Holding a 1-0 lead after four minutes in a match that had to be won, FC Tucson didn't exactly exude the personality of a team putting itself on the right track.
A blustery talk at the break and a second-half penalty save changed the mood, allowing FC Tucson to finish off the Ventura County Fusion 2-0 Friday night before 874 at Kino Sports Complex North Field No. 5. The win over second-place Ventura County keeps FC Tucson's playoff hopes alive.
FC Tucson reduced its deficit against Ventura County to six points with four matches to play. The men in black will need to beat the Fusion again Sunday on the same field to keep within striking distance of the second and final playoff spot.
On Friday night, it didn't take long for FC Tucson to draw first blood. Forward Dakota Collins picked the ball up on a long pass, fought off a defender and curled in a shot from 20 yards that bent around goalkeeper Sam Hayden and just inside the post in the fourth minute.
But Ventura County began to take control. In the 24th minute, FC Tucson goalkeeper Dallas Jaye had to go to ground to smother a shot by hard-charging midfielder Manny Guzman.
The teams combined for nine shots on goal, seven corners and 12 fouls as the teams headed to their locker rooms after the first 45 minutes.
"I think for the first time the guys heard me raise my voice," FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz said. "I got after them. I said this is not how FC Tucson is going to be known. We're not going to be a team that doesn't battle ... for everything, for every ball."
The players came out early to start the second half and huddled at the center circle while the Fusion players slowly returned.
The mental adjustment quickly became obvious as FC Tucson had some chances to double its lead in the first five minutes of the second half. Then, it appeared the match's second goal would belong to Ventura County.
While both were charging down a ball in the box, FC Tucson defender Edgar Reyna was called for bringing Kennedy Chongo down. On Anthony Salciccia's ensuing penalty, goalkeeper Dallas Jaye went to his right and pushed the shot wide and the ball trickled over the endline in the 59th minute.
"I thought that the save on the penalty won the game for us," Schantz said. "It kept momentum on our side."
Five minutes later, FC Tucson doubled its lead on a goal by Gabe Silveira. Ricardo Velazco dispossessed a Ventura County player at midfield then dribbled into the box. Before hitting the ground, Velazco pushed the ball to Collins, who then got it to Silveira. The Sacramento State senior-to-be cut to his left and let go a low shot that rolled into the net.
"It was a game we had to win," Silveira said. "It was a big-time win for us."
The men in black didn't sit back with the two-goal lead and kept the Fusion defenders on their back feet. In stoppage time, Ventura County goalkeeper Sam Hayden was forced to make two acrobatic saves to keep the scoreline from being worse for the visitors.
The teams will face off again Sunday at North Field No. 5. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
• Forward Justene Kesterson scored in the 88th minute to help Tucson Soccer Academy FC salvage a 3-2 victory over the Utah Starzz in the opening match of Friday night's doubleheader. Goals by Laura Pimienta (29th minute) and Madison Irwin (67th) gave TSAFC a 2-0 lead, but the Starzz answered with a pair to set up Kesterson's winner. TSAFC tops the Women's Premier Soccer League's Big Sky-North Division with the maximum 12 points in four matches. TSAFC returns to action Tuesday when it travels to the Phoenix Del Sol.
• FC Tucson dressed only one goalkeeper for the match - starter Jaye.
• What: Ventura County at FC Tucson
• When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday