The Fresno Fuego pulled off one of the upsets of the Second Round in the US Open Cup, knocking off professional side Orange County Blues 2-0 behind some solid defending and two opportunistic goals.
Abraham Campos and Jose Cuevas scored within three minutes of each other late in the first half, which was enough for the PDL side to knock off the USL-PRO Blues and move on to the Third Round. The amateur squad last defeated a professional team in the tournament in 2003.
“We defended extremely well,” said Fuego head coach Scott Alcorn, who was ejected in the final 10 minutes of the match. “It was the best defensive effort this season. But the difference tonight was that we won the 50-50 balls.”
Fresno ran into trouble before the match even kicked off, as three of their players were ruled ineligible. Alfred Edmonds and Elliot Hord were both forced into the starting 11 for the Fuego at the last minute, and the match kicked off nearly 45 minutes late as a result of the roster confusion.
Despite the early drama, and despite temperatures at kickoff nearly reaching 100 degrees, Fresno started the first half brightly, creating as many chances as their USL-PRO opponents. Fresno winger Paul Islas forced Blues keeper Mohammad Mohammadi into a good save, tipping a shot over the bar. Soon after, Orange County’s Enrique Cardenas zipped a shot just past the post and wide.
It was the Fuego who would get on the board first at the end of the first half. In the 41st minute, Campos lined up over a free kick about 25 yards out, and banged a low shot that beat Mohammadi, deflected off the post and into the net.
Three minutes later Fresno doubled their advantage. Tyler Reinhart forced Mohammadi into a save, but the rebound deflected right back to the forward. Reinhart nudged it to Cuevas, who slotted in the goal from about eight yards out for the 2-0 lead.
Desperate to find some kind of offensive spark, the Blues made substitutions early – they had used all three by the 60th minute. Orange County was able to turn up the pressure on Fresno, controlling the majority of possession as the second half wore on, but it couldn’t put any good chances on goal.
“To get the second goal right before half totally changed what we wanted to do. We wanted to still put pressure on them,” Alcorn said. “As the second half of the half moved on, obviously we dropped into a little more low-pressure, and the last 20 minutes we basically bunkered in.”
The Blues were given additional life when Fresno defender Trevor Spurgeon was shown a red card in the 85th minute, reducing the hosts to ten men. Five minutes of stoppage time were added, but Fresno defended well and held on for the shutout victory.
Fresno was making its third trip to the US Open Cup. Most recently, in 2012, they defeated Stanislaus United Turlock Express in the First Round, before getting hammered 7-2 by the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the NASL.
Orange County, then known as the Los Angeles Blues, entered the US Open Cup in the Second Round in 2013. They defeated the Ventura County Fusion 5-1 before being knocked out of the tournament by Chivas USA of MLS for the second straight year.
Fresno will travel a few hours north for their next Cup match on May 28 to take on the Sacramento Republic, who defeated the Ventura County Fusion 2-1 in the Second Round. The winner of that game will get the chance to take on an MLS club in the tournament’s Fourth Round.
“We’ve played exhibition games against MLS teams, and we feel we can play with any of them,” Alcorn said. “We’re just not as deep as they are. win just earns respect for the PDL, and the PDL is such a high level that doesn’t get the respect it deserves. it just shows you that USL soccer is at an extremely high level.”