Miami FC loses in NASL semifinals to New York Cosmos

Vincenzo Rennella (8), from Miami FC plays the New York Cosmos at Riccardo Silva Stadium on November 5. 2017.
Vincenzo Rennella (8), from Miami FC plays the New York Cosmos at Riccardo Silva Stadium on November 5. 2017. Miami Herald

On this night, there were no hurricane warnings, no tropical depressions, no lightning delays. Miami FC got perfect weather, for a change, for its NASL semifinal against the New York Cosmos on Sunday, and 7,115 spirited fans showed up to see if the home team could keep its fairytale season alive.

They had to wait more than 120 minutes to find out.

The teams remained deadlocked 0-0 through regulation and 30 minutes of overtime before the Cosmos finally clinched it 6-5 in penalty kicks, the first shootout in Miami FC’s short history. Eugene Starikov made the decisive PK for New York after Michel and Mason Trafford missed for Miami.

New York will play the winner of the San Francisco-North Carolina semifinal in the championship on Nov. 12. The Cosmos have won the title three of the past four seasons.

“We had a season to remember, to say the least, broke numerous records, but this is the way soccer in America is set up, playoffs, back to zero,” Miami defender Hunter Freeman said. “We missed some very good chances. That was the difference. They’re champions for a reason. It wasn’t pretty, but at the end when they had to step up under pressure in PKs, they did.

“We did everything you can do in a season, but we wanted to lift the trophy at the end. We won’t get to do that.”

A year after joining the league as a band of unknowns under rookie coach Alessandro Nesta, Miami FC had established itself as one of the league’s glamour teams. The club’s deep-pocketed Italian owner, Riccardo Silva, has spared little expense in assembling his roster and sprucing up FIU stadium, which now bears his name after his $3.76 million donation.

Miami entered the playoffs as the top seed after dominating the league in both the Spring and Fall seasons, earning a league-record 69 points. Miami FC led the NASL with 61 total goals and also boasted the league’s top defense, allowing just 0.9 goals per game.

Forward Stefano Pinho led the league with 17 goals. Five players from the Miami FC roster are finalists for league MVP — Pinho, Rennella, Dylan Mares, Richie Ryan, and Daniel Vega.

Miami dominated possession in the first half but couldn’t finish. Pinho had a close-range shot in the 14th minute that sailed high. Mares launched one after a breakaway in the 44th minute that ricocheted off the fingertips of Cosmos goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer.

The game got more physical in the second half. Three yellow cards were issued in the span of 10 minutes.

Looking for an offensive spark, Nesta brought in Poku in the 70th minute and Ariel Martinez in the 80th minute. The Cosmos had a chance to take a lead early in overtime, but Starikov’s shot bounced off the post. He got another chance with the final PK and delivered.

Miami players Poku, Martinez, Jaime Chavez, Pinho and Freeman made their PKS in the shootout.

“We didn’t finish our chances, very good chances, and that was the difference in the game,” Freeman said. “They beat us 2-0 earlier in the season the same way. They stepped up when they had to. We didn’t.”

The crowd included 1994 World Cup Golden Shoe winner Hristo Stoichkov of Bulgaria, now a Univision commentator; former NASL goalkeeping legend Arnold Mausser; and former Cosmo Choco Borjas.