The Miami FC claimed its second National Premier Soccer League National Championship on Saturday night, defeating host New York Cosmos 3-1.
Miami FC, which has announced it has plans to leave NPSL for the National Independent Soccer Association, became the first team in NPSL history to win a second title.
After both teams alternated chances in the first 10 minutes, a high press from Miami FC and Ariel Martinez generated a turnover from Daniel Szetela. The ball landed at the feet of captain Dylan Mares, who passed to Miguel Gonzalez, and found Mares on a one-time pass that set him up for a clear shot on goal. A low roller to the left corner beat Cosmos keeper Paul Blanchette to put Miami up 1-0.
The key second goal came just six minutes later, when another turnover from Szetela forced by Tomás Granitto led to the ball falling right at Mares’ foot. A few touches and a small move to the right found Mares open in the box with a look at the top-right corner. The captain again took his chance, and doubled his team’s advantage.
New York Cosmos would halve the advantage in the 30th minute, when an Ansi Agolli free kick sneaked through the crowd in the box and past Miami FC goalkeeper Mark Pais, who was anticipating a header that never came.
Keeping them in it
It was the one misstep from Pais, who made a number of saves to keep Miami FC in the game. Particularly in the second half, Pais made save after save to keep the one-goal advantage in place. In the 86th minute, it took a double-fingertip save from Pais to keep Miami FC on top.
The game was finally sorted in stoppage time, when defender Shawn Chin won a ball and found forward Darío Suárez on the wing. Chin then continued a run, and Suárez found him streaking down the right. With only Blanchette to beat, Chin calmly moved around the sliding keeper, continued his run, and passed the ball into the heart of the net. Chin’s shirt came off, his team ran over to join him at the opposite flag post, and the champions defended their crown.
It has been almost two years since the lights of the NASL were shut off. While last year maintained a sense of rivalry with Jacksonville, Miami FC has had to shift to a new normal. Saturday’s NPSL final against the New York Cosmos brings back the familiar feelings that have long been missing for the Miami faithful.
Saturday night at FIU Soccer Stadium was like a page out of an old script. Miami FC have had their fair share of run-ins with mother nature. Saturday would be no different as the skies opened with lightning bolts on campus an hour before kickoff. By the time the weather cleared, it was thirty minutes past kickoff. It would be another forty-five minutes before the teams could commence the NPSL Semi-Final.
The National Premier Soccer League season feels like a long grind despite having half the amount of games of a professional league. Miami FC are looking to add to their long list of accomplishments, by becoming the first team to repeat as NPSL National Champions. Standing in their way is a Cinderella story out of Cleveland, Ohio. The previous embodiment of a soccer club in Cleveland won the NPSL title in 2016. As if Miami and Cleveland have not been written enough sporting lore, the soccer pitch will now take it’s place in the spotlight.
The Miami FC suffered a fate that very few soccer organizations around the world have had to deal with. About a year and a half ago, Miami was a team without a home. With no other alternative than joining the National Premier Soccer League, a significant drop from the lofty heights of the second division NASL, the Orange and Blue had to settle for what they could get. It has been two years since they’ve played a full season of soccer. With Miami FC joining NISA (the newly-created National Independent Soccer Association) in the third division, this ensures that South Florida will have two full-season professional soccer teams from 2020.
Shunned From The Ranks
Imagine dominating professional soccer for an entire season and then being sent down two divisions. That’s the reality that the Orange and Blue have had to endure for the past sixteen months. The NPSL has been an adequate host for this club, but still there has been an aura lacking around the club. Attendance has fallen dramatically and changing venues three times since the collapse of the NASL hasn’t helped. By joining NISA, Miami is likely to attract greater advertising revenue and sponsors, giving the club more resources to work with.
No one would have faulted the organization for slashing their budget and cutting back on payroll. After the 2018 season, fellow NASL exiles Jacksonville Armada folded their first team and fielded a roster primarily comprised of college-level talent. The majority of NPSL clubs are amateur and Miami could have followed suit.
Then there was the exodus of players. Major credit was given to coach Paul Dalglish and Miami FC Vice President Darren McCartney as they were able to rebuild a roster on the fly.
The result? The 2018 National Championship trophy.
Despite only six players from that 2018 squad featuring in this current one, Miami are two wins away from being the first-ever repeat national champions in the NPSL.
An In-Depth Look At NISA
NISA will be a fully sanctioned professional league under U.S. Soccer Federation Pro League Standard guidelines. This will be the first American league to run on the international soccer calendar (fall to spring). NISA clubs will earn automatic berths into the U.S. Open Cup.
The league has announced teams 10 teams that will participate in the inaugural season so far: Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Charlotte, Orange County (CA), Los Angeles, Connecticut, Philadelphia, Providence, San Diego, and Miami. Don’t be surprised if more clubs join NISA after the addition of Miami FC.
Saturday’s NPSL South Region Semi-Final was the third time in fourteen games that Miami FC went into the break trailing. Tulsa managed to enter half-time with a lead and keep Miami off the scoreboard, which hasn’t happened since the second game of the season. It was a rocky start for the Orange and Blue, but as we’ve learned lately, you can’t ever count this team out.
The time between the conference final kickoff’s and tonight’s NPSL South Region Semi-Final kickoff is only 72 hours. Three days is a short turn around for any club in the midst of a playoff race. The NPSL playoff fixtures come hard and fast. Very few have the championship pedigree of Chattanooga FC, a club that has been to the national final in back-to-back seasons.
In a game reminiscent to a cup final, the two Miami clubs put on the best match in the 2019 NPSL season. Miami FC hosted their cross-town rival at Barry University on Saturday night. United seemingly had the match in the bag come half-time despite FC taking the early lead. The second half was a remarkable display of soccer by both teams but with the Orange and Blue getting the last laugh.
Here we go again, the sixth edition of the Magic City Clasico is here. Just a year after heartbreak for Miami United, they have a chance at redemption. This season the NPSL Sunshine Conference was always going to come down to a battle of attrition between the two Magic City clubs. While Miami FC can be labeled as a goliath, Miami United surely doesn’t fit the mold of a David. The Magic City Cup will finally belong to one of these clubs, the only question that remains is, which one?