The Miami FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies tied all three times they played last season; but Wednesday night, the game was not allowed to end in a deadlock. The cross-state rivals were playing a third-round match in the single-elimination U.S. Open Cup.
On the line: a game at Major League Soccer’s Orlando City on June 13.
After 72 minutes of scoreless soccer at FIU’s Riccardo Silva Stadium, Miami got the goal it so desperately needed. Forward Vincenzo Rennella scored on a penalty kick in the 73rd minute after Tampa Bay’s Georgi Hristov was called for a foul on Dylan Mares in the box.
Ten minutes later, Miami struck again to make it 2-0. Forward Jaime Chavez took a hard blast in front of the goal, Tampa Bay goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald got his fingertips on it, but the ball rolled past him into the net.
As the clock hit 90 minutes, Miami’s Dade Brigade fan section began chanting: “We’re going to Orlando!”
“This tournament is about survive and advance,” said Miami midfielder Michael Lahoud. “We beat a very good team, and made a statement for our league (NASL), that we’re better than the best team in USL. We earned the right to show we can compete against MLS teams, and hopefully we continue this great run.”
Lahoud, who was called up to play for his native Sierra Leone in the upcoming African Nations Cup qualifiers, spent seven years in MLS. He is thrilled Miami FC will have a chance to test itself against Orlando City, which features Brazilian great Kaka and Canadian forward Cyle Larin.
“This tournament has the power to create some unforgettable moments and character building for your team,” he said. “For a club like ours, now there’s a feeling of `We can beat Orlando’. We don’t just want to check off that box of playing an MLS team. They have very good players, but I don’t think they’re a team we should fear. We should respect them, but at the end of the day, it’s a soccer game. Over 90 or 120 minutes, anything can happen. We stand an amazing chance.”
Miami FC sits atop the NASL standings and has gone unbeaten over its past eight games – six wins (four league, two U.S. Open Cup), two ties. Miami returns to league play with back-to-back road games at Jacksonville Saturday and at Edmonton June 10.
“I am dreaming of a beautiful game in Orlando, but for now, I don’t think about Orlando because we have a very important game Saturday in Jacksonville,” said Miami coach Alessandro Nesta. “If we win, the season becomes very interesting.”
Added Lahoud: “We made a statement tonight that we’re for real. We have ambitions and we’re ready. Now, we will flex our muscles in the NASL, show we’re the best in the league. We’re cut throat and we’re looking to put Jacksonville to the sword.”