TUCSON, Ariz. — In front of a packed house of 2,210 at Kino North Stadium, FC Tucson earned a dramatic 2-1 win over rivals Albuquerque Sol FC to retain the Golden Rattler and inch closer to another division title.
Moshe Perez and Tate Schmitt provided the goals for Tucson in a match that was anything but conventional as the “Men in Black” traded in the dark kits for a red, white, and blue combination.
In the first half, it appeared as though the visitors from the “Land of Enchantment” had pulled out some voodoo to protect the net, as Tucson were unable to get on the board despite 10 shots on goal, including hitting the post twice and having it cleared off the line.
Despite dominating possession, Tucson fell behind early, as Sam Gleadle scored for the second time in as many matches to put Albuquerque up 1-0 in the 25th minute.
The Sol elected to tuck in and defend the remainder of the half, but just before the halftime whistle, chaos ensued.
Ozzie Ramos was awarded a free kick which he tried to take quickly, but missed the ball without his cleat on and instead made contact with Sol midfielder Jack Clancy who was standing in front to prevent a quick pass.
The contact caused the Sol players to converge on referee Bennett Savage, clamoring for a red card. When Ramos was shown a yellow, Clancy continued to protest, earning his second yellow of the half and subsequently being sent off.
Moments later, Albuquerque midfielder Tommy Ramos was shown a straight red from the bench for bumping the referee while arguing, leaving the Sol with 10 men on the field and one lonely sub on the bench.
When the second half resumed, it was more of the same as Tyler Pavlett came up with a number of great saves to preserve the 1-0 lead for the visitors.
In the 67th minute, Tucson midfielder Moshe Perez found the equalizer, hammering a half-volley from 18 yards out into the bottom right corner. It was Perez’s eighth goal of the season, as he now sits one behind teammate Afonso Pinheiro’s record of nine.
In the 90th minute, Tucson’s most recognizable face came up big.
Coming off the bench for his first appearance of the season, Edgar Reyna hammered a shot towards goal that deflected off the hand of hand of Albuquerque defender Dillion Nino’s hand in the box, earning the home side a penalty and one last shot at victory.
Captain Tate Schmitt stepped up to take it, and coolly sent Pavlett the wrong way, finding the back of the net to send the raucous crowd into a cacophony of cheers.
FC Tucson head coach Jon Pearlman wasn’t surprised by the trio that combined for the goals. “Moshe Perez and Tate Schmitt continue to come up big,” Pearlman said. “Their finishing was off a little tonight, but they still stepped up at the crucial moments for us.”
Reyna’s role as a forward off the bench may have come as a surprise to some after traditionally playing in defense, but the coaching staff felt his ability in the air and physical presence could cause some problems.
“We discussed him moving into the number 9 role off the bench, we went a little San Jose Goonies with it,” Pearlman said. “To have him back is so important.”
When the final whistle blew, Tucson had inched closer to a fourth consecutive division title, retained the Golden Rattler with a 3-0-1 mark against their rivals in 2017, and provided some extra fireworks before the postgame aerial display.
“The crowd was remarkable,” Pearlman said. “You felt them at every moment with both sides of the stadium packed, and we’re so grateful to give them a result they deserved.”
Tucson hits the road for two matches against the BYU Cougars on July 11th and 12th before returning home for the regular season finale against Colorado Rapids U23 on Saturday, July 15th at 7 p.m. at Kino North Stadium.
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