As a woman who coaches boys’ soccer, Pamela McDonald knows what it’s like to have referees walk right past her to shake a man’s hand because, well, she couldn’t possibly be the person running the show at Doral Academy.
But she is.
And she’s the perfect fit at Doral, a relatively new school (established in 1999) that is often overlooked, just like its coach.
Opponents surely looked past Doral this season, and the Firebirds made them pay, advancing to the Class 4A state final for the first time in program history.
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Even more history was made in the sense that McDonald appears to be the first woman to take a Florida boys’ soccer team to a state final.
The Firebirds finished 22-2-2 after a 4-0 loss to Fleming Island, but that defeat has not diminished the soccer spirit fostered by McDonald, a former midfielder on the Scottish national team.
Senior forward Christian Ramirez, one of Doral’s co-captains this season, said McDonald has played “an important role” in the Firebirds’ success.
“It doesn’t change anything,” Ramirez said of McDonald being a woman coaching boys. “We see her as a leader and an important coach. She has experience as a player. We listen to her because she’s been there.”
Doral’s magical 2017 run began with a 2-1 regional-quarterfinal road win at South Broward. Doral fell behind before rallying with two goals in the final 15 minutes.
The Firebirds then beat neighborhood rival Reagan 3-1 in the regional semifinals, and things just kept getting better from there. Doral routed Fort Lauderdale 4-1 and then hosted a state semifinal game, thrashing Venice 6-1.
“That was the game we peaked — it seemed like every shot we took went in,” McDonald said. “The stands were packed. We had 600 or 700 people singing and cheering. I thought I was at a World Cup final for a minute.”
Doral graduated 10 seniors off that team, including eight starters. The Firebirds are breaking in a new goalie this season — senior Francisco Zwanzger — and they have several dangerous offensive weapons, including junior Andoni Garro and seniors Ramirez and Damian Casanova.
Garro already has six goals this season, fueling Doral’s 3-0-0 start, while Ramirez and Casanova each scored 14 goals last season.
But the Firebirds are about much more than just three stars. McDonald has roughly 66 players in her program — 22 on each of her three teams: middle school, junior varsity and varsity.
Doral also has impressive facilities, including a turf field and a modern weight room, and there’s a strength and conditioning coach on staff.
“A lot of our kids come home from college and tell us that their new teams don’t have what we have,” McDonald said. “What we have puts us at another level.”
As for fitness, McDonald makes sure they train hard so that “three-quarters through the season, we’re able to kick it into an extra gear.”
And while refs have sometimes been confused about who is the head coach, the boys at Doral have never gotten it twisted.
McDonald, 44, has earned her way here.
As a player, she nearly made it to the 1999 World Cup before losing to Spain in a qualifier. She then played four years at Barry University, reaching the NCAA Division II Final Four during her freshman and sophomore seasons.
After graduating from Barry in 2003, she started Doral’s girls’ program. She coached the girls for four years before growing weary of what she termed as a lackluster level of play.
She was just about to quit when her athletic director told her that the Doral’s boys’ soccer coaching job was open. She grabbed it, and she and the Firebirds have made steady progress ever since.
“I had practiced with the boys before I took over as coach,” McDonald said. “They knew that I knew my stuff. And once they realized that I was pointing them in the right direction for college, respect came quickly.”
The Doral program also earned respect last season.
Now let’s see what McDonald and the Firebirds can do for an encore.
SOCCER SEASON PREVIEW
Jan. 23-25: GMAC championship
Jan. 29-Feb. 3: Districts
Feb. 7: Regional quarterfinals
Feb. 10: Regional semifinals
Feb. 14: Regional finals
Feb. 17: State semifinals
Feb. 22, 24: State finals at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium in DeLand
2016-17 STATE CHAMPIONS
2016-17 STATE CHAMPIONS
Class 5A: Cypress Bay; 4A: Fleming Island; 3A: Daytona Beach Seabreeze; 2A: Melbourne West Shore; 1A: Tallahassee Maclay.
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY OUTLOOKS
MIAMI-DADE COUNTY OUTLOOKS
Belen - Coach: Tanger Mendonca; Last season: 16-8-0; Top players: F Francisco Castano (sr.); G Alejandro Pujals (sr.); F Juan Felipe Pereira (sr.); Noteworthy: The team’s top five players are seniors, including midfielder Carlos Sosa and defender Robert Castro.
Coral Reef - Coach: Kameron Clark; Last season: 10-4-4; Top players: D Tomas Cora (sr.); M Simone Di Matia (sr.); D Rafa Miranda (sr.); Noteworthy: This is a strong team defensively that will look to maximize its scoring chances.
Divine Savior - Coach: Phil Kurbis; Last season: 9-7-3; Top players: M Felipe Garces (sr.); F Joel Hofstetter (so.); G Thales Santos (sr.); Noteworthy: Kurbis said he has talented scorers but defense is not yet solid.
Doral Academy - Coach: Pamela McDonald; Last season: 22-2-2; Top players: M Andoni Garro (jr.); F Christian Ramirez (sr.); M Moises Barahona (sr.); Noteworthy: Team lost 10 seniors from last season’s state finalist. Garro (10 goals) and Ramirez (14 goals) lead the way.
