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SF City Momentum Builds With 2-1 Win Over Fuego

By Gabe Zitrin

Behind first half strikes from Gerardo Mendoza and Davi Ramos and a feisty, tough defensive line, San Francisco City FC continued their winning ways at home with a 2-1 win over Fresno Fuego on a bright Sunday afternoon at Negoesco Stadium. The win and the three points that go with it vault the Iron and Gold into second place in the scrum that is the Premier Development League’s Southwest Division.

Against an opponent that had won all three of its PDL matches to start the 2017 season, SF City came in with some momentum themselves after their 3-2 comeback win a week earlier over Ventura County Fusion. And in front of a screaming crowd of Northsiders and other dedicated fans, their momentum netted them a game-changing goal just eight minutes in through Mendoza’s brilliant volley. Midfielder Danny Kirkland lofted a long cross-field ball for Mendoza near the edge of the Fresno box, and Mendoza chested the ball down and craftily backed his defender off while letting the ball bounce twice to set up his shot, before rocketing it over goalkeeper Agustin Rey.

SF City continued to battle in midfield to maintain control of the game, and Mendoza nearly had a second from a tight angle in the 21st minute after outmuscling his defender, but this time Rey parried the ball away with a smart reflex save. SF City were able to continue to press and to limit the Fuego to half-chances before they extended their lead in the 36th minute through three USF players combining for a goal on their home field. Right back Manny Padilla’s cross was chested up in the box by Ramos for Bryce Kaminski, whose struggle with his defender saw the ball bounce perfectly back to Ramos, who finished emphatically from close range.

The home squad managed to close out the first half with a two-goal lead, but Jose Cuevas gave them a scare with a sharp run down the right channel and a shot that forced a quality save from Weekes for the Fuego’s best chance of the first half.

Cuevas figured prominently in the major events of the second half, beginning in the 58th minute. He lofted a free kick into the SF City box, and after SF City defender Ben Brewster and Fuego attacker Carlos Delgadillo collided, the referee whistled Brewster for a foul and pointed to the penalty spot. Cuevas was the man chosen to convert the attempt, but he skied his spot kick well over the bar.

He wasn’t out of the fight for long, though, and scored from close range just ten minutes later after Weekes’ diving save on Renato Bustamante. The SF City keeper’s only real option was to push the ball wide, and Cuevas made a darting run onto the ball to finish from a tight angle. The Fire Squad, consistently the largest and loudest opposing fan group to appear at SF City home matches, erupted, and redoubled their efforts to spur their players on to the second goal they’d need to take something from the contest.

But though they had the lion’s share of the chances after pulling within one, and though defender Trevor Spurgeon’s 81st minute cross skidded past the entire SF City goal just inches from the line, there was no equalizer to be had. As they had against Ventura, SF City burned the clock with determined holdup play and managed enough scrambling clearances as the game wound down to secure a slim victory.

Some good news for the away fans, Fresno Freeze FC managed a 1-0 win over the San Francisco Nighthawks in a back-and-forth Women’s Premier Soccer League match earlier in the day on the same field.

From here, Fresno Fuego return home to face San Diego Zest on Thursday, and San Francisco City FC head South for a Wednesday rematch with the Fusion in Ventura.

Revenge the Theme as SF City Host Fresno Fuego

18518081_1669474589749142_4623843532742197830_oBy Gabe Zitrin

Two historic Northern California clubs and two of the loudest supporters’ groups in the West — there’s rarely been a lull in the action when San Francisco City FC meets Fresno Fuego, and there isn’t likely to be one when they meet Sunday either for a 1pm kickoff at Negoesco Stadium.

Though both teams in the Premier Development League’s Southwest Division have undergone a host of roster changes from a year ago, no one in either legendarily noisy fan-base will forget the controversy of that year, when the Fuego were forced to forfeit their home match to SF City after accidentally exceeding the number of permitted substitutions. And neither fan-base will forget the Fuego’s revenge either, as they won 2-0 against SF City at Kezar Stadium two months later to eliminate the Iron and Gold from PDL playoff contention.

Off to a blazing 2017 start worthy of their name, the Fuego have won all three of their Premier Development League games this season, outscoring their opponents 11-2. Jose Cuevas’ four goals lead the way for Fresno, followed by Joey Chica’s three. Each punished SF City rivals Burlingame Dragons with two in a game earlier in the season, and both will look to continue to feast on Bay Area opponents.

