While South Florida soccer fans await the launch of David Beckham’s Major League Soccer team, they can support the hottest semi-pro team in America — the Florida Soccer Soldiers.
The North Miami Beach-based Soldiers, a collection of multinational local players, continued their improbable U.S. Open Cup run on Tuesday night by shocking the Division II USL Championship’s Charlotte Independence on the road in a dramatic 2-2 (5-4) shootout win to advance to the third round.
The Soldiers, who had already knocked off former NASL team Miami FC in the first round, were the only amateurs/semi-pro team to advance on the opening night of the second round of the all-comers national tournament. They will face the winner of North Carolina FC (USL Championship) vs. Richmond Kickers (USL League One) in the third round on May 29.
The Soldiers were on the brink of elimination, down 2-1 in the second extra-time period and down a man after Antonioni Gonzalez, a Venezuela native, was ejected with two yellow cards. But then 19-year-old Valentin Sabella, a 2018 graduate of MAST Academy, scored the tying goal in the 119th minute after he stole an errant back pass in midfield. Sabella dribbled around Charlotte goalkeeper Curtis Anderson, a member of England’s U19 national team, and slipped the ball in to force the shootout.
Sabella made the go-ahead penalty kick, and Venezuelan goalkeeper Bryant Martin – who also scored a PK — saved the attempt by Charlotte captain Enzo Martinez to seal the victory. Sabella has been one of the Soldier’s top players all season and was named to the Best XI of the United Premier Soccer League last season.
Adolfo Suazo scored the first goal for Florida with a 78th minute header. It was a chippy game with 12 yellow cards handed out, eight to the Soldiers.