A long and winding road of soccer success came to a thrilling conclusion on Sunday morning, April 6 when the Miami Springs/Virginia Gardens Under-12 girls soccer team broke down the doors of local history.
When Gabi Cimino took a perfect centering pass with 90 seconds to go in a game locked in a 1-1 tie with San Carlos Park and found the back of the net, it gave the locals a dramatic 2-1 victory in the President’s Cup championship game at Lake Myrtle Park in Auburndale, Fla., (near Tampa) in youth soccer’s version of the Final Four.
The U-12 girls became the first female team in MS/VG history to win the President’s Cup. And the celebrating wasn't limited to just after the game either.
Last Friday night, April 11, during the Opening Ceremonies of the River Cities Festival, the girls were brought up on stage to be presented with proclamation plaques from both mayors, Zaver Garcia of Miami Springs and Spencer Deno IV of VG declaring April 11, 2014 Miami Springs/VG U-12 Girls Soccer Day. In addition, County Commissioners and political heavyweights Jose "Pepe" Diaz and Rebeca Sosa were also on hand to honor the girls.
“What a terrific effort by all of the girls,” said MS/VG head coach Peter Galera. “They really brought their A game with them and it showed on the field.”
The win completed a remarkable 26-9-2 season that began last fall, and the local girls showed their mettle as they overcame a 1-0 halftime deficit after San Carlos (from the Fort Myers area) had scored midway through the first half.
Midway through the second half, thanks to good pressure on the San Carlos goal, an overcommit by the San Carlos keeper had a ball headed into the net when a San Carlos defender literally reached out with her hand to prevent it from going in the net.
Not only was Springs awarded a penalty kick but the player, by rule, was red-carded and San Carlos was forced to play a player short the rest of the way. Cimino took the penalty kick and rifled it home to tie the game at 1 and set the stage for her eventual game-winning goal, which he scored on an assist from Jessica Saavedra.
The Springs/VG girls would have never seen Sunday’s championship game had they not come out and turned in a terrific effort in Saturday’s semifinal when they took on Bay United from the Panama City area in the Panhandle.
Thanks to goals by Ylian Ramos and Ashley Romay, Springs/VG emerged a 2-0 winner, setting up the title game against San Carlos.
Before they could even qualify for the President’s Cup, the Springs/VG had to travel to Jensen Beach (just north of West Palm Beach) two weeks earlier to compete in the Region Cup Tournament.
A 4-2 win over Weston Black from Broward County (with Ramos scoring all four goals) and 4-0 win over Team Boca Raton (two goals Cimino, one by Saavedra, one by Nicole San Martin) in a round-robin setup put them into the Region Cup semifinals where they edged Wellington 1-0 on a second-half goal by Ramos. That set up a kind of David vs. Goliath matchup in the final against Sunrise Black from Broward County.
“They broke down two teams from West Pines and Weston to form this kind of Super Team,” said Galera. “They clearly were the favorite to win it all but we shocked them by scoring three goals in the first 25 minutes.”
Thanks to two goals by Ramos and one from Jasmine Romay, Springs nursed the 3-0 lead before Sunrise stormed back to score twice. But Springs held on for the big 3-2 upset and Region Cup title.
After coaching and nurturing this group of girls for the last six years, Louie Cimino took a step back last year for personal reasons to take a smaller role as team manager and handed the reins over to Galera. Nevertheless, that did not diminish the pride Cimino felt not only watching his daughter score the two goals in the title match but an entire group of girls he managed to keep together and prevent from bolting for greener pastures, which has happened to some VG teams in the past.”
“I could not be more proud of these young ladies,” said Cimino, himself a talented soccer player 25 years ago who helped the then-boys youth soccer team known as Showtime to a State Cup title and berth in a national tournament. “I’ve been lucky enough to coach some of them since they were 4 and 5 years old up until last year, when I decided to bring in another coach. MS/VG usually loses our players to other clubs but this shows what can happen with the dedication of the players and parents. I also want to thank Peter (Galera) for continuing the ‘Showtime’ tradition that has been established.”
Galera handed the complement right back to Cimino.
Louie deserves a lot of credit,” said Galera. “He spent years instilling all of the proper fundamentals and basics with those girls and also taught them the discipline necessary to succeed on the field. I inherited plenty of talent.”
Cimino said it wasn’t about him, it wasn’t about Galera and it wasn’t about any one individual. It was a group effort if there ever was one.
“Through hard work and determination, we’ve been able to attract new players every year for the last three years to keep this team together and competing at the highest level,” said Cimino. “They have been competing in the highest division in every league and tournament since they were U-10s and that has a lot to do with the commitment from the parents and young ladies who believed in me and helped make this happen, when this was a crazy dream of mine and, of course, the ones who joined us this year. Without everyone’s collaborative effort, this would not have been possible.”