SF City, meanwhile, are fully rested after a hectic opening to the season, and won’t be playing on the second of back to back days as they were in last year’s home loss. They’re also increasingly confident that they can handle whatever challenges are presented to them in their new mountaintop home — last-minute heroics have been the theme of their home games so far, with Bryce Kaminski’s 90th minute header earning a draw with the Dragons, and Carlos Carranza’s one-time strike capping a three-goal comeback in last week’s 3-2 win over Ventura County Fusion.

Down 2-0 a half-hour in on two Fusion goals against the run of play, SF City rebounded brilliantly behind captain Danny Kirkland, whose penalty kick and free kick goals tied the score before the half, giving SF City the momentum they needed coming out of the locker room. One beautiful buildup and one game-winning goal from Carranza later, they took home three much-needed points in the PDL Southwest Division standings. With two teams with perfect records ahead of them, including Sunday’s opponent, SF City won’t be able to take a game off in their push for Division supremacy.

Fans who arrive early to Negoesco will get another treat — as they did last year, the San Francisco Nighthawks of the Women’s Premier Soccer League will host the Fresno Fuego Ladies for an opening match, beginning at 11am. The two teams drew 1-1 last year at Kezar and will be battling every bit as hard as the men will for points and bragging rights alike.

SF City Come Back to Down Ventura County Fusion 3-2

DSC_0829By Gabe Zitrin

Backs to the wall, down 2-0 at home to a team they defeated earlier in the year, San Francisco City FC pulled together to put together an exciting 3-2 comeback win over Ventura County Fusion on a blustery Sunday afternoon at Negoesco Stadium.

Niklas Korber’s two first-half strikes for the visitors were cancelled out before the break by two SF City captain Danny Kirkland, and Carlos Carranza’s goal early in the second half would prove to be the game-winner. With the win, SF City jumps in the Premier Development League’s Southwest Division standings, but needs to continue the effort to get into playoff position. Still, Head Coach Paddy Coyne will feel better about those prospects as his triumphant return to the sidelines was greeted by his players with a number of scrappy, physical performances and a strong show of will in the face of adversity.

SF City started brightly, spending much more time in the attacking third and forcing two reflex saves from the Fusion’s Max Watkin, first Carranza off a pretty 7th minute layoff from Bryce Kaminski, and then Kirkland off one of his trademark free kicks. But it was the visitors struck first against the run of play in the 16th minute when Sumara Sulieman’s shifty run along the top of the box ended with him playing the ball to Korber in the left channel, and Korber had plenty of time to get off a shot that gave goalkeeper Keenan Weekes no chance and Ventura County the lead.

If SF City’s fans were frustrated by the first goal they were downright stunned by the second, which came in the 30th minute off a confused and inadequate effort to clear the ball following a Ventura corner kick. This time Korber saw the ball deflected to him right on his shooting foot, and he enthusiastically fired home from point-blank range.

The team responded splendidly. “We were the better side up to that point,” said center back Ben Brewster of confronting the deficit. “We were creating chances, we were confident that the way were playing was fine. If we could get one back before halftime we’d be fine, and we wound up getting both back.”

Trust in their abilities brought them the goals they needed to do it. In the 38th, Gerardo Mendoza’s run down the right saw him play Beqaj into the right channel of the Fusion box, where the Cal man drew a nasty collision from his defender, and the referee pointed instantly to the spot. Kirkland calmly sent Watkin the wrong way and cut the lead to one.

It vanished altogether just four minutes later after a Kirkland free kick. The captain beat the wall from just beyond the center of the box, and although Watkin got his hands to the ball, he couldn’t hold onto the shot. With both sides desperately trying to get to the ball as it hit the ground, it wound up sneaking inside the post to level the score.

For his part, Coyne credited not only Kirkland’s role on the field in erasing the 2-0 deficit, but also his role as a leader. “Our captain spoke to the players, and they went out there and won that penalty through pressure, and scored that, and then the energy was high again, and then we brought it level.”

