Saturday night’s matchup between The Miami FC and Cleveland SC features the best of the
South and Midwest Regions in a must-win match. Both teams are looking to show why they
deserve the opportunity to play in the national title match against the winner of New York
Cosmos B and ASC San Diego.
The hosts just happen to be the defending NPSL national champions as they won the title last
year with a 3-1 win over FC Motown in front of a sellout crowd. And they are working hard to
“The one thing that you have to keep is the hunger,” The Miami FC head coach Paul Dalglish
said. “Sometimes when people win things, they can sometimes lose a little bit of motivation to
win it again. And that’s why we have a different mindset. We don’t think we’re defending the trophy this year. We’re trying to win another one. Because we don’t get anything from winning the trophy last year. So, we’ve got to be as hungry if not hungrier to win this one.”
That hunger is seen in the confidence of The Miami FC players.
“The expectation is to win,” The Miami FC midfielder Dylan Mares said. “That should be the
expectation and always is. The number one thing is to go out there and win. We need to come
out with high energy and make them come to us.”
That confidence is backed up by hard work and intense training sessions leading up to the match.
The Miami FC midfielder Brian James was quick to point out the must-win mentality needed for
“The games become more meaningful so there is more on the line,” James said. “It’s lose and
you’re out so we’re not able to take our foot off the gas at any one moment. You always have to
keep pushing forward, forward, forward to carry the win. So just coming in with that mentality
that if you lose, you’re out and nobody wants to lose, especially in the playoffs.”
Mares and James are the linchpins of a highly effective midfield in Miami, a midfield that sets up
a lethal pair of forwards in Miguel González and Mohamed Thiaw. González led the team in
goals with 16, while Thiaw led the team in assists with nine. The Miami FC’s powerful attack is
backed by a stingy defense led by goalkeeper Mark Pais, who is the team leader in saves with 35.
All of this talent has led to a successful 2019 campaign for The Miami FC, a campaign that has
seen the team earn a 9-1-0 regular season record and an overall record of 20-1-1.
Success in the competitive Sunshine Conference has prepared them well for the intensity of the
“We are in a really tough conference,” Dalglish added. “The conference that we play in has
prepared us for the playoffs because the intensity level in the playoffs hasn’t really gone up
because of the quality of our conference, teams like Naples, Jacksonville, and Miami United as
well. I suppose it’s a blessing in a way that we go up against that level of opposition and then
the playoffs aren’t that big of a jump in quality. We have had to work really hard this season and
it has prepared us for the playoffs.”
Cleveland SC comes from an equally challenging East Conference that is always competitive.
Getting through the East Conference and into the playoffs is no easy task.
“I think this season has been a rollercoaster to say the least, especially with last weekend’s two
games against very strong opposition,” Cleveland SC head coach Ryan Osborne said. “I think we
have progressively got better as the season has progressed, hopefully this is a characteristic that
will carry us forward this weekend.”
Osborne pointed out that a loss early in the season made a big difference for the Ohio side.
“I would say that a huge turning point was the loss away to the Rochester Lancers, at that point
we were 2-2 on the season,” Osborne added. “We knew moving forward from that point that if
we wanted to win the conference that every game was a must win and we approached each one
from that point on with a very focused mentality, one that has been key to our run thus far, a trust
and commitment to one another. So, for us, since our fifth game of the season in Pittsburgh we
have needed to win to keep our season alive, which we have managed to do with many players
contributing in times of need.”
Having already overcome obstacles has Cleveland prepared for this weekend.
“Our attitude moving into the playoffs was simple, to extend our season by one more game,”
Osborne concluded. “Hopefully this mindset will help us extend our season by one more game in
Miami on Saturday.”
Cleveland’s star forward Vinny Bell, who led the team with 12 goals, has seen all of this before,
having won an NPSL national championship back in 2016.
“This season has actually been eerily similar to 2016 and just as exciting,” Bell said. “We have a
very similar team and style of play. Also, both years we won the two Midwest playoff games in
dramatic fashion after 120 minutes. And of course, clutch late-game heroics from Antonio Manfut and Tom Beck are another staple of the 2016 season. Maybe it is just a Cleveland thing
to beat the odds and make comebacks.”
Bell, Manfut, and Beck have made Cleveland SC’s attack one of the league’s most feared.
Manfut has contributed seven goals of his own, while Beck’s veteran presence and leadership
has been invaluable to CSC.
While this prolific trio has things covered on offense, goalkeeper Marijo Musa is the anchor of
the Cleveland SC defense after leading the team in saves. Musa is eager to test his skills against
The Miami FC.
“We expect to see a very talented and fit side that has a variety of offensive weapons that can
hurt you in many ways,” Musa said. “It’s definitely one of the biggest matches of my career due
to being in the national semifinals as well as playing a side full of professionals that have played
at high levels of soccer.”
This game seems to have it all. Two prolific offenses. Two stout defenses. Two great
goalkeepers. And most importantly, a must-win matchup to determine who goes on to the
national championship and a chance at the ultimate prize in the NPSL.
Photo Credit: Orovio Photography, Ric Kruszynski/ISNSoccer.com, Danielle Marie Wright