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Late-match goal salvages point for FC Tucson men

Toia opens ledger for team; Allen records assist

Sunday night, FC Tucson scrapped their way to a draw against Greenville Triumph SC in a game at Kino North Stadium in a match that saw Donny Toia’s first goal in an FC Tucson jersey since 2012.

The match started as so many FC Tucson matches have started: they kept the ball largely in Greenville’s side of the field and took shot after shot. As has happened so many times this season, it resulted in a grand total of zero goals for the home side.

Greenville had its forays upfield, and one paid off in the final moments of the match. Greenville’s Lucas Coutinho took a shot from the edge of midfield that slipped through Carlos Merancio’s hands. It was the Brazilian midfielder’s first goal of the season and the only shot he recorded in the match.

FC Tucson opened the second half in a frustratingly familiar position: having to chase the game. This time, it was against a team that has conceded the fewest goals of any team so far this season. It was hard for FC Tucson to break through, and only a set of substitutions just past the hour mark gave the local side some hope of an equalizer.

The 64th-minute substitution brought utility player Mueng Sunday and local soccer legend Donny Toia into the match and made the team into a 3-5-2 formation. Toia, still on limited minutes in his second appearance for the side, slotted in as a forward.

Still, it took time for the team to see Toia as a target, which became frustrating enough that Jon Pearlman threw his water bottle after imploring the team to pass to him. The incident earned Pearlman a yellow card and cheers from fans who had grown to dislike the refereeing crew.

The team did eventually get used to having another presence up top. In minute 84, Tyler Allen ran up the right almost to the end line. Just before he ran out of space, he sent the ball to the middle where Toia was waiting. Greenville keeper Paul Christensen, who was on the lookout for an oblique shot from Bedoya, wasn’t ready for Toia’s shot. The Tucson native’s strike easily found the back of the net. Toia picked the ball out of the goal and cradled it in his arm and ran it up field to the cheers of the 1785 fans in the stadium.

Allen described the sequence after the match.

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“I saw Danny (Bedoya) pick his head up and I pointed behind and he found me,” he said. “Donny made a phenomenal run into the box and I found his feet and it was a goal.”

Toia had another shot minutes later but it was saved. Shots by Sunday and Kaelon Fox ended up blocked by defenders who massed in the goal area. The whistle blew and many of the FC Tucson players went to the ground in frustration after a win that was so close escaped their grasp.

After the match, coach Jon Pearlman talked about his frustrations.

“We were good in moments in the first half; we had control of the game. But we were not goal-dangerous,” he said. “One defensive slip and a player of Coutihno’s quality makes it count.”

“I’m so proud of this team persevering…and it’s the will of the players. Tyler Allen has proven in the last three games that there is not a right back that’s playing better than him…he’s done his job,” he added.

The draw still leaves FC Tucson at the bottom of the table, but a win against Northern Colorado Hailstorm next week could go a long way to putting the team back in contention. Despite having a good run in the U.S. Open Cup this year (they beat MLS side Real Salt Lake), they have, like FC Tucson, had their struggles in the league. They are currently one spot above FC Tucson.

The Soccer Rabbi and Captain for Life

The coach for Greenville Triumph SC is a figure familiar to U.S. soccer fans of the 1980s and '90s: John Harkes. Harkes scored goals for the U.S. against Italy, Mexico and the Soviet Union (it was a while back). He won the very first MLS Cup with DC United and also won an American side’s only Interamerican Cup while with that team. He was the face of American soccer for over a decade.

In short, if you don’t throw around the word “legend” lightly, please feel free to do so in this case.

Harkes was a player who FC Tucson coach Jon Pearlman admired when he was coming up as a player, and he’s developed a good relationship with him as a coach.

“John is my best friend in this league,” he said. “We just spoke for a half hour about what he’s trying to do better for the league…we talked about the game, life…he’s such a gracious person and a great coach.”

“Sometimes you don’t know what you are going to get when you meet a guy that’s your hero, and he’s been above and beyond. He’s been a great mentor for me and a great competitor,” he added.

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