FIU stunned reigning national champion Marshall on Friday night
By Official Florida FC
Florida International started the 2021 season with a four-goal statement of intent. The Panthers ended it with an even bigger one on Friday night in Miami.
FIU (12-2-2) won the Conference-USA title with a comprehensive 4-1 win over No. 1 Marshall (11-2-3). The visitors are the reigning national champions and were unbeaten in their last 16 regular season conference matches. Marshall appeared well on its way once Max Schneider converted a 13th minute penalty kick to open the scoring.
Marshall’s advantage would not last long. Mauro Bravo responded with a 17th minute equalizer. FIU’s 6-foot-2-inch forward Rasmus Tobinski gave the Golden Panthers a 2-1 lead in the 35th when he headed home a corner kick from Matias Barraza.
FIU added goals from Stephen Afrifa in the 51st and Matteo Gasperoni’s first goal of the season in the 79th to cue the celebration.
FIU’s first-year coach Kyle Russell was lured to South Florida after a long tenure as an assistant at Coastal Carolina. He tactically prepared the Golden Panthers to jump on in-state foe UCF in his first game on the touchline back in August.
“Marshall is an awesome team, they are No. 1 in the country, but with that being said we trained for this all year long,” Russell said afterward. “Every practice mattered. We compete in games like every game is a championship game. So, this was nothing new for us. It was a total team effort.”
Russell’s transfer policy has helped him quickly revitalize the program. Tobinski is a transfer from Vermont while stalwart defender Kareem Riley is a graduate transfer from Florida Gulf Coast.
Riley and the rest of the Golden Panthers defense marshaled the visitors away from goal. The Thundering Herd produced one shot from open play over the 90 minutes – the last 30 of which were only played with 10 following Schneider’s 60th minute red card.
“Sometimes the luck and the officiating falls in your favor, as it has for us in the past,” Marshall head coach Chris Grassie told the school’s athletics website. “They play the match just as we play it, and you take what you can. So taking nothing away from them. They were intense and fired up tonight. Congrats to (head coach) Kyle (Russell) as well for his first trophy, always the sweetest.”
FIU has never won the regular season and conference tournament title in its Division I history. The Golden Panthers will kickoff the Conference-USA Tournament on Nov. 10 between the winner of Coastal Carolina and Florida Atlantic.