For much of the 90 minutes Friday night, it looked like FC Tucson was the team that had something to play for.
Having been eliminated from USL League One playoff contention on Tuesday, the Men in Black bounced back with a 1-1 tie against a fourth-place Forward Madison FC team that could have clinched a spot in the playoffs with a victory.
“I think it’s a little bit of a pride thing, nobody wants to come out here and lose,” FC Tucson midfielder Karsten Hanlin said. “I think everyone’s got to fight for the guy next to him and that’s what keeps us motivated.”
Playing with what was mostly a full-strength lineup, FC Tucson opened the scoring in the 31st minute when an unmarked Jordan Jones found himself unmarked at the edge of the six-yard box to head in a cross from Jose Carlos Terron.
Jones’ team-leading ninth goal of the season capped a flurry in which the Men in Black fired off four shots in a 20-second period.
“Terron got the ball out wide and played in a great ball,” Jones said. “We’ve been working on that in training a lot and when it comes together in a game, it’s great.”
Forward Madison evened the score at 1-1 just ahead of halftime after Kyle Venter was called for a penalty kick for fouling J.C. Banks inside the penalty area, with Don Smart converting the penalty kick.
“The guy’s running away from goal, it comes off his head and runs out of bounds and (the ref) calls a penalty,” Sawatzky said. “I thought it was a little soft, but I’m not a referee.”
FC Tucson had a nervy start to the second half, but goalkeeper Carlos Merancio made himself big to to deny Danny Tenorio from point-blank range to keep the score even in the 47th minute.
“Carlos is growing every day, and I think the sky’s the limit for him and it was huge for us,” Sawatzky said.
The Men in Black took control of possession for most of the remaining 30 minutes of the game, but were unable to put a shot on target after having four in the first half.
“We’re always disappointed to not get the three points, but it was important to come out strong like that,” Jones said. “We wanted the three points, but we’ll take it.”
FC Tucson forward Ilijah Paul, 17, made his first start for the team having made his debut as a late substitute Tuesday. Paul left the game in the 55th minute after being unable to shake off an injury to his knee minutes earlier.
Ramone Howell re-joined Phoenix Rising FC for the remainder of its USL Championship season.