The last two South Florida teams squared off in a “Win & You’re In” match with a berth in the 2023 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on the line. In the end, the experienced Miami United FC returned to the tournament for the second year in a row with a 2-1 win over Naples City FC.
Miami United and Naples City traded opportunities and shots on target in the match’s opening minutes. Both teams found their rhythm early as they understood the importance of winning this fourth-round match. The performances of the forwards and goalkeepers dictated the pace and outcome of the match.
Miami opened the scoring in the 29th minute as they recovered a loose ball in midfield and unlocked the Naples City defense in two quick passes. Shelton Shamar brought the ball forward on the right and appeared to have space to play through a teammate but instead cut back and opened up space for a left-footed shot from the very corner of the 18-yard box. His shot was on target and proved troublesome for the Naples City goalkeeper Brayan Arce Justiniano as it curled away from him. The keeper got his hands to the ball only to deflect it into his own net. It was a stunning way to take the lead.
It wouldn’t last very long, though. Naples City proved how they had come this far as they responded immediately. Naples City appeared to be clearing its lines as the defense launched the ball high in the air toward forward Raidel Ramos with a Miami Defender clearly tugging on his shirt and goalkeeper Alan coming to clear the ball; Raidel kept his balance and lifted the ball over Alan and into an empty net. He fell to his knees as he celebrated with his teammates, taking in the moment for himself and his club.
More opportunities were traded back and forth as both teams tried to assert their dominance in the game. Miami United had an excellent opportunity just before halftime. A free kick lined up from the right side of the pitch found the head of an oncoming attacker, but their shot was well over the bar.
That attempt was a precursor of what was to come, as Miami would have another free kick on the left side of the field near the touchline early in the second half. Robert Insua put the ball into the box. His shot could easily have been a miss hit as he looked for a teammate’s head, but he managed to fool the Naples City goalkeeper Brayan Arce Justiniano. He could not fully get his body in front of the ball as his weight was shifted in the opposite direction since he expected a cross. Much like the first goal, despite getting his hands to the ball, it trickled into the net. There was some speculation on whether or not it had actually crossed the line for a moment, but it became clear to the center referee that Insua’s shot was not impeded and had crossed the line. Miami had restored their lead.
Miami pushed for a third goal for the rest of the second half. The crossbar came to Naples City’s defense twice. The second time was the more dramatic, as in the 90th minute. The ball should have been cleared by Naples City’s defense, but instead, it fell to an oncoming Miami United player. His shot seemed to have left Brayan Arce Justiniano flat-footed but didn’t dip down far enough to beat the woodwork. The ball bounced back into play; unfortunately, Miami could not capitalize.
They would hold on from there, though. Miami United secured their fifth appearance in the US Open Cup.