By Jeremy Goldman/Central Florida Panthers SC
Wednesday’s home game for the Central Florida Panthers was a very physical, edge-of-your-seat thriller with a total of five red cards. This matchup between the Panthers and Miami United FC was crucial in the NPSL’s Sunshine Conference standings. Before this game kicked off Miami United was three points clear of first place in the conference, while the Panthers were tied for second.
Immediately after kickoff, Miami started the first half of the game with a rapid and physical pace. The physical start from Miami helped with building counterattacks on offense and limiting opportunities to the Panthers. Miami was already up by two goals in the 36th minute. Miami’s first goal of the game occurred when a Panthers player accidentally hit the ball with his arm inside the box, conceding a penalty kick converted by Robertino Insua in the 28th minute. Shortly after, the Panthers had a strong opportunity when Cole Cecconi hit a one-time volley that was beautifully saved by the Miami United keeper.
That moment of positivity would not last long as the visitor’s would make it 2-0 in the 36th minute when they were able to break through the Panthers backline and convert the opportunity. A moment that would turn the tide of the game occurred in the 39th minute when the Panthers gave up another penalty shot after a foul by Jose Facusse in the box.
But when the referee blew the whistle, the penalty was struck with power, seeking the left corner. Goalkeeper Philip D’Amico came off his line exploding to the left side, blocking the beaming shot. After the initial shot, the Panthers keeper was able to get his feet back under him quickly and make another stellar save. This would deny Miami United once more, keeping Central Florida in the game and starting to swing the momentum in favor of the home side at the break.
Following the heroic double save, the Panthers came into the second half ready to come back against the conference leaders. Shortly after the start of the half, Central Florida’s midfield was able to quickly take control of the pace of the game. In the 54th minute Charles Ahl was sprinting down the left wing of the pitch when he was fouled near the left edge of the box. This foul generated a free kick in a very beneficial position for the Panthers. Ahl would line up for the shot, and then strike the ball with a precise curve that would bend into the top right corner of the goal past the outstretched keeper. The skillful goal was a crucial factor in propelling the Panther’s momentum enough in the right direction to come back and win.
Less than six minutes after this goal, the game’s physical pace ramped up to an even higher intensity than the first half. This pace led to Miami United giving up a penalty to the Panthers in the 60th minute of the game. Roberto Ydrach’s penalty wasn’t scored due to a brilliant save from the Miami keeper, but the rebound was headed past the keeper into the back of the net by Cecconi. The Panthers tied the game 2-2 with 30 minutes left to play with momentum rushing in their favor. Only one minute later, the Panthers would go down a man when Cecconi received his second yellow of the game. This was a potential momentum-crushing red card but the Panthers would not lose their cool.
After the red card for the Panthers, the physical pace and fouls would elevate again for Miami as they were pressuring to take the lead over the shorthanded Central Florida side. Tempers started to flare between players and coaches alike when a Miami coach was booked in the 75th minute. Then only two minutes later, Miami received their first of four red cards when Tomas Ritondale collected his second yellow card after taking Rodne Mont Fleury down inside the box. This red card not only evened the field but provided the Panthers with the lead with only 10 minutes remaining after captain Ryan Sandidge converted the penalty.
Immediately after this game-winner was scored, Miami was looking to tie the game up and not lose their hold of first place. However, things didn’t go as they planned. Insua was sent off for violent conduct in the 89th minute. Things got even worse when another red card was shown in the 94th minute to Juan Marco Arpino after a bad foul. Miami’s Andrea Pastore also would be sent off for violent conduct. This breakdown would lead to Miami losing their chance of getting a large amount of stoppage time and eventually losing the game 3-2.
The Panthers are now tied with Miami United at the top of the table with 18 points but currently lead due to goal differential.
“The guys showed great character tonight,” Panthers head coach Tom Traxler said. “To be down 2-0 at the half against a good team like Miami United you wouldn’t expect to win but the guys had belief, took to the changes we made well and got the three points. Phil’s penalty save in the first half was huge. If they score that would’ve possibly put the game out of reach at the time. He really gave us a lifeline. We now have a few days off to rest and get ready for another very good team in Naples United and be ready for our club’s first appearance in the playoffs.”
Photo Credit: Scott A. Miller Photography