half South Florida FC’s Derosier got behind the defense and went down under contact in the area. It wasn’t an easy decision for the referee but a penalty was given. Red Force might have felt that was harsh but their frustration would turn to relief as Derosier sent his kick at a savable height to the keeper’s right. Weiden in the Red Force goal guessed correctly and parried the effort to safety.
Just as Red Force were breaking out of their own half following the penalty save things got ugly as two players raised hands after the ball went out for a throw-in. The pushing and shoving started but order was quickly restored by the coaches. Another big decision for the man in the middle and he chose to issue two yellow cards. This time South Florida FC might have been a little annoyed but you have to credit the referee for keeping it 11v11. A red card here would have killed the game. Back to the soccer. Both teams would have their chances before half time with South Florida coming closest with a free kick that struck the crossbar. But after 45 minutes it was still 0-0.
The second half started with a similar flow. Red Force were a little quicker out of the gates but were then caught out by a lovely South Florida move. The boys in blue played it out of defense and down the left flank. A lovely cross was flighted over for Fayçal Oulahbib to head home. He took the goal superbly, burying his header with precision.
The lead would not last long. A little over five minutes later Red Force were awarded a penalty of their own after a South Florida defender made a hash of a clearance and then upended a lurking attacker in the area for good measure. No doubt about this one. Clear penalty. Red Force talisman David Holguin made no mistake from the spot. Faking out the keeper with a little feint then sending his kick into the opposite corner. 1-1. And that’s how the 90 minutes would end.
Holguin had a good game. His credentials include a stint playing professionally in Colombia and you could see that quality rise to the surface time and again. He would come to the fore once more in the second half of extra time. Controlling a ball out wide before measuring a pass perfectly for Alvaro Franco to loop home with a wonderful finish. A great goal worthy of any cup final. It looked like that would be the game but there was still to be more drama.
With time almost gone Red Force gave away possession sloppily and were punished for it. South Florida jumped on the ball and moved it quickly downfield. They worked it into the box for Jorge Jaramillo Rodriguez to thunder home. The game would go to penalties.
Red Force would score all four of their spot kicks and it was heartbreak for South Florida who missed two of theirs, handing the game and the APSL title to Red Force 4-3 on penalties. South Florida could return to Broward with their heads held high. They played their part in a fantastic game of soccer, a great advert for the standard of the the league. The celebrations surely continued into the early hours of Monday morning for Red Force. The stalwarts of the local soccer scene in Miami finally add an APSL title to their list of honors.
The APSL starts back up with the fall season kicking off in September.