By Gabe Zitrin, photo by Alaina Preston
Facing the runaway Southwest Division leaders needing at least a draw to keep their playoff hopes realistic, San Francisco City FC electrified the home crowd with their third straight Premier Development League win, 2-1 over FC Golden State Force at Negoesco Stadium. Bryce Kaminski and Manny Padilla put SF City ahead, and the Iron and Gold sustained Pedro Fonseca’s catch-up strike and a barrage of late pressure to hold on for the win and take control of their own playoff destiny. The game also saw SF City’s players debut the team’s alternate Pride jerseys, and the game-worn shirts will be auctioned off on sfcityfc.com through the end of the season to benefit the AIDS Legal Referral Panel.
Playing against a fast, physical team that had defeated them to open the season in Glendora, SF City started brightly with the obvious intent to match the physicality of the division leaders and use their own speed on the wings to stretch the field. Gerardo Mendoza was the biggest early threat, nearly getting onto crosses from Bryce Marion and Padilla in the early going to keep SF City on the front foot. The visitors responded by creating chances of their own born of some of their nine corner kicks. Center back Abraham Placito may have had the Force’s best look at goal in the first half when he rifled an open header off one such corner a couple of feet over the bar.
SF City captain Danny Kirkland’s free kicks were repeatedly threatening in the first half, and after one such kick was caught by Force goalkeeper Jose Miranda inches from the charging Kaminsky, the next one put the hosts ahead. Great work from Mendoza in the 42nd minute forced a foul at the right edge of the FC Golden State box, and Kirkland rifled a low free kick into the mixer where Kaminsky got just enough of a touch on the ball to deflect it in.
“The idea was to put it on target,” Kirkland said of his free kick, “from that short range you’re just hoping somebody gets a touch, whether it be our player or one of them. You give yourself a chance, and hopefully someone touches it over the line, and that’s exactly what Bryce did.”
Coming out of the locker room with the lead, SF City carried their energy into the second half and had what would prove to be an insurmountable lead after a beautiful exchange in the 54th minute. Padilla took a Mendoza pass near the top of the FC Golden State box, lofted a ball in to Ramos, and cut to the left in perfect time to receive Ramos’ chested return pass. He finished clinically with the left foot, doubling the lead and sending the fans crazy again.
“A lot of times me and Manny are trying to combine,” Ramos said, “back at USF playing together, and we’d done this together already at SF City, but unfortunately it never ended up in the goal. It finally ended up there, and I think we deserved it.”
But no strangers this season to having to frantically defend late one-goal leads at home, SF City would find themselves having to do it again after Fonseca’s excellent individual effort in the 69th minute. The second-half substitute took the ball at the left corner of the SF City box, juked out his first defender to create space to shoot with his right foot, and hit a laser beam of a shot that seemed to curve in several directions on its way to the top far corner, giving Keenan Weekes no chance to save.
Now back in the game, FC Golden State played with renewed energy and dominated the possession for the rest of the game. Despite not managing any more shots on goal, they forced a number of desperate clearances in the final 20 minutes and fired close several times, highlighted by Mark Verso’s free kick that rocketed just over the bar five minutes from time.
The win puts SF City in playoff position in second place in the PDL Southwest Division, three points closer to the leaders and with control of their own playoff chances regardless of anyone else’s results. Their next task is a challenging road match against fellow postseason hopefuls Fresno Fuego on July 1 before they finish the regular season with two home games in a final push for 2017 playoff soccer.