Close one: Last-minute save keeps FC Tucson in postseason
'Time to be a hero,' said Thompson of his 93rd-minute penalty stop
LAS VEGAS — FC Tucson has counted on goalkeeper Billy Thompson for a lot of saves this season, but none of those has been more spectacular than the one he had in their playoff game against LA Misioneros at UNLV's Peter Johann Memorial Field on Saturday night.
The team had made it to the second half against the scrappy Misioneros side with a 2-0 lead, but had let them back in in the 48th minute when Chris Smith delivered a long pass to Kyrian Nwabueze. The Nigerian forward, nicknamed "Kidd," found the back of the net and it meant that his team had a shot at equalizing.
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Tucson held on to their precarious lead until deep into extra time, when defender Austin Ledbetter nudged Nwabueze in the box. Despite cries of "embellishment" from the FC Tucson bench (that wasn't their exact word), the referee pointed to the spot for a penalty kick.
Nwabueze, none the worse for wear from the alleged assault, set up for the penalty. His shot traveled low and to Thompson's right. Thompson dove that direction and caught the ball in his belly for a rare penalty kick save.
"Billy once again stepped up. This guy is unbelievable," said defensive midfielder Peter Kelly, who scored the first goal for the team and had an assist on the second. "He's probably the best player I have played with. He constantly comes up huge."
"It wasn't completely new territory, but it's never much fun," said Thompson, who said that he'd never had to save a penalty kick that late in a match. "A lot of it is natural instinct. You are reading what he's doing ... trying to read you if he's trying to feign you off. It's a combination of things ... luckily it worked out for me."
"Time to be a hero," he said of his thought when the penalty was called. "That's why you are in the position. 90th minute, game in your hand, that's why you are in the position."
Tucson will host the Western Conference semi-finals and finals of the Premier Development League next weekend, the team announced Sunday afternoon.
Saturday's win puts FC Tucson in the semifinals along with Kitsap Pumas and Vancouver Whitecaps U23. The fourth team will be Ventura County Fusion, who won their late match against BYU Cougars, also in Las Vegas.
"Being the host site ... is just another example of Tucson’s vibrant soccer community," FC Tucson management said in a news release. "It's a testament to our fans' tremendous support all season long."