Courtesy of Kiel Maddox Photography
The Chukchansi Park crowd cheers as the Fresno Football Club plays against Las Vegas Lights on March 17 to open their season.
The Central Valley has had soccer before — the Freeze, the Fuego, among others. However, this Fresno FC soccer team felt different and you know what, the crowd did also.
Almost 14,000 Central Valley soccer fans witnessed the first two games in Fresno FC history. From their dramatic 3-2 loss on March 17, to their come-from-behind draw this Saturday, the Foxes, also known as the Zorros, have captured our attention.
For many people in the Central Valley, a professional soccer team was more fiction than fact. In this part of California, soccer is big. The Valley alone boasts some of the best amateur teams in the state, along with some of the best divisions.
Soccer is just part of our community, and it’s time to celebrate it.
I didn’t know what to expect opening night. I love soccer, so above anything else I would enjoy myself. However, I was surprised, in a good way.
My heart began to beat rapidly, and before I knew it, I was engulfed in a parade of supporters. Drums and chants in tow, the group — a few hundred to be modest — made their way into Chukchansi Stadium signaling not only the start of the game, but the beginning of something special.
I’ve been to many soccer matches in my life, but this one was different. Yeah, I support various teams on television and what not, but to have a professional soccer team in my backyard? Now that is something everyone here in the Central Valley can be proud of.
So far, the Foxes have recorded a draw and a loss to open the year, but for a team built from scratch, the newcomers to the Central Valley are on the path to success.
After falling behind three goals to the Las Vegas Lights in their opener, the Foxes showed immense courage to fight back, technically scoring three goals in final 20 minutes — one being ruled offside.
Although the Foxes found themselves down throughout the match, you couldn’t tell by the crowd’s reaction. They were engaged, energized and at times a little vulgar — it’s sports, c’mon — but overall, they kept the stadium filled with energy.
The Foxes pulled one back behind Jemal Johnson’s tidy finish past the Las Vegas keeper Riccardo Ferrino. Johnson, a native of Manchester, England gave the Valley fans a special moment, but when Bullard-Fresno graduate Christian Chaney and former Fuego star Renato Bustamante combined to give Fresno FC their second goal in the 89th minute, the walls of the press box rattled as the 7,000-plus fans in attendance danced in jubilation.
Down 3-2? That was the last thing the crowd cared about. From the first minute to the last, the fans gave the players their affection. The same could be said for their most recent match with the LA Galaxy II on Saturday. Like the first game, the Foxes allowed a goal within the first five minutes — this time off an own goal by Mickey Daly — but from there, they gained control.
Left back Alex Cooper came to the Foxes rescue with a low finish, beating the opposing keeper at the far post. Although Fresno FC failed to seize the victory, they registered their first point in the United Soccer League and also, maybe most importantly, they showed that even with events like FresYes — which literally happened next door — they are an attractive option. Besides, who wants to wait in four different lines before they can even get a drink? Not me.
I mean, you have to be kind of popular in order to pull so many fans from the FresYes festivities this Saturday. It’s a combination of many things, but most importantly, the product on the field.
The team boasts youth and experience, including Bustamante, Chaney and captain of the Foxes, Juan Pablo Caffa, who formerly played for La Liga teams: Real Betis and Real Zaragoza in Spain. Fresno FC has all the tools to become a mainstay here in the Central Valley. Although, for as much work as they put onto the field, as fans, we must do our part as well.