Despite having won its first boys’ soccer state championship, Columbus still had a couple of goals it had yet to accomplish.
Scratch a county championship off that list.
On the strength of Andrew Fernandez’s late first-half goal, the Explorers won their first GMAC tournament title Thursday night with a 1-0 win over American at Milander Park.
“This team continues to be the one to make history in soccer for our school,” Columbus coach Michael Stewart said. “We keep making firsts, and hopefully soon we will make seconds. This was a match against a very good, well coached squad, and it could have gone either way tonight.”
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In a few weeks, the Explorers are hoping to start working on a repeat of a more prestigious achievement.
The road to potential back-to-back Class 5A state titles begins in next week’s District 15-5A tournament, which begins Tuesday.
And Stewart knows it won’t be easy.
The Explorers (17-3-3) are the No. 2 seed in the district behind top-seed Reagan, which was upset by Miami Jackson in the GMAC quarterfinals.
And Columbus must face rival and No. 3-seed Coral Gables in a district semifinal elimination game Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Memorial Field in Miami Beach.
Stewart is hoping his team learned from a tough two-week stretch in which it played six tough matches including wins over Varela, Dr. Krop and American (15-2-1) in the GMAC tournament.
“I think we’ve learned we have to be alert on the field,” Stewart said. “You have to stay alert and play in the moment, no matter who you are playing.”
Fernandez’s free kick goal ricocheted off an American defender standing as part of the defensive wall in front of the goal for the game’s lone score.
Columbus goalkeeper Steven Milian recorded his eighth shutout of the season.
But it was American senior goalkeeper Jacobo Velez that kept the game close, making several tremendous defensive stops for the Patriots.
American is hoping his stellar play continues as the Patriots enter next week’s District 15-4A tournament at Pembroke Pines Charter.
“[Velez] is a big-time player,” Stewart said. “Had he not made some of those saves, we would have had two or three goals instead of just that one. He is tremendous, and playing against him was huge for us with what’s coming up for us.”