While possession, set pieces and strong defending are important elements in any soccer match, the greatest factor is converting opportunities into goals.
Seattle Sounders U-23 team scored twice in the second half and defeated Ventura County Fusion, 2-0, in the USL PDL Western Conference Championship Game on Sunday night at the VC SportsPlex, bringing Fusion’s competitive season to a close.
As has been the case in previous matches and even years, Fusion failed to convert a number of opportunities in front of goal, and were left regretting multiple missed chances to either take the lead or equalize.
"It went missing where it always goes missing for us," Fusion head coach Ole Mikklesen said, "If you don’t score the chances you create, you don’t win games."
Seattle went ahead in the 58th minute, and Fusion responded well, creating a number of opportunities in the minutes that followed. In the 61st minute, Gyasi Zardes fed a near perfect through ball to Tristan Bowen, leaving Bowen 1-on-1 with Seattle goalkeeper Doug Herrick. Herrick stretched to make a near point blank save inside the 6-yard box, preserving Seattle’s slim advantage.
"First and foremost I feel like I have to take a lot of responsibility," Bowen said, "When we get chances we need to finish them, starting with me."
"We scored six goals against Fresno, five goals against Orange County. On those nights, they’re on," Mikklesen said, "You can’t be on one night and off the next. In the playoffs, you have to be on every night."
Still trailing 1-0 in the 79th minute, Zardes nearly brought Fusion level. Streaking through the Sounders defense and into the left side of the penalty area, Zardes blasted a near equalizer off the crossbar. This failure to convert chances is no new problem for Ventura County Fusion, it’s an issue that has plagued the franchise for a number of years.
"Scoring goals is a hard thing to do," said Mikklesen, who remains UCLA’s all-time leading scorer, "We create chances every game, but in certain games we just couldn’t finish."
Seattle’s first two substitutes connected for the game’s opening goal as Jamael Cox fed Darwin Jones down the left hand side, and Jones placed a curling shot beyond the reach of Fusion goalkeeper Earl Edwards to take the lead nearly 15 minutes into the second half.
With Fusion pressing in the final 10 minutes, the two Seattle subs connected again, this time with Darwin finding a wide-open Cox breaking down the middle of the field. Cox slid his shot past Edwards and the Sounders were on their way to the PDL semifinals.
"Our lack of focus in the back and letting our guard down (hurt us)," Fusion defender and Ventura High graduate Kory Kindle said, "In these type of games a great team like Seattle will score." Seattle’s two key substitutes connected for both goals, while Fusion didn’t make a change until there were less than five minutes remaining.
"We were creating chances, you hate to change something," Mikklesen said, "When you change players, you change chemistry. When they made the changes, they had new players that were able to combine."
This was the second match in 24 hours for both Fusion and Seattle, with both winning semifinals Saturday night at the SportsPlex. While fatigue wasn’t much of an issue for Fusion, injuries were. The team was without starting midfielder Ivan Mirkovic and winger Kennedy Chongo, as well as Matt Wiet and Saturday’s match winner Victor Munez, who were both injured in Saturday night’s victory over Portland. Creative midfielder Frankie Lopez did not play in Sunday’s match.
"It’s always hard to become familiar with new players around you," Kindle said, "It’s hard but you make the most of it."
For Fusion, this is its first home playoff loss. The franchise, which won the PDL Championship in 2009, is now 6-3 in the PDL postseason. "These are MLS (Major League Soccer) organizations that have excellent resources," Fusion general manager Ranbir Shergill said, "We can’t expect to win all the time. We’re obviously really happy to have gotten this far."
While the competitive season has come to a close, Fusion have one big match remaining Saturday, when they host English Premier League side Swansea City at Oxnard College.
"It’ll be a great opportunity for the boys to celebrate the season we had," Shergill said, "It’s a wonderful opportunity, we’re looking forward to that now.
Following next weekend’s semifinals, the PDL Championship will be played on Saturday, August 4 at the home of one of the semifinal winners.
NATIONAL SEMIFINALS SCHEDULE
Saturday, July 28
Orlando City U23 at Carolina Dynamo, 7 p.m. ET
At Macpherson Stadium, Greensboro, N.C.
Sounders FC U23 at FC London, 7:30 p.m. ET
At German Club, London, Ontario