Some day long into the future, the Central California HEAT would like to mirror the California Storm and field a roster that includes one of the best players in soccer history like Sisleide do Amor.
For now, the HEAT gladly will settle for beating the Storm and its former Brazilian star.
Liliana Ruiz scored what initially seemed like a cushion goal in the final 2 minutes of regulation but instead turned out to be the difference and Kelsey Quintos made a critical save off a penalty kick as the HEAT prevailed 3-2 in a Women's Premier Soccer League match Saturday at Fresno City College. It was the Storm's first loss of the season.
"It just goes to show what we're capable of accomplishing here," said Quintos, the recent Central High graduate who will play at Nevada next fall. "We're kind of like the new team in the league and we just beat one of the best teams."
Actually, this is the third year that Fresno is home to a WPSL team.
Except in the first two seasons, the team was known as the Clovis Sidekicks.
Under new ownership and coaching this season, the team changed its name to the HEAT.
The roster philosophy changed greatly, too.
Rather than rely as the Sidekicks had mostly on players who were finished with their college careers, the HEAT has built around players with college eligibility remaining. Like the Sidekicks, that still allows the HEAT to maintain amateur status while competing in the semi-pro WPSL.
Among those on the roster are three New Mexico State players who relocated to the Fresno area for the summer. Fresno City coach Oliver Germond heads the HEAT program.
Most of the players, however, come from the local area and play at Fresno Pacific, Fresno City or Fresno State. Rules prohibit a WPSL team from fielding more than five NCAA Division I players.
"We see this team being a branch of what we already have at the [Clovis Junior Soccer League]," said HEAT co-owner Jim Reed, who also heads up the CJSL, a prominent club soccer program in the area with 6,000 members.
"We have rec leagues and a competitive travel team. Now we have a WPSL team, which gives girls a venue to play during their college summers or maybe after."
The Storm, meanwhile, has paid and non-paid players. In addition to do Amor, former U.S national team star Brandi Chastain is on the Storm roster, though she has played in just one game. Chastain did not make the trip to Fresno.
In the long run, the HEAT hopes it can attract players such as Chastain and do Amor to improve the team and increase attendance. About 200 turned out Saturday.
But those days are well down the road for the new-look franchise, which improved to 3-2.
The goal this year is to finish with a winning season, get its product known and spread the HEAT name around the Valley.
"This is a team that's always going to play hard and we're going to try to win them all," Germond said. "This year has been a fresh start for this program and we want to get it off on the right foot."
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