Miami FC 2 advanced to the NPSL National Championship with a 3-0 victory over a resilient but ultimately outmatched Duluth FC on a steamy Saturday night in Miami. Sean McFarlane had a goal and an assist for the hosts, who controlled the game from the beginning.
“I thought in the first half, we really came out of the gates flying,” Miami FC manager Paul Dalglish said after the win. “They’re goalkeeper was incredible, denying the amount of chances he did throughout the game, but our players kept with it and kept going and it’s wonderful to see them rewarded with a final.”
Duluth’s goalkeeper, Jan Hoffelner, was huge from the beginning, with three big saves early that kept the BlueGreens in the game early as Miami pressed hard for an opening goal.
The first came in the third minute after Dylan Mares was played in by Jaime Chavez, and Hoffelner, a youth academy product of German great Eintracht Frankfurt, saved the shot low. The second save came on a minutes later, by Chavez from distance, which Hoffelner parried away to his left. Finally, a point-blank save on Dario Suarez brought the crowd to its feet in appreciation minutes later, as Hoffelner saved again hard and low. Each time, the save resulted in Miami FC corner kicks, but despite six corners in the game’s opening fifteen minutes, the Orange and Blue failed to score.
Duluth FC, the NPSL North Conference and Midwest Region champions, started to come into the game after fifteen minutes, largely through the calming influence of target man Kyle Farrar, and the intelligent, defender-occupying wide runs of wingers Joe Watt and Brooks Rice, Alabama’s 2017-18 Gatorade State Boys Soccer Player of the Year, helping Duluth appear a bit more composed in possession. But thanks to the steely defending of Mason Trafford and Rhett Bernstein, Miami’s goalmouth was rarely threatened throughout the opening 30 minutes.
Oddly, despite so much of the game being played in Duluth’s final third, it was a Miami FC counterattack that led to the breakthrough.
Following a set-piece chance that saw Duluth FC throw numbers forward, Miami won the ball and broke with Ariel Martinez streaking down the left flank in space. As he prepared to cross, Jaime Chavez was taken down in the area, with the referee pointing to the spot. Hoffelner got a hand to the subsequent Ariel Martinez penalty, but the Cuban Rocket’s strike still found the net, giving the hosts a 1-0 lead.
Dalglish was impressed his side were able to counter so efficiently in a game where mostly spent their time with the lion’s share of the ball, trying to break a compact Duluth defense down.
“It’s nice because we were playing our system and weren’t rewarded, but then we were able to counter and earn the penalty and goal and force them to make a choice: do they keep staying deep and waiting to counterattack or do they come out and I thought that changed things,” the Miami FC manager said.
Miami FC nearly added to the lead twice late in the first half. First, Chavez unleashed a howitzer from 30 yards that hit the woodwork. Minutes later, Mares curled a free kick towards the upper 90, only to have Hoffelner make his most spectacular save of the evening, forcing the hosts to settle for a 1-0 lead at half.
The second half began with Duluth FC pushing their line a bit higher and pressuring the ball as they chased an equalizer. The tactical shift won the BlueGreens a corner kick early in the half, but surprisingly, they elected to play the corner short, and the chance was quickly squandered.
Just before the hour mark, Miami nearly found a second when a beautiful parabola of a cross from Johnny Steele found the head of Kris Tyrpak at the far post, only to see the point-blank header drift harmlessly wide. Moments later, it was Mares’ turn to threaten for Miami, as a charging late run through the channel resulted in a close-range shot, saved well by Hoffelner. The rebound was also saved well by Hoffelner, who continued to keep the BlueGreens close.
Finally, in the 75th minute, McFarlane gave Miami room to breathe, slotting home a well-placed corner kick from substitute Tomas Greco. McFarlane has been a key figure in the NPSL Playoffs for Miami FC. The fullback scored a goal and added an assist in the region semifinal against Atlanta, added an assist in the region final win over Little Rock, and tallied a goal and an assist tonight. His manager says it’s a testament to his commitment to getting better.
“(Sean’s) really become a key player for us,” Dalglish said. “He’s got the whole package, athletically, physically, he makes good decision on the ball. But the key is I think he’s found his position and he’s committed himself to be a better player.”
McFarlane agreed, saying the difference now is knowing his position and confidence.
“(Knowing the position) helps and so much of that is about confidence,” McFarlane said after the victory. “The coach and the team have put so much confidence in me, using me in a variety of ways, getting forward, on the overlap, on the counter and that’s helped motivate me a lot.”
Late in the match, Jan Hoffelner made his tenth and final save on a charging Tomas Greco, who inadvertently hit him with a boot on the follow-through. He gamely tried to continue but was ultimately replaced moments later by Alberto Ciroi. In a touch of class, Miami’s crowd of 1,789 gave the young Duluth goalkeeper a deserved, rousing ovation as he exited the game.
Minutes later, Miami added a third goal through substitute Jeff Michaud, who tapped home a McFarlane cross from close range to give the game its final 3-0 tally and send Miami FC to the NPSL final next weekend.
“The club and the players have been through a lot in our three years,” McFarlane said after the game. “To be able to play for a final (after losing the NASL Championship a year ago) and give our club another chance to be a winning team, means everything.”
Contributor: Neil W. Blackmon/NPSL.com
Photo Credit: Orovio Photography