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.