A sunny and blustery afternoon at Kezar Stadium saw San Francisco City FC drop a tough result at home 1-0 to the red-hot Ventura County Fusion FC.
Fusion came in riding a wave of excellent form, winning four of their last five, and looked to continue their winning ways against a City side tinkering with its lineup to find the right chemistry in front and behind.
City’s Bubba Kelly, playing further forward than he’s been known to do for the Black and Gold, thought he had opened the scoring nine minutes in after he headed home a long cross from Kamron Crow, but he collided with Fusion goalkeeper Tyler Blackmer and was whistled for a foul as the ball crossed the line.
Ventura responded by pressing early and often in search of their first goal. Two quick chances from midfielder Joe Holland were challenges for City to deal with 15 minutes in, but Andrew Epstein did well to save both shots. Holland’s next tack was to flip the ball cheekily over City’s defense in the 18th minute to Reed McKenna, who rocketed his shot off the right post.
With City chasing much of the game, Fusion pressed their lines higher and higher, McKenna providing much of the threat with his distribution. City preferred to play over the top towards Max Mirner, but a stiff West wind and some solid recovery runs limited City’s chances in the opening half hour.
In the 29th minute the dam finally broke after a beautiful give-and-go between Fusion right back Jordan Vale and McKenna. Vale played to McKenna and continued a strong run, and McKenna’s quick backheel expertly played the Vale into the City box, where the defender finished neatly past Epstein to claim the lead.
City built more possession for the remainder of the half, Danny Kirkland finding himself with the home team’s first solid chance of the first half in the 35th minute after a layoff from Kelly. Kirkland’s left-footed shot tested Blackmer, who spilled the ball briefly but recovered it in time to preserve Fusion’s lead. Mirner’s excellent work into the box nearly brought City even minutes later, but his cross went just over Kelly’s head, and after City right back Barry McCabe played the rebound out to Nick Littleton, the midfielder’s side-footed half-volley went just high.
City started the second half much more brightly, with several longer spells of possession. Bubba Kelly earned a free kick at the edge of the Ventura box in the 51st, but Kirkland’s shot on the dead ball was saved well without a rebound by Blackmer.
Searching for an equalizer, City coach Paddy Coyne made four simultaneous substitutions in the 55th minute (out of the PDL’s permitted 6), building himself an entirely new right side. New right back Christian de Luna promptly worked a scoring chance off of receiving a free kick but had his shot cleared off the line for a corner kick.
The game opened up in the final half hour and became an end-to-end affair. Ventura’s Holland earned a 67th minute free kick on the edge of the box and nearly converted it himself, firing his shot off the left post with Epstein beaten. City cleared their lines and worked a chance of their own, Littleton’s layoff giving Mirner the chance for a shot on goal that was sent right at Blackmer. Holland’s next chance came on a quick counter that found him with space and plenty of time to shoot, but he rifled high from close range.
Littelton-to-Mirner continued to be the most threatening combination of the second half for either club, but an injury to Mirner meant he had to give way to Dylan Caton with 15 minutes to go. Littleton responded to Mirner’s departure with an audacious bicycle kick attempt, but couldn’t stretch the keeper with his display of chutzpah, nor with his free kick effort minutes later that flew inches over the bar.
But even with a few other players working half-chances, City’s needed equalizer never came. Substitute Armando Flores, Kirkland, and Littleton managed shots from distance in the final minutes, but none threatened the goal, and at the final whistle City were still looking for the lineup that can consistently turn chances into goals and allow City to climb the standings in the Central Pacific division.
What’s Next: City stay home next week for a July 3 clash with local rivals Burlingame Dragons. Kickoff is at 3pm at Kezar Stadium.
Man of the Match: Nick Littleton
David Bowie Award for Best Player While Alone in Space: Dylan Murphy
Adrian Serioux Award for Throw-In that’s Basically a Corner Kick: Bubba Kelly
Best Ray Hudson-Like Phrase of the Day: “smothering them like a sponge with so much water in it you wouldn’t know what to do.”