With most of the momentum coming out of the locker room, SF City pressed for the lead in the early second half and found it through a well-worked team goal. Substitute Edu Calvo-Salinas, on the most dangerous of his many threatening runs on the afternoon, found right back Manny Padilla, who played a nifty square ball into the center of the box. Carranza ran onto it and made no mistake with his one-time shot, putting SF City into the lead for the rest of the match.

Ventura County’s attempts to tie the score as the game went on rarely troubled Weekes, but they did force a number of awkward clearances and desperate scrambles in the box for the SF City defense to deal with. It was SF City who were came the closest to adding to what would be the final scoreline, when in second half stoppage time Christian de Luna found Chris Kennedy over the top with the offside trap beaten, and Kennedy forced a stretched save from substitute Fusion goalkeeper Eric Kam before SF City’s Bernardo Berardinelli’s rebound shot went over the bar.

As they try to build on the momentum of the moment, SF City remain at home next week, when they host the Fresno Fuego at Negoesco at 1pm on June 4. The Fuego are known for bringing along a large and vocal continent of road fans, so SF City will look to pack the stands with as many of the faithful as possible.

Both Teams Need Strong Showing in SF City-Fusion Rematch

18518081_1669474589749142_4623843532742197830_oBy Gabe Zitrin

Coming off a tough loss is a challenge every soccer player will know at some point in his life, and an opportunity that every team now and then must seize to pull together to right their ship. San Francisco City FC will get that opportunity at 1pm Sunday at Negoesco Stadium as they look to move past last weekend’s defeat away to Burlingame Dragons by taking down Ventura County Fusion.

Despite the difficulties of their trip down the Peninsula a week ago, SF City have a few factors going in their favor — a full week’s rest, the return of head coach Paddy Coyne after a two-match absence, and the still-fresh memory of having defeated the Fusion once already, a comfortable 3-0 triumph in Ventura on May 6. The second-half outburst, with goals from Bryce Kaminski, Danny Kirkland, and Ben Brewster, was all the more impressive given that SF City had played a full 90 minute competitive match the previous day.

The Fusion have an impressive history in the PDL, and their 2016 incarnation featured three first round picks in the 2017 Major League Soccer draft. They’ve recovered a bit from their home loss to SF City, with a win and a draw since then, and last year avenged a similar home loss to SF City by winning in San Francisco later in the year, a feat they hope to repeat Sunday afternoon.

Either team could use the three points on offer as the Southwest Division of the Premier Development League is starting to crowd in the middle after four weeks of action, and mid-division teams don’t make the PDL playoffs.

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SF City Announces 2017 Broadcast Partnership and On-Air Talent

SF City FC is proud to announce its official broadcast partner with JHarrel Productions for the 2017 Season. All home games will be streamed in high definition for the rest of the 2017 home slate including this weekend’s upcoming match with Ventura County Fusion! On the call providing play-by play and analysis is Charles Wollin.

Now in his 3rd season as commentator with SF City, Wollin is a British born Marin native and dual-citizen. Wollin currently serves as the voice of the W.tv’s coverage of soccer broadcasts at the University of San Francisco. He has been calling Division I College Soccer since 2009, including stints at Stanford University and Santa Clara.

Wollin is one of the lead voices of Street Soccer USA and their National Cup campaign program across the United States. In 2015, he became a sideline reporter for Comcast and BAOSN.tv where he covers the high school football and basketball game of the week broadcasts.

In 2014, he travelled to Brazil to cover the FIFA World Cup for the full duration of the tournament. His prior work experience also includes calling matches for the San Jose Earthquakes, National Premier Soccer League, and Tourbeau Sports Network. He has also been a featured pundit and impersonnator on Fox Soccer Channel and Wynalda Talks Football on Sirius XM. Wollin began his career at his alma mater, the University of Arizona, covering men’s basketball for Zona Zoo TV.

In addition to broadcasting, Wollin is a professional impersonator, voiceover artist, activist and is a proud Member of the San Francisco Spikes. You can follow Charles Wollin on Twitter @cwollin.

Jason Harrel is the creator and main broadcast director for JHarrel Design. A native of Portland, Oregon. Jason has had the opportunity to work with many teams throughout his young career. Before switching to live broadcast, Jason spent time as a Media Relations contact for teams such as the Portland Timbers and San Jose Earthquakes. In 2015, Jason decided to take a step back from writing and take a stab at motion graphics and video production. Since then, Jason has hit the ground running running with the Atlanta Silverbacks of the NASL and the Atlanta Blaze of Major League Lacrosse as the main contact for all their digital and video content.

