4 goals and through: FC Tucson earns first-ever pro postseason spot
Win against Richmond means local side opens playoffs against, yes, Richmond
The must-win final match for FC Tucson at Kino North Stadium on Saturday night ended in victory against the visiting Richmond Kickers, but was not a sure thing for Los Tucsonenses for a long stretch of the game. The visitors earned the lead and nearly regained it before the home team took control late in the second half and won 4-2.
“It was just as I drew it up,” said coach Jon Pearlman with a dry, sardonic tone after the match.
Second-year pro Jonathan Bolanos gave the Kickers the lead in the 22nd minute. His left footed shot beat FC Tucson’s Wallis Lapsley from close range.
FC Tucson’s response came from Max Schenfeld, who left footed it past Richmond keeper Akira Fitzgerald, the league’s saves leader. It was Schenfeld’s first goal of the year.
Richmond nearly regained the lead in minute 40 with a point blank shot from Emiliano Terzaghi, the league’s leading scorer. Lapsley quickly interposed his body between Terzaghi and the goal and ended up blocking the shot with his throat. The referee checked out a visibly shaken Lapsley, and allowed play to continue after several moments.
FC Tucson used the restart to their advantage, getting the ball to Deri Corfe who quickly advanced upfield with no interference by any Richmond defender. When Fitzgerald took a step to confront him, he took a shot from outside the box that put Tucson in the lead for the first time, 2-1.
Early in the second half, Terzaghi made another try at the FC Tucson goal. This time, Lapsley knocked him down trying to get at the ball. Terzaghi easily buried the ensuing penalty kick, tying up the score once again.
Luca Mastrantonio didn’t let that stick for very long. The Italian defender headed the ball in from inside the box. The goal gave Tucson back the lead in minute 52.
It took only six minutes to extend the lead and all but put the game away. Shak Adams managed just enough space from the defender marking him to take a shot from inside the box. The normally sharp Fitzgerald looked helpless as the ball went by him.
The result left FC Tucson in fourth place on the final USL League One table, putting them in the playoffs for the first time since being a professional team.
Deja vu all over again
A quick check of the league table shows that FC Tucson’s first opponent will be the Richmond Kickers. Yes, they will be opening the playoffs against the same team that they just beat.
“It’s going to be a different game, obviously,” said game-winning goal scorer Luca Mastrantonio. “They are going to adjust to our strengths; they are going to come more prepared, even more willing to win.”
“They already knew they clinched the playoffs and sometimes that can give you a certainty,” he continued. “They are not going to have that next game. It’s either in or out.”
“I feel confident enough that we can go out there and play the same game,” said winger Shak Adams. “It could have easily been six goals our way. Me, Kevin and Charlie are going to try to get more chances to try to die down their game.”
A bit of history there...
It may be the first time for FC Tucson to get into the playoffs as a pro club, but it’s not their first time in a postseason. They made the playoffs in all but one of their seven seasons as a team in the Premier Development League, now known as USL League Two.
Two of those playoff runs were ended by Sounders U23. The first came in 2012, FC Tucson’s first season in the league. A team that included future US national team right back DeAndre Yedlin defeated FC Tucson 2-1. Tucson’s goal came from local soccer legend and current Real Salt Lake player Donny Toia.
Another FC Tucson legend, Edgar Reyna, scored for the local side as the team lost once again to Sounders U23 by the same margin in 2015.
Both times, Sounders U23 were coached by an old teammate of then-FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz: Darren Sawatzky.
Yes, that’s the one time FC Tucson coach and current coach of the Richmond Kickers.