United Soccer League playoffs display talent, contrasts
Soccer fans can look forward to having a Buena Vista of a Fusion of distinct styles when the top four local soccer teams face off today.
That is, spectators can tune in to watch 1998 defending champion Buena Vista play second-seeded Fusion at 5 p.m. at South Tahoe Middle School. And they can stay to see top-seeded and once-beaten Deportivo Toluca take on the Chevy’s Fresh Mex team after the conclusion of the first game. Either way, the 1999 United Soccer League of South Lake Tahoe playoffs put ample talent and a contrast of styles on display.
“We’re expecting two pretty good games, and I’m expecting there’ll be a good crowd, also,” said league president Martin Jimenez.
If expected attendance is any indication, the public knows this: That’s why the league anticipates up to 500 spectators for the playoffs between the two games. As many as 300-400 spectators have attended prime regular-season matchups.
“I think the community has been supportive,” said Eloy Castro of Reno, who helps the league with its paperwork and has observed the teams in action. “They come out to most of the matches, even the weaker teams.”
But in the playoffs, there are no weaker teams, just the four best to emerge from league play. Deportivo Toluca enters the playoffs with 40 points, a plus-53 goal differential, and just two blemishes – one loss and one tie – on an otherwise perfect record. But Toluca’s lone loss came at the hand of second-seeded Fusion (10-5-0, 30 points), which draws the same Buena Vista squad (9-4-2, 29 points) that beat Fusion 3-2 for the 1998 championship. And fourth-seeded Chevy’s Fresh Mex (8-4-4, 28 points) was the only team to hold Toluca to two goals all season.
In other words, it’s a wide-open playoff. No team is safe, not even the disciplined and talent-laden Toluca squad.
“What I’ve seen in (Chevy’s), if they’ really want to win, they can beat any of these teams,” Castro said.
In fact, Castro rated Chevy’s chances even better, as the 40-minute-half format benefits the counterattacking, long-ball-serving fourth seed, which has two players to watch in defender Chalo Lopez and former South Tahoe High School star Brian Winters, a midfielder.
Toluca’s game plan operates on a different principle: the top-seeded team operates mostly on the ground, with a quick, precise passing game that highlights stars like Cesar Estrada and Francisco Morales. Castro described Toluca as a team with no real cracks in its armor.
“That’s why they have that record,” he said. “They have no weaknesses at all.”
But also, there is a reason Fusion finished just 10 points behind Deportivo Toluca. Solid technique and many semi-pro-caliber players have helped the team build an impressive record and outscore its opponents by 44 goals over the season. Jose Luis Cacho was a big part of that offense, with 40 goals as the league’s leading scorer, while Salvador Yanez anchors the back line.
“That team Fusion, they’ve got tons of talent on the team,” Castro said.
Buena Vista doesn’t carry the same roster into this year’s playoffs as it did when it won the league last season, the league’s first. But midfielder Manuel Lizaola and defender Jesus Basquez could help the champs stay on top.
“We invite everybody to come and watch these games,” Jimenez said.
In one year, the league has grown to include nine teams – the top four, plus Atlas (7-7-1 in the final standings), Sierra Tahoe (6-7-2), Cachorros (4-9-2), Tigres (3-12-0) and Harveys (2-13-0). The league has worked with the city of South Lake Tahoe to provide nearly three months of soccer Sundays and Wednesdays from May 30 to Sunday’s finals.
“It’s been very successful,” Jimenez said.
The four semifinalists should take the field at 5 p.m. today, weather permitting, to pare the playoff field to two teams. Today’s losers face off at 5 p.m. Sunday for the consolation game, setting the stage for the championship match, which follows about 6:30.
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