Top two soccer teams face off Sunday for local championship
Four semifinalists needed nearly all of the regulation time available in two playoff games to name two contenders for the local soccer league title.
But it’s no surprise which two finalists will face off at 6:30 p.m. Sunday to crown the second champion in the United Soccer League of South Lake Tahoe: Deportivo Toluca and Fusion wrote their tickets to the playoffs as the top two seeds. After splitting two regular-season meetings and surviving the semifinals, two teams with just six losses between them meet for the championship.
“I think we’re going to beat them,” said Toluca goalie Oscar Gomez after his squad clinched a berth in the finals, beating Chevy’s Fresh Mex 2-1 at South Tahoe Middle School. “We’ve got a good team, and doing the best we can, I think we can do it.”
The championship pits a team with one loss – Toluca – against the only team to beat it. While Toluca won its first meeting with Fusion, 3-0, Fusion scored late in the second meeting to win 3-2 to mar Toluca’s otherwise 13-0-1 record. Given that it worked just once, Fusion’s plan to beat Toluca seems surprisingly simple:
“We just do the same thing,” said Fusion technical director Rodolfo Garcia after his team scored at the end of regulation to defeat Buena Vista, 4-3, ousting the defending champions. “We just try to do the best all the time. That’s the idea, always. We never do something we don’t believe.
“They play like today all the time,” he said. “They put all their heart on the field. They spend all the energy they’ve got.”
Fusion may have even more reason to believe it can win a championship than just its 10-5-0 record and the only win over Toluca this season: the second seed will bolster its roster with two semi-pro players it didn’t have for the first round, one from the Reno Zephyrs club, the other from Monterrey, Mexico.
“We’re going to be much, much better from today,” Garcia said after the game.
At the same time, Deportivo Toluca will be short two of its stars: Cesar Estrada and Abel Caro both drew red cards by virtue of two yellow cards each in the semifinals. Still, Toluca technical director Frank Martinez likes his chances.
“We’ll get 11 guys, and when we’ve got 11 against 11, there’s always a chance,” Martinez said.
Even without two of its best players, Toluca is a top-to-bottom powerhouse. Anchoring a team famous for its offense – with 60 goals and a plus-53 goal differential – Gomez allowed just five scores in the regular season.
“He’s a really good goalie, so he knows what to do,” Martinez said.
Both teams demonstrated in the semifinals they know what to do to win close games. But to bring a championship home, they must prove it again Sunday, in front of a large, loud, local crowd. League president Martin Jimenez estimated 300-400 fans attended Wednesday’s semifinals, and expects even more Sunday.
“Definitely, I would say it’s going to be more people for the finals,” he said.
The championship kicks off at 6:30 p.m., following the conclusion of the 5 p.m. third-place game between Buena Vista and Chevy’s.
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