Fresno FC’s comeback falls short in inaugural USL match

Fresno FC’s Juan Pablo Caffa (left) battles Las Vegas defender Miguel Angel Garduño (right) for control of the ball during the inaugural United Soccer League match for both teams at Chukchansi Park, March 17, 2018. (Christian Ortuno/Clovis Roundup)

The excitement and buzz surrounding Fresno Football Club’s season opener wasn’t enough to fuel it to victory Saturday night at Chukchansi Park.

Facing the Las Vegas Lights, another team making its United Soccer League debut, the Fresno Foxes fell behind 3-0 before making a late push in a 3-2 loss.

“If we had a few more minutes, I think, we would’ve had the equalizer,” Fresno FC head coach Adam Smith said after the game. “If we continue to show that spirit and determination – that desire – then we’ll come on the upside more than the downside. I’m convinced of that.”

Los Zorros (Fresno FC’s spanish nickname) dug themselves into a hole early on when Las Vegas midfielder Matthew Thomas delivered shot into the bottom right corner to make it 1-0 just two minutes into the game.

Two more Las Vegas goals followed in the second half from Alex Mendoza (57th minute) and Joel Huiqui (63rd minute).

“It wasn’t the first goal [that hurt us], and it wasn’t the second goal, it was the third goal that killed us,” said Smith. “We were defensively lapsed for a few seconds in the game and we got punished. It’s always hard to come back when you get down three. We were close but tonight it wasn’t meant to be.”

Battling an uphill climb, down 3-0, the Foxes showed some life in the 73rd minute when Jemal Johnson delivered a powerful strike to record the first goal in the club’s history. Then, in the 89th minute, Renato Bustamante followed through on a Christian Chaney header off a Danny Barrera corner kick to cut Vegas’ lead to one.

“We’re a very tight group and we believe in ourselves, we believe in one another,” Bustamante said. “We know the game is 90 minutes, so we were fighting until the very end.”

The Foxes host LA Galaxy II next Saturday, March 24 at 7 p.m.