The fireworks started early for FC Tucson on the Fourth of July, as Pedro Espindola scored twice in the first nine minutes in a 2-0 win over first-place Albuquerque Sol FC on Saturday night.
The victory at Kino North Stadium avenged FC Tucson’s 1-0 loss to the USL-PDL Mountain Division-leading Sol in Albuquerque on June 6.
FC Tucson climbed within three points of Albuquerque, although the Sol have played one less game.
“We definitely talked about it all week long: it was ‘start fast and play together,’” said FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz. “I thought the back four was outstanding.”
Espindola, a midfielder, put FC Tucson ahead 1-0 in the fifth minute and then celebrated by taking his shirt off.
“Last night I was thinking about celebrations for the Fourth of July and the full house,” Espindola said. “I don’t know, I thought it was the right idea,” he said, laughing.
Official attendance was 2,024, the largest home crowd of the season.
In the ninth minute, Espindola scored again and he celebrated by jumping into Schantz’s arms and blowing a kiss to the largest grandstand.
“We call him ‘Pedrito’ — ‘Little Pedro’ — and he came and ran and jumped into my arms,” Schantz said. “I said, ‘You’re not my little brother.’ I tell them before the game, ‘I don’t know how your colleges are, but people are paying ... this is entertainment, not just sport.’”
The two-goal triumph gave FC Tucson the Golden Rattler trophy, as the team took the Southwest Showdown against the Sol 2-1 on aggregate scoring. The showdown has an away-goal rule, so had Sol scored on Saturday night, it would have won the trophy.
“We were talking about it on the bench: Trying to figure out how many minutes I could waste subbing as many players as I could,” Schantz said, laughing.
FC Tucson held on through five minutes of stoppage time in the second half to finish off the shutout.
Thomas Olsen started at goal despite surrendering three goals in the last PDL match on June 27 against the Real Colorado Foxes.
“Thomas was spectacular,” Schantz said.
Olsen was on the United States Under-20 World Cup team that made it to the quarterfinals last month.
The win gives FC Tucson a six-point lead over third-place Real Colorado in the race for the division’s other playoff spot.
FC Tucson has two games left in the regular season, both on the road.
FC Tucson improved to 6-2-4, while the Albuquerque Sol FC dropped to 8-2-1. The Sol suffered its first loss since May 17.
“We played as a team and we stuck together and it worked,” Espindola said.
FC Tucson wore red jerseys, white shorts and blue socks, instead of the usual all-black or all-red uniforms.
“They’re so we can rep the United States; it’s the Fourth of July,” Espindola said. “That’s the only time of the year that we get to use this kit.”