Jason grew up in Portland, Oregon and got his undergrad degree from Western Oregon University. He is wrapping up his master degrees in Motion Graphics and Media Communications and Media Technologies at the Academy of Art in San Francisco.

Wiesenfarth keys 5-0 Burlingame defeat of SF City

By Gabe Zitrin

Matt Wiesenfarth’s banner day was too much for San Francisco City Football Club, as the UC Davis product scored four goals and assisted on a fifth as SF City went down 5-0 on the road to Burlingame Dragons. The loss, on a sunny and even hot afternoon at Burlingame High School, sees SF City drop to the middle of the Southwest Division as they await an opportunity to climb back up in the standings.

A week after the two teams drew 1-1 in SF City’s home at Negoesco Stadium, the rematch proved not to be as closely fought even from the opening minutes. A second-minute cross from the right side found Wiesenfarth with just enough space at the far post, and he bounced his one-time header past SF City goalkeeper Alex Clewis for an early Dragons lead that they would hold for the rest of the match.

City answered with a quick scoring push, as they would for most of the afternoon after conceding, but could never push one past Dragons goalkeeper Remi Prieur. Instead, they fell further behind as Wiesenfarth found Jamael Cox in the 20th minute with a throughball in the left channel. Cox was nearly dispossessed on his way through but stuck with the play and forced his way in on goal, finishing low past Clewis and putting SF City in a 2-goal hole.

Cox returned the favor just two minutes later, sending in a long ball for Wiesenfarth that split the center of the SF City defense. Wiesenfarth had enough speed to chase the ball down and fire from close range, giving Clewis no chance and Burlingame an intimidating halftime lead.

Backs to the wall, SF City came out firing in the second half and managed its best chances of the match, having a goal disallowed for offside and then forcing two point blank saves from Prieur in quick succession. But the visitors couldn’t sustain that energy, and Wiesenfarth finished off his hat trick in the 55th minute to finish off an impressive display of ball movement from the Dragons.

With the outcome no longer in doubt, SF City did begin creating more chances from the run of play. Halftime substitution Davi Ramos was especially active, taking a Gerardo Mendoza throughball to work himself space for a cross from the righthand side in the 65th minute and sending it in towards fellow substitute Johannes Demarzi, whose one-time shot hit the side netting. Ramos then tried to play provider for Robert Hines with a pretty ball flipped over the Dragons defense, but Hines was at a difficult angle and pulled his shot just wide.

Wiesenfarth’s final goal of the afternoon was just gravy for Burlingame, and the result of good fortune more than his others. Second-half substitute Diego Lopez’s cross from the left side was deflected off a defensive foot, which somehow sent it right to Wiesenfarth’s head for a close-range header that Clewis did well just to get a hand to on its way in.

SF City have a week to work out their issues, as they return home to face Ventura County Fusion on May 28, hoping to rediscover the form that saw them win 3-0 in Ventura County earlier this month.

SF City, Burlingame Prepare for Sunday Rematch

12291976_1164940326869240_5020029319596861803_o (2)By Gabe Zitrin

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. If no one succeeded in your first rivalry game of the year — a tense 1-1 draw that ended with a 90th minute equalizer and one stoppage time near-miss apiece — your second one eight days later should be one firecracker of a match.

So it will be when San Francisco City Football Club heads to the Peninsula to take on Burlingame Dragons, at 4pm on May 21st at Burlingame High School, after Bryce Kaminski’s header earned SF City a point at home at Negoesco Stadium on the 13th. Burlingame’s Matt Wiesenfarth opened the scoring for the Dragons earlier in the second half with a one-timed shot from the top of the box, but the visitors couldn’t quite hold the lead to the final whistle.

SF City is coming into the match the more rested of the two sides, and maybe the one with more momentum, after the Dragons’ 2-1 midweek defeat in U.S. Open Cup competition. But Burlingame dominated possession for stretches of the Negoesco match, and will be eager to take more than a point from a rematch in front of their home fans.

