Miracles happen in soccer everyday. Landon Donovan's last minute gasp that put the United States into the second round of the 2010 FIFA World Cup is one of those miracles. Just last week, the Gold Coast Soccer Development League witnessed its own miracle.
The Academy, coached by Dan and Joe Meeroff, was expecting a spirit performance after last week's disappointing draw with Brazil, but they never suspected what would unfold on the night of December 15, 2013 at Cypress Park against powerfull and undefeated Club Atletico Boca.
The match began with the Academy on their defensive heels repeling wave after wave of attacks from the rampant visitors. In the 7th minute, Academy center back Moises Cedeno, back from a long absence with the team, brought down the Boca striker in the box and was sent off. The ensuing penalty kick was converted just past the fingertips of Academy netminder Andres Watson at full stretch. The alarm bells started ringing at the back when moments later, Hugo de Almeida was robbed of possession leading to Boca's second of the match.
At the half hour mark, a deadly Boca counterattack split the Academy defense and a brilliant chip from a sharp angle signaled Boca was three goals to the good. At this point, down a man and down three goals, it would have been understandable if the Academy would have crumbled, but instead a brave move by Stefano Bontempo was the catalyst that brought the Academy back from the dead. He dropped back into the center back role and took charge of the defense. He immediately organized the back line and commanded the team forward, starting a brilliant move that earned the Academy a dangerous corner kick on 38 minutes. Garrick Ferguson's tantalizing delivery into the six yard box asked the question, and the Boca defense failed to clear. The second ball landed perfectly for Bontempo who drove his powerful side volley into the roof of the net to signal the Academy's intentions to fight. Moments later on 42 minutes, a sweeping move initiated by Reinaldo Valles and Anthony Panchana picked out Roee Blicher's perfectly timed run between the center backs. Like a surgeon slicing through the defense, in one motion, Blicher's first touch wrong footed the onrushing goalkeeper and with his second touch, he patiently tucked the ball away to the opposite post. Now the game was at 3-2 with Boca clinging to a perilous advantage heading into the break.
At halftime, it the crowd that needed to catch their breath as a wildly well played first stanza came to a close. To all, it was clear that the game would hinge on the next goal, but which side would wrestle control of the match? The entertaining first half would just be a prelude to an amazingly intense final 45 minutes. Both sides threw all of their might into creating scoring chances but both defenses held firm. There were moments where the crowd held its breath but the scoreline remained 3-2 to Boca. That is until the hour mark, when Ferguson and Luis Bello combined to set Anthony Panchana free as the winger appeared on the right side of the park for the first time in the match. He picked up the ball angling to his right and glided past his defenders at full speed. He surged into the box and then blistered a low drive from a very tight angle that burst the side netting. The equalizer set off wild celbrations from the crowd who appreciated both the significance and the quality of the wonderfully taken goal. Now with the game in the balance, the Academy played its best soccer of the season. Constantly regaining possession of the ball in midfield, making its numerical disadvantage seemingly disappear and creating cunning attacks to combine with lone front runner Travis Brown, who was bracketed by three defenders all night but still found ways to be virtually unstoppable with the ball at his feet.
Another brave effort by Brown led to a dangerous free kick at the top of the box, but Bontempo's tantalizing drive from long range would whistle just wide of the post. But it would be an innocent ball taken at the heart of midfield by Blicher that would start the historic move that will long be remembered in the annals of south Florida soccer lore. On 74 minutes, Blicher received a pass in tight quarters, closely guarded by three Boca defenders, but he somehow managed to wriggle his way free and burst into the Boca half at blinding pace. He swerved away from a desperate challenge but continued marauding his way toward the Boca goal. He deftly touched the ball into Panchana's path who was blockaded by the right side of the Boca defense. The loose ball found its way to Brown. He cut inside taking on his defender and ripped a low shot that deflected slightly and before bulging the back of the net. The Academy had done it, they had the accomplished the impossible.
Down to ten men for all but seven minutes of the match and down three goals after a half hour of play, the Academy with its heart of a champion managed the mighty task of completing a ferocious and inexplicable fightback, but there was still work to do. With 15 minutes left to play, Boca turned on the pressure and tightened the screws, but could not find a way past the Academy defense marshalled by Bontempo and Stephan Marston. A pair of anxious moments towards the last five minutes were gobbled up by an imperious Andres Watson in the Academy goal. Even when the Academy were reduced to nine men at the end, the Boca side could not find a way to avoid the inevitable, as emotions erupted into pure joy at the sound of the final whistle. For the Boca side, it was disbelief and head scratching at how they squandered a three goal lead, but for the Academy and its supporters, it was all smiles as they witnessed an incredible resurrection from the dead and a stirring historic fightback that ended in storybook fashion.
For those who were there to witness history, it will be a game that will be difficult to forget. Final score: Academy 4 - Club Atletico Boca 3, believe it.