Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama, the fluffy-haired Colombian legend and former Miami Fusion star, was at FIU Stadium Friday night as a special guest for the Miami FC match against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
The home team gave him quite a show in the first 20 minutes, scoring two goals – one a spectacular one-touch diagonal rocket by Jaime Chavez over the head of Rowdies goalkeeper Matt Pickens in the 16th minute. Miami made it 2-0 five minutes later when Poku slid behind a pair of Tampa Bay defenders, gathered a through ball from Chavez and knocked it in.
Georgi Hristov got the Rowdies on the scoreboard in the 28th minute, and Miami led 2-1 at intermission. Tampa Bay tied the game with a Juan Guerra goal in the 67th minute, and the score remained 2-2, much to the dismay of the 5,215 fans in attendance.
Rhett Bernstein had a chance to score the winning goal on a header in added time, but Pickens made the save.
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“We started very good, but we started the second half terrible, without confidence,” said Miami coach Alessandro Nesta. “But, I saw something very good today in the first half, we could have scored four or five goals.”
Miami captain Jonathan Borrajo added : “We had a great opportunity to put them away and we didn’t take the most of our chances. With that said, we had a lot of other opportunities in the game. We didn’t take three points, but we’re still in the mix of things, and (a playoff spot) is still attainable...We’re not packing our bags tonight, and the season isn’t over.”
With only three games remaining in the regular season, Friday’s match was critical as Miami FC tries to earn a playoff spot. The top four teams from the Combined Standings (Spring and Fall) make the playoffs and Miami FC was two points out of the final spot going into Friday’s game. Miami finished in last place in the Spring season, and is in third place in the Fall season, behind New York and Edmonton.
A win would have given Miami 39 points and vaulted them to third place in the combined standings, ahead of Minnesota (38 points). But with a tie, Tampa Bay has 38 points, and moves the Rowdies closer to the fourth playoff spot. If the season ended now, the New York Cosmos, Edmonton, and Indy Eleven would advance with Minnesota, Rayo OKC, Tampa Bay and Carolina battling for the fourth spot.
Miami hits the road for a pair of games at Jacksonville and New York and returns to FIU Stadium Oct. 28 to close the season against Edmonton.
Asked whether FIU’s artificial turf field creates an added challenge for Miami FC, Borrajo said: “It is what it is. It’s a really difficult pitch to play on. It’s probably one of the worst turf fields I’ve played on in my whole career, if not the worst. Someone needs to say it. I will.”