The early goings of the nine-team Southwest Division of the Premier Development League have been as chaotic as advertised, but what is clear is that each of these teams will almost certainly need to take points off the other in their three games this season if they want a spot in the PDL playoffs when the regular season is over. SF City’s roller-coaster season shows no signs of settling into a pattern after their third match, with one entry each in the win, loss, and draw columns. But they have shown flashes of their ability to take over long stretches of games and finish enough scoring chances to be a force in the Southwest.

Despite stretches of quality play on Saturday, the Dragons, an affiliate of Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes, have started slowly in their first year under former Earthquakes goalkeeper and U.S. international Joe Cannon. Their goal against SF City was well-worked and well-finished, but it also remains their only goal of the PDL season after three matches, and they will need a better showing against SF City on Sunday to register their first win.

Just as intense as the battle on the field is the growing rivalry between the two fan bases, as each has pretty easy access to the other’s home base just 15 miles away. SF City’s Northsiders supporters group is planning a noisy appearance at its usual perch at the far side of Burlingame High’s bleachers, and the history between these two sides has proven that the Northsiders know how to influence a match from the stands. Their leadership has long let it be known that they need and expect all the help they can get from SF City fans who make the brief trip South to cheer on the Iron and Gold.

SF City will be without head coach Paddy Coyne for the second straight game, after a sideline collision with an opposing player of FC Golden State Force in the season opener. In his absence, assistant coach Shaun Ramsden once again has the reins, and a rested and fully stocked roster to work with. Coyne is scheduled to return for SF City’s May 28 home clash with Ventura County Fusion.

SF City Draws Burlingame 1-1 in Tense Home Opener

By Gabe Zitrin

Late heroics, hard challenges, screaming fans, a sun-drenched setting — San Francisco City FC’s 2017 Premier Development League home opener had everything except a winner, as they finished drawn 1-1 with local rivals Burlingame Dragons. A 90th minute header by SF City forward Bryce Kaminski cancelled out a 61st minute one-time strike by Burlingame’s Matt Wiesenfarth, and the two teams will have to wait at least eight days until their rematch on the Peninsula to claim full bragging rights in the derby.

The game started under bright sunshine before a strong pro-City crowd, and the Iron and Gold obliged their fans by starting strong themselves, with Carlos Carranza drawing the biggest applause of the first half for a weaving 13th minute run that beat several defenders but ended in a toe-poked shot that went inches wide. Wiesenfarth let it be known soon after that he would be the toughest man for SF City to contain on the day, as he worked a left-footed shot for himself in the 21st minute that drew a full-extension, fingertip save from SF City’s Alex Clewis.

The visitors remained in control for much of the first half, and after a near miss from distance by Elli Padilla, it was Wiesenfarth who created the best chance of the half. The UC Davis man stole the ball in an advanced position in the 41st minute and drove in on goal, laying the ball off to Diego Lopez. But SF City’s John Quintanilla was alert and saved Lopez’s shot off the line to send the game into the break scoreless.

15 minutes after the half, the Dragons finally broke the deadlock, as Gabe Silveira made a long run down the left sideline and cut the ball back into the box for Wiesenfarth, who expertly kept his shot down and gave Clewis no chance to save. With strong spells of possession, and crisp passing, it looked as if the visitors might send SF City’s first crowd of the year home grumpy. But SF City’s attacking quartet of Kirkland, Kaminski, Bobby Edwards, and substitute Ashley Watson came alive in the final 15 minutes of the game, creating several half-chances and forcing last-ditch clearances from the Dragons.

Their pressure and persistence finally paid off just as the game entered the 90th minute with an equalizing goal that began with a handball call against Burlingame 40 yards from out. Dead-ball specialist Kirkland, who played his college soccer at Negoesco as a USF Don, put a soaring left-footed ball into the box, where Kaminski, who plays at USF now, leapt to meet it, narrowly beating Dragons goalkeeper Mitch North to the ball and heading into an open net. The stadium erupted, and Kaminski headed straight for the Northsiders supporters club, leaping into the arms of the fans.

With only second-half stoppage time remaining, both teams somehow used the time to very nearly snatch outright victory out of nothing. First, Kaminski followed up his goal with an audacious attempt to chip the goalkeeper from the center circle, and though he wasn’t beaten over the top, North nearly let the ball sneak past him. Crisis averted, Burlingame almost stole a win with the last play of the game, as an attempt to save a headed shot from 12 yards saw Clewis slip on the turf and the ball bounce off the crossbar before being cleared to end the match.

