Lexington looking to bounce back and get revenge in Fresno
Photo By Fahad Alotaibi | Bluegrass Soccer Cast
Lexington SC (7-7-12, 28 points) will finish their 2-match road trip tomorrow at 10:30 pm EST/9:30 pm CST out in Fresno against Central Valley Fuego FC (5-4-16, 19 points). This will be the 3rd and final match between these two sides on the year, with both sides beating the other on home turf – Fuego 2-1 on July 15th and Lexington 3-2 on August 12th.
Lexington and Fuego are entering this match coming off-road losses, but that is where the similarities between the 2 clubs end. Lexington enters this match 2-1-2 in their last 5 matches, while Fuego is 0-2-3 in their previous 5 and riding an 8-match winless streak.
Fuego has already put an end to this season and looks to be preparing for this next year with their announcements as of late. Firstly, their interim head coach, Adam Smith (the club’s sporting director), stepped down from his duties on August 30th, with assistant coach Edison Gonzalez replacing him while the club actively seeks a full-time Football Manager and permanent head coach. Gonzalez becomes the 3rd coach of Fuego this season since the club mutually parted ways with Martin Vasquez back on July 3rd. Ozzie Ramos, one of Fuego’s most consistent players, has also parted with the club, transferring to fellow USL1 side Forward Madison on September 7th. Lastly, on September 7th, Nehemias “Nini” Blanco, Fuego’s Vice President, also mutually parted ways with the side.
However, all these changes are not unique to Fuego; all clubs go through mid-season coaching changes and players/front office personnel leaving – so how has it affected Central Valley on the pitch? As mentioned above, with the current 8-match winless run, Fuego fans have probably also begun to move on to the following season. Fuego currently sits at the bottom of the league table, 5 points behind the Red Wolves, with 7 matches left – 4 of which are against playoff teams. However, they have found an offensive spark as of late – averaging double the amount of goals per match over their last 5 (2.2) compared to their season rate of 1.1. So, I would not expect Fuego to go down without a fight against Lexington on Sunday night, especially since they know they can go toe to toe with the Boys in Green.
Lexington heads into this match on short rest, with their comeback efforts falling just short Wednesday night in the 3-2 defeat against Northern Colorado. Add that to the gut-punch draw against Greenville, and Lexington’s momentum of winning 3 of their last 4 before the Greenville match has all but dried up. However, that is not the case at all.
If you look at the results, it is understandable why someone would think that, but if you are among the diehards like me who watched the last 2 matches live and then rewatched them, you would know that those results do not tell the whole story. Lexington played arguably their best game collectively against Greenville and turned around a slow start to give one of the hottest teams in the league a challenge in the 2nd half against the Hailstorm. What do both matches have in common – they were against playoff teams. Now, football (or soccer) is the beautiful game for a reason – because it will dance with your heart or it will shred it to pieces, so I am not saying Lexington is going to dominate against Fuego (though they very much go) because anything can happen in a football match. However, I expect Lexington to look like a team on a mission – to get revenge against Fuego for the loss back in July, to win the season series, and to grab more momentum to help finish the season on a strong run. Mohammed being back from his 1-match suspension is the cherry on top for Lexington, who look ready to bounce back from their slight dip in form and show the league that they will not be a “breather” match for the rest of the season.
Coach Stockley has said repeatedly that Lexington SC is all about building through the youth, and we are seeing more and more of those words become reality with Gonzalez and Mane becoming staples in the starting 11, Jackson beginning to get more minutes, and the professional debut of Josh Head on Wednesday night. We are seeing just the beginning of what the young players have to offer, and I expect them to be hungry Sunday night against Fuego to prove to the rest of the league that they belong.
Yes, this match will be a late one on a work/school night, but I will stay up to watch every second of the action as we could be in for another fantastic performance from the Boys in Green.
Players to Watch
Pierre Mané -The Senegalese midfielder has featured prominently lately after visa issues delayed him from joining the team at the start of the season, and he has made a valuable impact. Especially when he plays next to Dlamini, Mané has been solid in the midfield and has shown he can be a box-to-box central midfielder for Lexington SC for years.
Central Valley Fuego FC
Mitchell North – The Fuego keeper was crucial in snuffing out Lexington’s attack last time they were in Fresno, and having missed the 2nd match in Lexington due to a red card, will be out to prove that the performance was not a fluke or was it?