Ferguson - Coach: Jose Aguilar; Last season: 12-8-3; Top players: D Erikk Ordonez (sr.); M JonMichael Francheschi (jr.); F Jonathan Buraglia (sr.); Noteworthy: Aguilar said he has a deep roster, and his top six players are either seniors or juniors.
Gulliver - Coach: Matias Asorey; Last season: 19-3-3; Top players: F Truman Gelnovatch (sr.); M Ross Shellow (jr.); F Sebastian Paz (fr.); Noteworthy: Gelnovatch, who had 20 goals and seven assists for the regional semifinalists, is a Princeton recruit.
La Salle - Coach: Richard Jobson; Last season: 15-4-5; Top players: M David Medeiros (sr.); D Conrado Duhour (sr.); Giovanni Ventura (sr.); M Noteworthy: Team’s top four players are seniors.
Mater Academy - Coach: Arlington Teheran; Last season: 8-6-4; Top players: M Isaac Banegas (sr.); F Juan Aguirre (fr.); F Alvaro Zapata (jr.); Noteworthy: Offense is the team’s forte, but defense is the weakness, Teheran said.
Miami Beach - Coach: Edgar Botto; Last season: 23-3-1; Top players: D Toby Squire (jr.); M Leonardo Acosta (sr.); M Lucas Arellano (sr.); Noteworthy: The team made the regional finals last season. Arellano was first-team all-county as a sophomore and missed junior year due to injury.
Miami Country Day - Coach: Jeff Watson; Last season: 12-6-3; Top players: M Khalil Winder (sr.); M Diego Oropeza (jr.); F Dre Medici (sr.); Noteworthy: Team made regional finals but lost its starting goalie and top defender. Watson, who has 495 career wins, will rely on his midfield.
Palmer Trinity - Coach: Eric Perri; Last season: 22-2; F Alberto Francheschi (jr.); M Klever Rosales (jr.); M Nicolas Ludwig (sr.); Noteworthy: Could make another run to state semifinals like last season, led by Francheschi, who had 23 goals and 19 assists.
Palmetto - Coach: Patrick Larco; Last season: NA; Top players: M Nico Diaz-Bezanilla (sr.); M Tyler Larco (jr.); M Peekay Stoffle (so.); Noteworthy: First-year coach Larco has a team that is strongest in the midfield.
Ransom Everglades - Coach: David Villano; Last season: 13-5-3; Top players: M Carlos Esber (sr.); M Patrick Geraghty (sr.); F Nico Guerini (jr.); Noteworthy: Ransom, usually an elite program, returns just one starter from last season.
Westminster Christian - Coach: Josh Kirk; Last season: 8-6-2; Top players: G Nico Lopez (jr.); D Sean Victoria (sr.); M Renzo Brambilla (jr.); Noteworthy: Although the team lacks a proven goal-scorer, Lopez’s talents should keep them in games. Midfield is an area of strength.
Varela - Coach: Juan Monge; Last season: 15-2; Top players: M Christian Acevedo (sr.); D Santiago Garces (sr.); D Luis Alvarez (sr.); Noteworthy: This is an experienced team that made the regional quarterfinals last season.
BROWARD COUNTY OUTLOOKS
BROWARD COUNTY OUTLOOKS
American Heritage - Coach: Todd Goodman; Last season: 18-2-2; Top players: M Benjamin Gross (jr.); D Cale Torres (jr.); F Miles Walters (so.); Noteworthy: This is a young but deep team that made the regional finals last season.
Coral Springs - Coach: Robert Gofus; Last season: 15-8-4; Top players: D Harrison Netburn (sr.); M Ricard*o Parker (sr.); F Steven Burgos (so.); Noteworthy: Gofus said this is a mature and experienced team with solid depth.
Highlands Christian - Coach: Darryl Mauro; Last season: 8-6-3; Top players: M Richard Silva (sr.); G Scott Bush (sr.); D Kyle Coulson (jr.); Noteworthy: Silva had 10 goals and 10 assists last season, but there are more freshmen than seniors this year.
St. Thomas Aquinas - Coach: John Walsh; Last season: 16-4-1; Top players: F Ignacio Cubeddu (jr.); G AJ Pearce (jr.); D Luke Lhota (sr.); Noteworthy: Cubeddu had 13 goals and 10 assists last season, and the team features stellar goalie play. Senior forward Nick Fezza returns from injury.
Taravella - Coach: Todd Schoonover; Last season: NA; Top players: D Andres Acosta (sr.); M Joshua Itty (sr.); F Jose Reyes Mena (sr.); Noteworthy: The defense is solid, but Schoonover said the midfield is unproven.
University School - Coach: Thiago Oliveira; Last season: 15-1-2; Top players: M David Mizrahl (jr.); G Ricky Kiblisky (sr.); F Liam Borbely (jr.); Noteworthy: Oliveira said his team has quality on the ball but needs more maturity.
NOTE: Schools not listed did not return outlook forms to the Miami Herald.