The final whistle of the match was only temporary when it comes to this local rivalry, as these two teams will play each other twice more before the regular season ends. Burlingame gets no rest after today’s affair; they return home to face Fresno Fuego tomorrow. SF City have more than a week to prepare to face the Dragons again, this time at Burlingame High School at 4pm on Sunday, May 21.

SF City-Burlingame: the 2017 Home Opener is Here!

opening day posters

By Gabe Zitrin

The long-awaited return home for San Francisco City FC finally arrives at 1pm on Saturday at the University of San Francisco’s Negoesco Stadium, as the Iron and Gold take on peninsula rivals Burlingame Dragons in their 2017 Premier Development League home opener. After taking three points from two games on the road to start the season, SF City will need to make home a fortress throughout the year to climb to the top of the PDL’s Southwest Division.

SF City’s loyal fans have been waiting for months through a long off-season and extended pre-season to see the team in action when it counts, and to do it against the club’s arch-rival is the icing on the cake for the biggest supporters. The SF City faithful are sure to show up in numbers and full voice, and for 2017 they’ll get to do it in a venue that puts fans right up against the touch lines.

Unsurprisingly, SF City players are ready and waiting to hear the cheers of the home crowd after spending opening weekend in Southern California, but with Burlingame so close by, and with so many Bay Area natives on their roster, a number of Dragons fans are likely to make the trip North for the occasion to contribute to a rivalry atmosphere found nowhere else in Bay Area soccer. Past SF City-Dragons matches have brought out the loudest and most intense behavior on both sides among fans, players, and coaches alike (and on one memorable occasion, a mascot — we’re told that’s unlikely this time around).

SF City’s early doings on the road have been anything but boring, and they arrive at Negoesco having tasted both victory and defeat in their opening weekend, after losing to FC Golden State Force on May 5 and rebounding remarkably with a resounding win over Ventura County Fusion the next day. A second-half scoring outburst against the Fusion netted goals from Ben Brewster, Bryce Kaminski, and captain Danny Kirkland, and the rest of the roster is anxious to get in on the action. Kaminski and Kirkland are two of a host of current or former USF Dons who will return to familiar ground on Saturday at Negoesco as they look to continue their winning ways with SF City. Brewster, meanwhile, earned a PDL Team of the Week nod for his efforts.

Soccer games on back-to-back days are rare and very tiring, but fatigue is often chased away by excitement. “We thought maybe we were looking at a bit of a reset after two games in two days,” said SF City head coach Paddy Coyne, “but in training everyone’s coming out with a lot of energy. The lads are excited about getting to play at home, it’s a rivalry match, so nobody needs a rest. We’re ready to go.” For the Burlingame match itself, however, Coyne will give way on the sideline to assistant coach Shaun Ramsden, having been sent off after an unfortunate sideline collision during the FC Golden State match.

Ramsden says he isn’t particularly concerned about the switch. “If you’re have a good flow, if you’re starting to pull it together in training, a change in coach for a short time shouldn’t matter too much,” he said Wednesday. “They’ve got Paddy’s voice in their heads for 90 minutes by now even if he’s in another country. And they’re going to have mine for real.”

“Paddy or no Paddy, I’m really excited for the new players especially,” added SF City President Jacques Pelham. “This’ll be the first chance they really get to see the fanbase, the Northsiders, the full display of the support they have as players for this club. It’s special to me to see it every game, I imagine it will be even more special for them.”

Burlingame, meanwhile, are coming off a 4-0 defeat away to Fresno Fuego in their season opener, but even with the high rate of turnover on their roster and the loss of several players to the professional ranks, they can’t be dismissed after a 2016 season when they led their division in scoring and made the PDL playoffs for the second straight year. An affiliate of the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer, the Dragons are now led by new head coach and former Earthquakes goalkeeper Joe Cannon, but some adjustments are likely after a tough trip to Fresno.

