Behind four late goals and a hat trick from Afonso Pinheiro, FC Tucson finished the regular season with a win.
Pinheiro scored two of FC Tucson’s four goals in the last 13 minutes as the Men in Black (11-1-2) beat the Ventura County Fusion 5-2 at Kino North Stadium on Saturday night.
The three goals also gave the Brazilian and University of Albany forward a club-record nine league goals in the regular season.
“When you go through moments like this, something you’ve been striving for, you start to think about your family, the ones who love you and the ones that are back home,” Pinheiro said as he shed a tear. “It’s been really hard to be away from home and I know all my family’s been at home watching the games.”
In the 77th minute, second-half substitute midfielder Tate Schmitt scored to tie the match at 2.
Then a minute later, midfielder Pedro Espindola assisted on a goal by midfielder Zach Joens.
Pinheiro scored his second goal of the match in the 81st minute.
Then he earned a hat trick in the 87th minute after a back-heel pass from Schmitt.
FC Tucson had already clinched the Western Conference regular-season title while Ventura County was playing for its playoff lives.
A win for the Fusion would have put them in the playoffs. Instead, FC Tucson tied the club record for most league victories in a season.
The Men in Black had eight changes to their first XI from the side that started in Wednesday’s win.
“We played a lot of guys that didn’t have a lot of minutes and I thought they played really well,” said FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz.
FC Tucson jumped ahead early with a goal in the 16th minute when Pinheiro, despite being marked by two defenders and with the goalkeeper a few yards away, scored off an assist from Joens
In the 23rd minute, FC Tucson defender Kalem Scott gave up a penalty kick, which forward Reed McKenna converted for the Fusion.
Ventura County took the lead in the 46th minute after a shot from midfielder Ben Silva that midfielder Joseph Holland got the rebound on and scored.
In the 61st minute, usual starters Schmitt, Ozzie Ramos and Evan Waldrep came in for FC Tucson.
Three minutes later, Fusion starting goalkeeper Tyler Blackmer was surprisingly subbed out.
Up next for FC Tucson is the Western Conference playoffs on Friday. The Men in Black earned a direct spot into the Western semifinals.
“You can see that starting group is fired up and ready to go, it’s a great way to prepare for the playoffs,” Schantz said.