Fresno FC did exactly what head coach Adam Smith had asked the team to do: Score early, shell-shock Portland Timbers 2 and probably get another goal or two.
Defender Ramón Martín Del Campo and midfielder Arun Basuljevic delivered Saturday night before a boisterous crowd at Chukchansi Park to lead the Foxes to their fifth consecutive win following a 2-1 USL Western Conference win.
With the victory, the Foxes remain in third place at 10-2-7 (37 points), behind Phoenix Rising FC (12-5-2) and Reno 1868 (11-5-4).
“I wanted us to get an early goal,” said Smith. “I made that clear in the team talk. I felt that Portland is a team that is not used to the heat. They had to travel, and trained yesterday at 1 o’clock in the afternoon.
Del Campo timed a corner kick from Mickey Daly in the fifth minute of play and headed the ball past Portland goalie Aljaz Ivacic only minutes after the Fresno Fire Squad had completed its opening-game chant.
Fresno FC had gone the entire season without scoring on a corner kick until scoring twice in the last two games. Saturday night made it three.
“It’s just a different focus in the training sessions,” said Del Campo, a returner from last year’s inaugural squad. “We didn’t really give much attention before to set pieces. That’s the reason Mickey and myself stayed after training and practiced to get the timing right.”
Practice paid off.
Smith also credited assistant coaches Robert Earnshaw and Leigh Veidman for putting more attention on corner kicks.
“I’m very happy with that,” said Smith.
Del Campo believes the team is clicking now.
“The mindset is different. We’re just trying to focus on one game at a time,” he said. “Each game is like the final. The focus is tremendous, and the confidence is riding super high.”
Del Campo paid tribute to the Fire Squad and the Vigilantes fan groups following the match. As has become a tradition, he draped a Mexican flag over his shoulders, grabbed a megaphone and led the crowd on a chant.
“It’s hugh,” said Del Campo of the fan support. “I wear my colors on my sleeves. At the end of every game, it’s like a battle. We get together as a family and celebrate.”
That celebration was threatened when Portland’s Ryan Sierakowski capped a counterattack and scored in the 47th minute to cut the score to 2-1.
However, Fresno FC goalkeeper CJ Cochran and the defense tightened up its play to preserve the win.
Basuljievic scored on a nifty play in the 19th minute when he juked past two defenders and blasted a right-footed shot into the net.
He had a chance to score another goal in the second half when he broke past the defense but saw his shot sail left of the goal.
Smith will take the win.
“The season is just over halfway. Every game is a cup final,” said Smith. “Every team wants to win. It’s such a close league. We’ll just keep trying to get wins and put points on the board.
Fresno FC hosts Las Vegas Lights FC Aug. 3 at Chukchansi Park. Game time is 7:30 p.m.