FC Tucson’s first chance to host a playoff match had all the makings of a historic night.
In front of a large and enthusiastic crowd, the FC Tucson offense that had an outstanding sum of goals this season was creating plenty of chances and had numerous moments to delight the 1,853 black-clad fans on Friday night.
It just needed one thing — the winning goal. But, with a team that seemed built for dramatics, it was only fitting that it took until the 94th minute for Sebastian De Rada’s header to give the men in black a 1-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps Under 23 team in a USL Premier Development League Western Conference semifinal at Kino Sports Complex North Stadium.
In the final minute of stoppage time, Ricardo Velazco’s corner at the north end of the field floated to an open De Rada, who met just about 2 yards from the goal and the ball sailed past the Vancouver defense.
“Immediately following the game, I told the team we’re going to do it again tomorrow,” coach Rick Schantz said. “It was our best game of the season. To me, it was a dream come true.
“A lot of times coaches say when you leave the chances on the field like we did it will come back to hurt you, but I didn’t feel that way at all. I told the guys on the bench, we’re getting closer and closer. It’s coming, It’s going to come.”
De Rada surprised himself on the winning header.
“Usually, I don’t make that run at the near post,” he said. “But it was late in the game, and there was less than a minute left and thought what the heck, make the run.
“It was a great ball from Velazco. I lost my defender. Maybe he didn’t see me because I’m one of the smallest guys on the field.”
FC Tucson secured the first playoff win in franchise history last weekend with the help of a stoppage-time penalty save.
The men in black will face the Kitsap Pumas in tonight’s Western Conference final at 7:30 p.m. at North Stadium. In a match that began almost an hour after its scheduled start time because of the prolonged first match, Vancouver had the better chances in the first five minutes.
But then Tucson made its first impression on the night when Velazco’s cross just missed connecting with Peter Kelly charging into the box. The ball rolled to Christian Volesky, whose shot was stopped by diving goalkeeper William Diaz.
In the 15th minute, Vancouver’s Reynold Stewart picked up a yellow card for a foul on Velazco. Two minutes later, Velazco was taken down again.
FC Tucson’s Edgar Reyna and Austin Ledbetter also spent extended stays on the ground after clashes with Whitecaps in the first half.
During a 20-minute stretch, Tucson heavily pressured the Vancouver defense. The men in black had numerous dangerous crosses go begging.
FC Tucson goalkeeper Billy Thompson pushed over a shot by Stewart in the 28th minute.
By the end of the scoreless first 45 minutes, the match clearly had the intensity of a postseason game.
The second half started the same way with both clubs threatening the other’s defense.
Volesky had a curling ball that missed the upper right corner by a yard in the 59th minute.
FC Tucson substitute Vance Rookwood looked like he might break the scoreless game when he made a great fake on one defender, had his stopped by a diving defender and then followed up the rebound with a shot stopped by the keeper.
It was an exciting night for all around.
“This crowd was impressive, not just for the size but for the intensity,” FC Tucson chief business officer Chris Keeney said. “It was as intense as we’ve ever experienced here. They want it as much as we do.”
- In the opening match, the Kitsap Pumas defeated the Ventura County Fusion 3-1 on penalty kicks to reach the final. Romanian Septi Danciu converted the winning penalty and scored in extra time for Kitsap. Ventura’s Rony Argueta scored in the final minute of the second extra-time period to send the match to penalties after Danciu scored in the eighth minute of the first extra-time period. The teams tied 2-2 at the end of regulation. James Kiffe and Agustin Cazarez netted goals for the Fusion, while Joaquin Rivas and Jesus Sanchez scored for the Pumas.
- The FC Tucson lineup card did not have a goalkeeper on the substitutes list. If starting keeper Billy Thompson had to leave the match, defender Edgar Reyna would have likely become the emergency backstop. Reyna played some goalkeeper during his days with Tucson Soccer Academy.
- Sunnyside High School students manned the cameras for the online broadcasts of Friday night’s matches. Former Blue Devil Esteban Sainz was the director for the broadcasts.