The Fresno Fuego were minutes away from being crowned 2017 Southwest Division Champions on Thursday night at Chukchansi Park.
FC Golden State Force midfielder Jose Carrera-Garcia had other plans. Carrera-Garcia scored on a volley, off of an attempted corner clearance, to tie the match at 3-3 in stoppage time.
The 3-3 result held, forcing the division title race between both clubs to be extended into Saturday.
“I felt like they (FC Golden State) capitalized on our mistakes, and the things we gifted them,” Fuego head coach Brian Zwaschka said. “We made another mistake at the end, and their guy capitalized on it. The reality is that our target was to make sure they didn’t come out of here with three points, so we can stay on top of the league, and that’s where we are.”
Fresno will be on the road facing Ventura County Fusion for the third time this season. A win will clinch the division crown, a loss or a draw would force the team to wait and see what Golden State does against San Diego Zest FC on Saturday. Both the Force and Fuego kickoff at 7 p.m.
The Fuego found the back of the net early in the match when Renato Bustamante finished a classy back heel pass from Diego Casillas in the 9th minute.
FC Golden State forward Mark Verso equalized in the 21st minute off a Fuego giveaway in the 18-yard box. The Force’s leading goal scorer slotted the shot beneath Fuego goalkeeper Agustin Rey.
Pedro Fonseca’s header put the visitors in front 2-1, off of a set piece in the 29th minute.
Just before halftime, Fuego forward Joey Chica buried a left footed strike to even the match at 2-2.
With a new sense of confidence after the break, Fresno added their third goal of the night off of a corner kick in the 77th minute. Midfielder Felipe Souza scored on a rebound that went straight to his right foot.
Fans at Chukchansi Park were ready to celebrate, but Carrera-Garcia’s wonder strike left fans shocked.
After the final whistle, Fuego goalkeeper Agustin Rey took responsibility for the draw that felt like a defeat.
“I feel like we played really well,” Rey said. “I fell a little short today. My team had my back, but unfortunately my performance needs to be better, and a little sharper.”
The Fuego still control their own destiny and Zwaschka knows that is the silver lining after the 3-3 draw.
“Obviously, we know we need to be smart and take care of business," Zwaschka said. "We will already be reminded, as disappointing as tonight was, that it is still in our hands. It’s a great position to be in.”
For Rey, Saturday’s match against Ventura County Fusion can not come soon enough. The New Mexican goalkeeper is ready to make up his performance on Thursday night, and deliver a championship for his club.
“It’s big (playing on Saturday),” Rey said. “It gives me a chance, personally, to redeem myself. I know what I’m capable of, and you know, today was a little hiccup. I have work to do before Saturday.”