The Fresno Fuego lost its bid to clinch the PDL Southwest Division title.
Fuego fans came out roaring to Chukchansi Park last Thursday hoping to celebrate a division title with a win. The battle against No. 2 Golden State Force FC from San Francisco ended in a 3-3 tie. A victory last Saturday at Orange County Fusion would have sealed it for the Fuego, but that match too ended in a tie at 4-4.
Fresno failed to clinch the division tying its last two regular-season matches. The Fuego finished behind No. 1 Golden State Force FC and moves to the Premier Development League (PDL) postseason, but without the Southwest Division title. The Fuego ends the regular season at 10-2-2.
Nearly 1,100 fans attended the match against then-No. 2 Force on July 13 in Fresno.
“We’re professionals, so we’ve been there before,” said Fuego captain Milton Blanco on Monday.
“We’ve made it to the regionals. Hopefully if we can win there, we can make the nationals. I think we have some experienced players to do it.”
Fuego players will depart this Thursday for Tucson. On Friday, Fresno faces Mountain Division Champion FC Tucson, who has won the division four-consecutive times.
The Force, which won its final regular-season match 6-0 over visiting San Diego Zest last Sunday, won the division and also advances to the playoffs on a 10-1-3 record.
“Credit to Golden State; they’re a really good team. They came here prepared,” said Fuego midfielder José Cuevas of the Fuego-Golden State match on July 13. Cuevas left the match late in the second half due to a sore right leg.
Fuego forward Renato Bustamante opened the scoring just under the 10-minute mark for a 1-0 advantage. Golden State equalized the for 1-1 in the 20th minute and teammate Pedro Fonseca made it 2-1 at the 30th minute.
Fuego players Joey Chica and second-half substitute Fellipe Souza each scored to go up 3-2, but in stoppage time, Golden State’s midfielder José Carrera-García found the upper-right corner of the net off a corner kick to tie the match.
“Obviously the ball fell just right for the right guy. He made a great shot. We have to give him credit for that, but we were disappointed to concede the corner in the first place,” said Brian Zwaschka, who is also the Fresno State women's soccer coach.
“Overall I think we played a pretty good game. We dominated for the most part,” said Cuevas.
Fresno finished the night with 11 shots on goal to the Force’s 3.
“We’re still in the position we want to be coming into the season this late. We know that we’re in first place if we win our last game,” said Blanco, “It’s disappointing. We wanted to win in front of the crowd.”
Former Fuego player Luis Nájera was suited up for the Force. Nájera plays for Pomona State University. He’s spending the summer playing the PDL with the Force.
“The crowd and the Fuego is something they always have; you can never break it. It’s something special for the Fuego,” said Nájera, who added that he cheered on the tying goal, but said “It hurt a little really deep inside.”