Photo: Miami FC 2
Last year, Miami FC’s US Open Cup run was a magical trip to the quarterfinals. This year, it ended before the club even left the Magic City.
Miami United defeated Miami FC 2 by the score of 3-1 on Wednesday night in front of 1,607 fans at Florida International University Soccer Stadium. David Ochoa scored twice for the visitors, with Victor adding a third for Miami United in second-half stoppage time.
Miami FC 2 opened the scoring when Dylan Mares, volleyed home a lovely cross from Cuban international Ariel Martinez.
Mares is no stranger to US Open Cup star turns, having been one of the heroes of the Miami FC senior team’s historic run to the Quarterfinals of the competition a year ago. Much has changed for Miami FC since.
The NASL is in legal limbo, a soccer purgatory with no competitive season as they press forward with antitrust litigation against Major League Soccer and the US Soccer Federation. Without a league to play in, Miami FC chose to drop down to the NPSL, albeit without many of the faces that made the club NASL Spring and Fall season champions in 2017 and one of the most formidable second-division sides in the history of US Soccer. As the club presses forward (without a permanent league home but with the lucrative financial backing of Riccardo Silva), Mares is one eight Miami FC players who played a prominent role in last year’s Open Cup run and stayed to wear the colors when he tells the tale.
The strike from Mares awakened the Orange and Blue and stunned the visitors from Miami United, who had played most the opening fifteen minutes of the game on the front foot, dominating possession and playing a high line, with Miami FC content to sit deep and wait for chances to counter through the torrid pace of Martinez.
Miami United’s decision to play a high line and press early was surprising, given the side was playing with only five available substitutions and that the side played a game over the weekend and Miami FC did not. The strategy created chances early, but left United very vulnerable on the break, and Miami FC repeatedly looked the more dangerous side after the Mares opener.
Just before halftime, however, Miami United was thrown a lifeline. Miami FC playmaker Kris Tyrpak was issued a straight red for a late, rash challenge, leaving the hosts down a man with more than a half of soccer to play. It was a surprising and foolish play from Tyrpak, a veteran of San Antonio FC of the USL and Ottawa Fury FC before that, and while the predominantly pro-Miami FC booed, it was hard to fault the decision of referee Andres Videlas.
Miami United made the most of the break within five minutes.
A giveaway magnified by a communication breakdown in the middle of the field between Tyler Ruthven, Enzo Rennella and Rhett Bernstein allowed David Ochoa to break through, and the former U-23 Fort Lauderdale Strikers product buried the equalizer past Daniel Vega.
“It’s disappointing, to have individual mistakes and communication give a lead away. We knew at halftime if we stayed compact, played smart and held our clean sheet we would win. It’s frustrating to make simple mistakes. You can’t legislate for mental errors,” Miami FC manager Paul Dalglish said after the match.
The visitors needed only three more minutes to take the lead.
It was David Ochoa who again did the damage, making a menacing run into the channel and latching onto a lovely pass from Tomas Grannito. Ochoa took a touch, cut inside towards goal and calmly slotted past Daniel Vega.
A stunned Miami FC nearly conceded a third two minutes later, when Ochoa again found space in between a discombobulated Miami FC back four and fired a rocket of a shot at Daniel Vega, who bravely saved low.
In the 65th minute, a speedy Ariel Martinez counter gave Miami FC hope, but his cross was a bit too far for the trailing back post run of Mares, whose late lunge saw his left boot find only a chunk of turf, missing the ball by inches.
Still, Miami FC weren’t ready to relinquish their chance to chase last year’s US Open Cup glory quite yet. They pressed forward with wave after wave of attackers, often leaving only two center backs to protect the goal, and consistently probing for an equalizer through Martinez, Mares and influential substitution and Indy Eleven veteran Don Smart.
But for every Miami FC attack, Miami United had a defensive answer.
Darryl Gordon had several critical clearances in the area, and Elusma Pierre did the yeoman’s work containing FC Dallas youth product Coy Craft and Jamie Chavez’s forays through the middle.
In stoppage time, the dam broke, as former Fort Lauderdale Striker Victor won a fifty-fifty ball in the final third, turned past his defender and buried an exclamation point third goal past Daniel Vega.
Victor, who took a job as a coach at a local academy when the Strikers folded, relished the moment and the meaning of a rivalry Cup-set win.
“It’s an amazing thing, to advance in the Cup. I’ve seen the happiness in brings the fans in Fort Lauderdale. I’ve seen what it means to our fans,” Victor said. “We’re a small club, but a proud one, with a winning tradition. To beat Miami FC tonight here and to score a goal, it’s everything.”
One of the special things about the early rounds of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup is that you get a rash of rivalry games. A handful of contests, like Wednesday night’s second round tilt between Miami United and Miami FC, even feature teams that share a city fighting to win the affection of their city’s soccer fans, as well as a healthy share of bragging rights.
The Magic City Clasico, as the tilt between Miami United and Miami FC is known locally, had already been contested two times in NPSL play this season, but this meeting, with a trip to the third round of the US Open Cup at stake, meant the most to the players and local fans, who waited out an hour and a half lighting delay and chanted and sang at each other for most of the game’s ninety humid minutes.
In the end, only Miami United’s fans were left singing, the famed “Vamos, Vamos United, Esta Noche” ringing out into the Miami night, with their rival left to dwell on glories past, and wonder what went wrong.
“It’s a crushing disappointment,” Dalglish said. “You prepare so hard and become undone by simple errors. And yet you can’t hang your head and promise to do better next time, because there’s no next time in the Open Cup.”