FC Tucson fell behind early, struggled to find its usually sterling offense and watched the best season in its four-year history come to an end Saturday night.
Before 1,411 fans, the men in black lost 3-0 to Kitsap Pumas in the USL Premier Development League Western Conference final at Kino Sports Complex North Stadium.
FC Tucson fell just one win shy of making the Final Four, going 11-2-1 in the regular season and earning two postseason wins.
“It was great year. I’m not going to let one poor performance against a great team impact this as a franchise,” FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz said. “We had a record-setting year with wins, we won our first two playoff games in FC Tucson history and we scored over 40 goals.”
The FC Tucson offense that had been so sublime for most of the season struggled to click and the defense that rarely gave up more than a goal a game all year couldn’t handle the Kitsap counterattack.
Even at the end, with just eight men on the field due to two red cards and an injury, FC Tucson couldn’t hit the back of the net one last time.
“It wasn’t our day,” FC Tucson defender Greg Carter said. “They converted the chances when they had them. We weren’t clicking like we normally do.”
Kitsap, a team from Bremerton, Washington, took the lead in the seventh minute after defender Cory Keitz gained possession of the ball in Kitsap’s half. He distributed the ball and then charged forward to finish off a counterattack with a side-footed shot past sprawling goalkeeper Billy Thompson.
FC Tucson struggled to push the ball into Kitsap’s third, giving up the ball too easily on several occasions in midfield, and when it did create a threat its shots went wide of the goal.
In the final 20 minutes of the first half play switched with FC Tucson making more forays into Kitsap territory.
Even with two substitutions to start the second half — Vance Rookwood for Odaine Sinclair and Max Ornstil for Friday’s night last-minute goal scorer, Sebastian De Rada — FC Tucson still struggled to find anything creative.
Kitsap made them pay in the 55th minute when forward Miguel Gonzalez beat the defense and slotted the ball underneath Thompson to make it 2-0.
“The wheels fell off a bit,” Schantz said. The Pumas “are a good team. They’re tough. They do a lot of things we do to our opponents. I’ve got to give them credit.
“They were just quicker to every second ball. They were a little more anticipatory in their play. It’s just one of those things. You run into a buzzsaw.”
Kitsap, which played an extra 30 minutes Friday night and had to go to penalties to defeat the Ventura County Fusion to advance to the final, showed little signs of tiring.
The Pumas added a third goal by Justin Ortinau in the 63rd minute.
The scoreline could have been worse for FC Tucson had Thompson not made three big saves as the Tucson team found itself stretched while trying to play catch up.
FC Tucson forward Tommy Ramos received a red card in the 72nd minute for a tackle from behind and Rookwood was shown a red in the 97th minute.
To add injury to insult, standout forward Ricardo Velazco had to be helped off the field after suffering a leg injury in the 86th minute. He could not be replaced because FC Tucson had used up all its substitutions.
Kitsap finished with six yellow cards and had one player show a red that was eventually rescinded after protests, including Pumas assistant coach Cameron MacDonald coming out onto the pitch.
Referee Ramy Touchan showed a yellow to Keitz, which would have been his second of the night, but then changed the yellow to Ortinau.
Kitsap, the Northwest Division champion, has reached the postseason in five of its first six years and won the national title in 2011. The team from Washington is a professional club that has a long-term goal of playing in the USL Pro, the level above the USL PDL.
- Among those in the crowd for Saturday night’s match was former FC Tucson star midfielder/forward Donny Toia.
The 22-year-old, who is now a defender, took time out from his training with MLS club Chivas USA to see his old team.
Toia — who graced the fields in Tucson for Tucson Soccer Academy, Canyon del Oro High and Pima College — has started 13 matches for Chivas USA this season and made an MLS Team of the Week earlier this month.