By 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.