Like last season, Celebration's boys soccer team's season ended one game short of the Class 5A state title game with a loss in the semifinals.
That's about where the similarities to last season end.
Last year the final game, a 7-2 loss to Miami Beach, was at home on the carpet of John Bushey Stadium. Saturday, the Storm played that game on the road -- on what Coach Chad Boudreaux called "largely a mud pit" in Miami against Felix Varela High in western Dade County.
Instead of a blowout, the game was tied 1-1 with 12 minutes left before Juan Valiente flipped a shot over goalie Horacio Parisi's outstretched hands for his second goal of the game and the game-winner.
"We dominated the possession, but it was hard to play our style utilizing our speed because of the field condition," Boudreaux said. "We did some things to hurt ourselves, but we just couldn't move the in the mud. And the stadium didn't have lights (hence the 3 p.m. start time) or a scoreboard, so we had to keep asking how much time was left. The state should be embarrassed that a state semifinal was held in such conditions ... I come from Louisiana where every field is next to or near a swamp."
Celebration (21-2-2) trailed 1-0 late in the first half when Luis Mora stuffed home a rebound of Fernando Abreu's free kick for his 29th goal of the year.
Boudreaux said there are other subtle differences between last year's team and this year's. Where the Storm got by mostly on its talent and were the sum of its parts in 2018, this year there was a new togetherness that created the dynamic of a 12th man on the field.
"Last year we had a lot of talent. This year there was that talent, along with camaraderie that made it feel more like a team than a family. We had kids that wanted to win for each other and for the whole team. Younger guys wanted to win it for the seniors."
The coach noted that the players gathered as a team during school one day the morning they found out a teammate's mother was battling Stage 4 cancer, and that when fellow senior Marco Di Damaso Totolero suffered a knee injury in the regional semifinal, Abreu chose to wear his fallen teammate's number the rest of the playoff run.
Those two, along with Mora and center midfielder Matuck Machado, are among the seniors that will graduate from this Storm team.
"We'll have a good group coming back next year, but next year's captain will be challenged," Boudreaux said. "There's something special about this team."
Varela (14-3-3) will play Lake Mary for the state title on Saturday at Spec Martin Stadium in DeLand.