By H. Jose Bosch

Beginning the season at the defending division champion’s home park is no easy task, but FC Tucson let the Premier Development League (PDL) know it will be competitive in 2012 during a 2-1 loss to the Fresno Fuego.

“Luckily it’s the first game of the season and we’re a new team, so we’re still getting used to everybody,” said FC Tucson forward Donny Toia. “I would much rather take this loss right now and develop from it and learn from it.

Both teams fought through a scoreless half and the first goal of the game wasn’t notched until the 56th minute when Fresno’s Eddie Gonzales headed in a corner kick. Head coach Rick Schantz said it was a mistake by the FC Tucson defense that lead to the goal opportunity.

“We got caught a little flat-footed and there was nothing we could really do,” Schantz said.

But FC Tucson wasn’t rattled on the road despite giving up the game’s first goal. Schantz said that FC Tucson’s equalizer was “world class” from beginning to end.

Defender Conor Spence kicked a 60-yard diagonal ball to forward Max Alvarez. Without allowing the ball to touch the ground, Alvarez crossed the ball across the 18-yard box to Toia, who was waiting to slam home the goal in the 61st minute.

“I didn’t know what to do (after the goal),” Toia said. “I was shocked it went in because I haven’t scored an actual goal in over a year.”

The goal energized the team and, according to Schantz, FC Tucson went long periods of time outplaying its opponent. Earlier concerns about Fresno’s experience and physicality didn’t matter, as FC Tucson held its own against the Fuego.

Schantz said FC Tucson could’ve scored a second or third goal based on the chances they created the rest of the second half, but none of the promising opportunities came to fruition.

The game-winning goal came in the 80th minute when the Fuego’s Nini Blanco chipped a shot from just inside midfield that evaded FC Tucson’s goalkeeper for a highlight reel-worthy goal.

Despite the deflating goal, FC Tucson still created several more opportunities in the closing ten minutes before eventually falling.

“After the game all I heard was, ‘Wait till they come to our field.’ “ Schantz said. “That’s all you heard. They weren’t mad at each other that they lost.”

The loss sets FC Tucson back to 0-1-0 to begin the season. The Fresno Fuego improve to 3-0-0. FC Tucson’s next game is Saturday, May 12, at the Pali Blues.

’56 — Fresno Fuego-Eddie Gonzales
’61 — FC Tucson –Donny Toia (Max Alvarez)
’80 — Fresno Fuego-Nini Blanco

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