2017 PDL Season Preview

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By Gabe Zitrin

A year removed from an exciting, exhausting, and frustrating, and electrifying debut in 2016, San Francisco City FC are just days away from their second Premier Development League season, and the anticipation has built to a fever pitch. Almost 70 percent of Major League Soccer draft picks since 2010 played in the PDL first, and SF City’s players know their opponents will harbor that dream every bit as much as they do. But the Iron and Gold are firing on all cylinders as they prepare to take on the hyper-competitive Southwest Division.

SF City were just three points short of a playoff spot in their first PDL season, but with a number of strong new opponents in the division this year, they’ll have to find consistent quality play to reach the postseason in 2017. “This should absolutely be a playoff team, and we’re not looking at anything less,” said head coach Paddy Coyne. “I’m not just saying that looking at the team sheet, I’m saying that looking at how we’re playing out there on the pitch, how we’re coming together and playing as a unit. This is a talented bunch of guys, guys with great attitudes, and they keep each other in the right mindset to win games.”

The PDL regular season is 14 games long, seven on the road and seven at home. As the northernmost team in the Southwest Division, most of SF City’s road trips take them to the greater Los Angeles and San Diego areas, but of course a derby visit to peninsula archrival Burlingame Dragons is circled on the schedule, too.

The roster boasts a healthy mix of veteran holdovers and energetic newcomers as Coyne and his staff seek the right chemistry and depth for the grueling schedule. Captain Danny Kirkland, a former University of San Francisco Don, returns to center midfield, vice captain Ben Brewster and USF stalwart Christian De Luna will once again anchor the back line, former Stanford Cardinal Bobby Edwards returns to the wing, and San Francisco State alum Ashley Watson is another face familiar to the fans.

Elsewhere around the pitch, the competition for regular season minutes has been fierce between a host of new faces that have taken the chance to impress during a successful preseason campaign. “There’s very few places where we don’t have a bunch of guys making a good case,” said Coyne. “I have a lot of the kind of problems right now that most managers want.”

The 72-team, 10-division PDL has a new alignment for 2017, and all of SF City’s opponents now reside with them in the nine-team Southwest, including familiar opponents like Ventura County Fusion and Fresno Fuego, and a host of brand new ones like Southern California Seahorses and FC Golden State Force. But it’s the Dragons, an affiliate of Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes, who figure most prominently in SF City’s season as three-time opponents, including for SF City’s home opener and their regular season finale.

But before they can play for their home fans, SF City face the season’s opening weekend, which may be among the year’s most challenging. FC Golden State Force will face SF City for the first time on May 5, coming off a playoff year in 2016. The Glendora club tied for the Southwest Division lead in goals last year with 38 in just 14 games, and will be a strong season-opening test for SF City FC’s re-tooled back line. Just a day later, SF City travel up the road to Ventura for a clash with Ventura County Fusion, who narrowly missed out on a playoff spot last year themselves. SF City will look for a repeat performance from a year ago, when they won similar early-season road match against the Fusion 3-1.

The faithful home fans finally end their wait on May 13, as SF City host Burlingame Dragons at Negoesco Stadium. The rivalry games were knock-down, drag-out affairs last year, with the Dragons dominating SF City on the peninsula before SF City’s season-ending 4-0 revenge in front of the home crowd. Picking up where the rivalry left off will be the first order of business for players and fans on both sides. “The road games are critical, and we all know they count just as much in the standings,” said club President Jacques Pelham, “but the Dragons are what I’m looking forward to the most. It’s a statement game, it’s a rivalry game, it’s the only two Bay Area teams in the league, it’s the home opener. It’s everything, it’s crunch time.”

And then eight days later, the two teams do it all over again, this time with the Dragons at home at Burlingame High School. No word on whether Pelham is capable of staying that revved up the whole week off, but SF City players and fans will surely relish any opportunity for another derby, whether it’s to exact revenge or to inflict more punishment.

Between that remarkable quartet of opening games and the regular season finale against the Dragons at Negoesco on July 15, SF City’s schedule takes them around the Southwest Division at home and on the road, from Fresno to San Diego to Los Angeles, with every match liable to make the difference in the final standings between playoff soccer and an early exit. Given the thin line between the two that formed last year, the intensity of play is unlikely to let up at any point during the season, but Pelham seems to think that is just what the doctor ordered.

“This is our league now,” he says, “and it’s a league where you fight for your life week in and week out. That’s perfect. That’s what soccer should always be.”