FC Tucson defeats Misioneros 2-1 in playoffs
LAS VEGAS (FC Tucson)- With FC Tucson moments away from winning its first-ever playoff match - two minutes into a four-minute stoppage time - defender Austin Ledbetter was whistled for a penalty in the box. The Los Angeles Misioneros had a potential game-tying penalty kick.
And head coach Rick Schantz, who normally can't even watch PKs from the bench, felt unusually calm.
"As soon as the foul happened, somebody from the bench said, 'Don't worry, (Billy Thompson) is gonna save it,' " Schantz said. "And I had this, like, gut feeling where I thought, 'I think I believe in it.'"
LA's Kyrian Nwazuebe shot toward the left post and Thompson dove toward the left post, smothering the shot and killing off the Misioneros last gasp.
FC Tucson's 2-1 win is the franchise's first-ever playoff victory.
"(I thought) time to be the hero," Thompson said. "That's why you're in the position. Ninetieth minute; the game in your hands. That's why you're the goalie"
Added Schantz: "I about jumped out of my shorts."
FC Tucson opened the match's scoring in the 28th minute. Forward Ricardo Velazco cut to his right, into the center of the pitch and tried driving a shot through traffic. The ball deflected off a defender and to the feet of midfielder Peter Kelly. His shot, from just above the top of the box, made it through the mass of players and beat the keeper to the left side for a 1-0 lead.
Just one minute later, FC Tucson was on the attack again. Connor Brandt found Kelly near the end line and to the left of the net. Kelly threaded a cross past the goalkeeper and across a wide open goal mouth to forward Christian Voleskey. All the forward had to do was tap it in for a 2-0 lead.
But FC Tucson missed a couple of chances to add to the lead before the half ended and the Misioneros came out attacking in the second half.
The high pressure led to what Schantz said was an uncharacteristic turnover in the midfield by Velazco. LA quickly capitalized with a counter the led to Nwabueze alone on a breakaway before he slotted the ball past a sprawling Thompson.
For the rest of the second half, it felt like FC Tucson was holding on more than counter attacking with the Misioneros.
"One word to describe it is just 'gritty,' " said Kelly of the win. "Everyone was working their (butt) off. And after they scored that first goal it was kind of nerve wracking just because they always say a 2-0 lead is the worst lead to have and sure enough they get that goal right after the half. We weren't nervous. We just had to keep playing the way we were because we were getting some chances. … It's just good we saw it out through the whole 90."
FC Tucson will now play in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Vancouver Whitecaps U23s on Friday, July 25. The time and location of the match are still to be determined but FC Tucson has placed a bid to host the next round of the playoffs.