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Posted Jul 8, 2012, 8:54 am
FC Tucson entered the last four games of its inaugural season knowing that seven points would secure a place in the playoffs: two wins and a tie.
The win against BYU Friday night went a little way towards that, but the team couldn't slack during this last stretch. The Fresno Fuego closes the season with games against the two teams in the division with the worst records, and they'll surely get six points out of that and that could put them ahead of FC Tucson.
Pali Blues, the team from Pacific Pallisades that's been pinned to the bottom of the table for most of the season, defeated Fresno on Saturday night. It was only the team's second win this year.
"Just to get that second win," Silviano Barron, operations director for the Pali Blues, said after being asked about the team's motivation. "We are at the bottom of the table and it didn't sit well with anybody."
The Blues did what any coach would like to see a team do: they scored early. Forward Thomas Alessandro put two in the back of the net early on, giving the team a strong lead by the 18th minute.
"Right after the second goal, we sat back and absorbed," said Barron.
Fresno managed to take one back late in the game, and Pali's defensive efforts were hampered when a player was ejected. When the smoke cleared, Pali was still on top.
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Pali finishes their season on Wednesday with a game against the Ventura County Fusion. Despite the Fusion's strong record (ten wins, two ties and two losses), Barron thinks that his team can finish with another win. Ventura is already assured of a trip to the playoffs and two key players have moved on to higher level teams. The team is also coming off a rare loss to Fresno.
Pali's win leaves Tucson in an enviable position: the team only needs one point from the final three matches. A single tied game will get them into the playoffs. Barron's advice is not to let off the gas.
"Give it all you got. I've seen crazy stuff happen," he said. "Don't give up. Fight to the end."
Final home match
The team has three matches left, with their final home match on Sunday night against the Ogden Outlaws at 7 p.m. at Kino Sports Park. FC Tucson beat Ogden 3-0 in their last meeting in Utah, and the game marks the final match this season for the Outlaws.
The final two matches will be against the Southern California Seahorses on Wednesday and Orange County Blue Star on Friday. Both teams had been defeated by FC Tucson earlier this season.
Making the playoffs in their first season in the Premier Development League means FC Tucson would repeat a feat accomplished before by their conference mates Orange County Blue Star in 2001 and Fresno Fuego in 2003. Blue Star's success came after dropping from the second division and changing their name.
Papa called himself a jack of all trades
That the team's path to the playoffs has become so much easier likely comes as a relief to coach Rick Schantz. FC Tucson's back line, at times the best in the division, has been left thin by injuries, particularly to Travis Campbell and Kareem Smith.
It has led to a great deal of improvisation, with players playing in unfamiliar positions. They often have to switch roles in mid-match.
Dominic Papa, for example, was listed as the lone forward in Friday's game, but acted as a midfielder as time wore on. He has also been a defender both for FC Tucson and in his short stint this season with the San Antonio Scorpions. Having to change position from game to game, and even within games, is nothing new to Papa.
"When I was in college I was a forward, but I would rotate," he said. "I was always the utility man who understood the positions well enough that my coach could put me in any spot."
"It takes an extreme amount of discipline; to be able to handle a change like that in the middle of the game really is tough to do," he said. "Also, it's on our coaching staff. They've done a fantastic job getting us prepared for each game so that way, when we do make a tactical adjustment like that, we can handle it."
There is still one position Papa has not been called on to play: goalkeeper.
"I'm always ready. I've got a pair of gloves in my bag," he said with a laugh.