Miami FC Advances to National Semifinals with 3-0 Win over Little Rock Rangers

The Miami FC 2 won the NPSL South Region Final Saturday night, defeating a valiant Little Rock Rangers team 3-0 on a warm but pleasant summer night for soccer. Jaime Chavez, Dylan Mares, and Dario Suarez scored for Miami, to the delight of the 1,250 orange and blue clad fans in attendance.

Miami were in the NASL a year ago, reaching the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup and the Championship of the NASL Playoffs. Winning a trophy in their first year in NPSL was a wonderful reward, but Mares said Miami hopes to keep winning as they move forward.

“It’s been a special season and a unique situation, but I think we’ve handled it well and played hard, regardless of opponent and situation, and we’re proud of what we accomplished tonight,” Mares said. “We will enjoy it, but we want to keep winning from here and there are two more games to win.”

Miami opened the game with plenty of the ball, but it was the visitors from Arkansas that threatened first, taking advantage of the space behind Miami’s very high fullbacks to free up speedy forward Sabelo Hlongwane on the break, only to have the chance foiled on a terrific piece of emergency defending by Miami’s Rhett Bernstein.

From that point forward, however, Miami controlled the ball, and for the most part, the opening half, with Little Rock Rangers content to sit deep, defend, and wait for chances to counter with pace.

Miami broke through after twenty minutes, when Chavez made a brilliant late run to get on the end of fullback Sean McFarlane’s cross.

“I thought we came out and played well,” Miami FC head coach Paul Dalglish said after the game. “We knew we were tough to break down and have been good defensively all season, but we came out tonight and were good in  attack and getting forward, and we’re rewarded for it.”

Little Rock Rangers wouldn’t quit, however, and their keeper, Wallid Birrou, hero of the team’s win over Laredo Heat last week, kept the red and white in the game with a series of outstanding saves in the first half.

But eventually, without much of a threat for Little Rock in possession, Miami FC found a second goal. It was a beauty, coming off an outstanding slip pass by Suarez that found a streaking Dylan in the left channel. Mares took a touch and calmly chipped over Birrou, putting the hosts up two goals sand sending an excellent crowd into rapturous song.

“In football, you won’t dominate for 90 minutes,” Dalglish said. “That stretch of the game from our first goal to the second was the one spell Little Rock controlled, and credit to them for it. But we’ve got great players, and Dario made a fine pass and Dylan scored an excellent goal on the chip.”

In the second half, Little Rock Rangers saw more of the ball and were able to generate some pressure, with Miami content to defend after withdrawing a forward in the 51st minute and the other in minute 65. More possession, however, didn’t lead to a goal, with Miami’s compact defense ushering away most the trouble and goalkeeper Daniel Vega able to clean up whatever did manage to get through.

Miami nearly added a third in the 76th minute, when substitute Coy Craft was played through by Suarez, only to again see Birrou come out and deny a Miami goal. Birrou closed the game with ten saves, many at close range, doing everything in his power to give Little Rock Rangers a chance.

“He was incredible,” Dalglish said of Birrou after the game. “He did it against Laredo last week and again tonight against us. What a wonderful player.”

Wonderful indeed, but in the end, Birrou’s heroics simply weren’t enough.

Suarez added a third goal in the 84th minute, galloping through a tired Little Rock Rangers midfield and calmly slotting past a charging Birrou, sending Miami to the corner to celebrate and, when the final whistle blew minutes later, to a NPSL national semifinal.

Contributor: Neil W. Blackmon/
Photo Credit: Orovio Photography

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