By Gabriel Zitrin
San Francisco City FC played to a hard-fought 1-1 draw with San Diego Zest FC on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Kezar Stadium, putting points back in their column after a brief dry spell, but unable to turn advantages in chances and possession into a win. Zest FC, also in their first year in the Premier Development League, came into town on a strong run of form, and City knew they would have their hands full after a week of difficult, exhausting games against Las Vegas Mobsters and Burlingame Dragons.
City started brightly, with George Plakorus firing across the face of goal in the opening minute, the cross not finding a teammate. After City forced turnover in the 9th minute, Ashley Watson’s tantalizing cross sailed just high of several teammates.
City’s Bubba Kelly, who terrorized for much of the day with strong runs down the right side, forced a turnover in the 15th and drove in on goal, but his hard shot couldn’t beat San Diego keeper Sean Williams, and the rebound was covered up.
Against the run of play, it was the visitors who took a surprise lead in the 21st. Solid play down the right side won the Zest a corner kick, and Garrett Heine’s ball found the head of Luke Shankula, who had worked himself just enough space to head home in the lower corner of Austin Harmse’s goal.
Now playing in the shadow of an unfriendly scoreboard, City continued to apply heavy pressure through to halftime. Kelly led the charge, consistently working hard to win and keep possession in the final third, as City mounted a number of dangerous attacks throughout the first half. San Diego’s Blake Homan picked up the game’s only yellow card on one such occasion, penalized for a hard challenge against Plakorus along the touch line to keep the City forward from continuing a promising run.
But the dam couldn’t hold against the pressure forever. In the 35th minute, it was yet another strong right-side run from Bubba Kelly that pulled City even. His cross was met on the far side by Dylan Caton, who headed softly back across goal for Watson to tap in from point-blank range.
The crowd’s joy was short-lived, though, as City suffered a huge blow in the 37th when forward Johannes Demarzi pulled up with what appeared to be a right hamstring injury. Demarzi gamely tried to play through the pain for a few minutes, but eventually had to give way for Adnan Gabeljic.
San Diego had the final solid chance of the first half, when breakaway in the 40th minute saw the visitors with a 2 on 1 heading towards goal, but Wade Scibilia dragged his shot wide.
City dominated the chances in the second half but never quite found the game-winner. The home side nearly broke the deadlock in the 56th off a free kick from Watson into the box, but the header from Gabeljic was inches wide with Williams beaten. A dangerous giveaway in the 73rd gave San Diego’s Marcos Carrillo-Leon plenty of space for an open shot, but the effort went harmlessly wide. City responsed with sustained possession and pressure, and a beautiful ball over the top gave Kelly another chance to lob the keeper in the 78th, but in front of a charging Williams the City man went just high and wide of target.
The game’s next major development was a welcome one for City fans – the sight of Danny Kirkland’s long-awaited return, as he joined the fray in place of Watson in the 79th. Kirkland’s presence was felt almost immediately, as his corner found the head of Christian de Luna in the 85th, but the center back couldn’t make solid contact and the chance was lost.
City nearly had the game won minutes from the end, as a scramble in front of goal ended when Kelly’s backheel was cleared in front of two City attackers waiting to tap it home. Two more minutes of sustained pressure from City couldn’t bring the game-winning goal, the final attempt coming from Gabeljic. The surprise substitute turned a long solo run down the right into a shot from a tight angle that stung the keeper’s palms as stoppage time began. The final whistle blew with a lot of positives to take home for the City boys, but an unsatisfying scoreline.
What’s next? San Francisco City FC stay home this week for a Thursday night match against Brigham Young University. Kickoff is at 7pm at Kezar Stadium.
Man of the Match: Bubba Kelly
Bruce Springsteen “Born to Run” Award: Ashley Watson
Andre Iguodala “Instant Impact” Award: Adnan Gabeljic.
Rules Review Corner:
Does it count if the ball goes through the uprights behind the goal? No. I mean, in the other kind of football it does, sure.