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Posted Jul 9, 2012, 7:48 am
FC Tucson knew that only 1 point from the season's last three games would get them into the playoffs. They still put on a spirited fight against the Ogden Outlaws on Sunday night at Kino Sports Complex, but the 0-0 draw turned out to be the minimum they needed to get their first postseason berth.
Tucson played a strong game in the first half, with their first chance coming early from Carlos Montes. Dominic Papa also notched two shots, despite being marked closely by Ogden's Matthew Keuhl.
Tucson dominated possession in the half and kept Ogden's defense working throughout the first half, right up to the end when Eli Galbraith-Knapp staged a bicycle kick that sent the ball over the crossbar. Even though Tucson outshot Ogden 9-4, Tucson and Ogden ended the half the way it began: with zeroes on Field 5's scoreboard.
In the second half, Ogden found solutions to Tucson's midfield and tested the back line far more often. Ogden's Daniel Burnham and Ross Williams both had strong shots that Brendan Roslund punched away into safety.
Coach Rick Schantz knew that a draw would get his team into the playoffs, and tried to get the team into a more defensive shape. Just after the hour mark, he pulled forward Max Alvarez for the more defensive minded Aaron Long.
The team continued to play a high line in the back. They crowd demanded a goal and they wanted to oblige. It gave Ogden more looks at goal, the most dangerous came close to the eightieth minute when an Ogden forward was given too much room on the right. Roslund was forced to come out and confront the Outlaw, and the forward took the opportunity to shoot. Roslund was beaten, but Conor Spence had rushed back to head the ball away inches before it crossed the line.
Late in the game, Tucson's fiery Donny Toia got a card for dissent after complaining about an uncalled foul. The card puts him in danger of missing a playoff match.
Despite the frustrations and continued shots from Ogden, the game ended in a draw. It may have been the sort of result that soccer bashers complain about, but it was enough to guarantee a playoff spot for Los Tucsonenses.
The team still has two games left and both are on the road. They face the Southern California Seahorses on Wednesday and Orange County on Friday.
Goal keeper Brendan Roslund added another shutout to his growing collection. The match against Odgen marked his fifth clean sheet.
In addition to saves, Roslund stepped in to break up several Ogden attacks. Still, he credits the people in front of him.
"Tonight I think we played around the back very well," he said.
The back line has at times been improvised, with Travis Campbell out with long term injuries and Kareem Smith nursing his own troubled thigh. Tonight's back line included Donny Toia, who is better known as a forward.
"We just have to go in with the right mentality and get comfortable with each other," Roslund said of the changing cast in front of him.
"With Donny [Toia] and Reid [Schmitt] on the outside, I thought we were very fast and athletic," said Rick Schantz after the game about his back line. "Matt Linenberger and Conor [Spence] are getting used to playing together. I still don't think they communicate enough, but when they are protected by that pace on the outside I feel comfortable."
"But it's not me that needs to feel comfortable," he added.
As the half wore on, Schantz switched to a more defensive formation, often leaving substitute forward Junior Gbapou alone up top. He also tool out midfielder Eli Galbraith-Knapp for the 6' 7" UCLA defender Reid Hukari. Still, the team played with a fairly high line, something not typical of teams looking to kill off a game.
"That wasn't me," Schantz said. "Those guys don't want to tie, they are at home and the crowd is chanting 'We want three points.'"
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"And I don't fault them for that, they have my personality," he added.
The next stage
Midfielder Eli Galbraith-Knapp wasn't giddy, but was certainly not hiding his pleasure after his team secured a playoff spot.
"It was our expectation all along to be in the playoffs," he said. "We don't just want to do well in the league, we want to win the PDL."
"We are already looking forward to the next stage."
Even with the "next stage" out there, Galbraith-Knapp and his teammates have two games left in the PDL season.
"We're just looking at them as any other games," he said. "We want to stay sharp. We could still get first, and that would be amazing."
Galbraith-Knapp is right: Tucson could still come in first if they win both remaining games and Ventura County loses or ties its two final games. Whether in first or second, Tucson will be in the playoffs and will be facing off with a team in the Northwestern Division in the playoffs.
Because of the relative strength of the Northwestern teams, the top four do a playoff to see which two face the Southwest Division leaders.
The seasons for many of the Northwestern Division teams are over, so the top four is set: Seattle Sounders U-23 in first, followed by defending champions Kitsap Pumas, Portland Timbers U-23 and Washington Crossfire. There is a chance for movement within the top four, since three of the teams have one game left, including a contest on Wednesday between Washington and Portland.
A match-up with the Sounders would be an interesting one for coach Rick Schantz: the team is coached by former New England Revolution and Dallas Burn midfielder Darren Sawatzky. Sawatzky was Schantz's teammate when both played soccer at the University of Portland in the 1990's.
The original version of this article named Reid Hukari as a UCLA defender, this did not reflect his recent transfer to Denver University.