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Posted Jul 1, 2012, 8:39 am
FC Tucson lost only its second game of the season as they fell to the 1st-place Ventura County Fusion on Saturday night at Kino Sportspark. Los Tucsonenses were shut out 2-0 in their first home loss this year.
It started well for Tucson as the team threatened for the first twenty minutes. But, in a story line that has become too familiar to fans of the team, Tucson's attack was unable to finish their chances.
Ventura County started to take control of the game and Francisco López found an unmarked Mickey Daly. Daly knocked the ball past Tucson keeper Brendan Roslund to put the Fusion ahead 1-0 in the 34th minute.
Daly celebrated in front of the Tucson supporters' group Cactus Pricks who recognized the taunt and booed him.
The half ended with Tucson down a goal.
Tucson was behind but didn't lack for chances in the second half. Despite Max Alvarez's shots and Donny Toia's dribbling past defenders, the team still could not find the back of the net.
Tucson's habit of scoring late-game goals could have tied the game, but hopes of one moment of late heroics salvaging the team's home streak were dashed when Ventura's Chris Tsonis scored off of a header in the 75th minute.
The goal was the second scored off of an assist from Francisco López, who took the opportunity to taunt the crowd. The last match between the two sides, on June 16, ended in a near-brawl, and López's demonstration increased the tension even more.
Ventura frustrated FC Tucson's attack in the closing moments of the game with a series of hard tackles. Some were called as fouls, but Tucson's appeals for yellow cards went unheeded by the referee.
Chris Tsonis beat FC Tucson's defense, leaving Roslund to come out of the box and strip the ball from the Ventura forward. While Roslund dribbled for several moments, using his comparatively massive goalkeeping frame to keep the smaller forward away from the ball. Tsonis's frustration led him to grapple Roslund, drawing a foul and jeers from the crowd.
Once again, there was no yellow card, but the cards would come soon enough. Tsonis earned his yellow while tussling with Donny Toia as Tucson set up for the free kick that was awarded for his earlier foul. Toia got his own yellow for dissent.
The late-game drama didn't culminate in a larger confrontation between the two teams as it had earlier in the month, but it also didn't result in any goals. The game ended 2-0, Tucson's first home loss and the first loss by more than one goal.
The result leaves Tucson in second place in the division. The team has a friendly against Municipio Juárez, a US Club Soccer side from El Paso, on Tuesday. Their next league match is at home on Friday against the BYU Cougars.
Does someone need to call Homer Formby?
FC Tucson recorded seven shots in the game, not as good as Ventura's thirteen, but still plenty of looks at the goal. Forward Donny Toia was the most productive by this particular reckoning: the final stats tallied three shots for the former Real Salt Lake forward.
It's a nice stat, but there is no league table anywhere in the soccer world that gives credit for trying to get a goal. It's not a new problem for the team.
"When we get chances we are not putting them away at a high enough percentage rate," said coach Rick Schantz after the game. "That's got to improve."
"Other than finding [Mario] Balotelli and asking him to come over next week. We just have to be patient," Schantz said referring to the Manchester City FC striker that scored both goals in Italy's win over Germany in the Euro 2012 semi-final last week.
Kareem Smith watched the game from the sidelines due to a quadriceps strain. The defender was missed, said Schantz.
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"He brings a sense of composure to the back," Schantz said of the former Trinidad and Tobago international. "We were hitting too many long balls out of the back," he continued, indicating the desperation that sometimes hit the back line.
"We are our own worst enemy, making mistakes in the back," he said. "That's what a good team does: punish you for your mistakes."
Dominic Papa thought that Ventura may have had a bit of extra motivation. The closest thing to a home defeat that the Fusion has had was the 1-1 draw that Tucson secured against them.
"They came out with a little chip on their shoulder and you could tell that they were looking for a little revenge for what we did to them at their place," the defender said.
The Ventura County Fusion has had a very successful season by any measure. The team has notched ten wins with only one loss and two draws. The also made it into the third round of the U.S. Open Cup after beating the Los Angeles Galaxy.
So, reporters looking for Fusioneers talking up their own team's virtues could expect some good material. Not necessarily.
"Well, thank you," demurred Ventura coach Ole Mikkelsen when asked to comment on his team's strong performance.
"The conditions are tough; they are a good team," he said. "We were lucky to get two goals."
"Hopefully, it was an entertaining game for everyone watching."
"It was a tough game," said Fusion midfielder Rodrigo López.
"We're the two top teams in the division and it's one of the strongest divisions in the PDL."
"I give all the credit to FC Tucson for hosting this game and having such a nice venue," he continued.
"We beat a very good Tucson team. All the credit to them."
Despite the humility that he brings, López was a big part of his team's victory. He didn't show up on the stat sheet (that would be the other López, Francisco, who got assists on both goals), but his near-perfect passes from the midfield created many of the Fusion's chances.
López is also an example of the experience and firepower that the Fusion bring to the field. His career includes time with CD Chivas USA, Portland Timbers and even a short stint with Mexican club Querétaro FC.
The team also includes Travis Bowen, who spent time in the Galaxy's youth system, Tim Pontius, Seattle Sounders draftee and brother of DC United scoring ace Chris Pontius as well as San Jose trialist James Kiffe.
The win gives Ventura some distance ahead of Tucson at the top of the table and on track to finish in first place. Baring a collapse, the team will be in the playoffs, facing off with the winner of a tough Northwest conference. López isn't thinking about it yet.
"We're focused on winning this conference," he said. "We look forward to Fresno on the Fourth of July. We look forward to winning that game and clinching first place soon."