In the first of three soccer matches overtaking Chukchansi Park this week, the Los Angeles Galaxy II won their inaugural match with a 2-1 exhibition victory over the Fresno Fuego on Thursday night in front of nearly 1,500 fans.
The Galaxy II — new members of the USL PRO league — came out gunning against the Fuego's 4-4-2 formation, but goalkeeper Beau Diaz made a diving save on a strike by Jack McBean in the fifth minute.
Travis Bowen kept the pressure up for Galaxy II and eventually found the goal in the 10th minute, slipping in a loose ball coughed up by Diaz near the top of the box.
Twelve minutes later, the Galaxy II made it 2-0 on a cross from Oscar Sorto that Raul Mendiola slotted in from 15 yards out.
After the first two goals, the Fuego played more cohesively, using midfield winger Paul Islas and left back Jesus Garcia to push the ball outside-in to striker Milton Blanco.
"The intensity was a little higher and it was kind of hard to get used to at first," Blanco said. "It showed in the first 20 minutes."
Fresno finally hit paydirt on a corner kick in the 40th minute, as Cody Ellison headed in the ball from Blanco to put the Fuego on the board 2-1.
"We had our runs set up, I went for it and it came right to me and I got my head on the ball," Ellison said.
The second half saw more attacks from the Fuego, who had four shots on goal but failed to find the back of the net.
"If the game was a little longer we might've won," Blanco said. "We got the jitters out, got used to the pitch and speed of play, and we'll do better on Saturday."
Abraham Campos and Elijah Martin, both with connections to the Fuego and the Valley, saw minutes with Galaxy II.
Campos started the second half for L.A., while Martin was subbed in and welcomed to the pitch with a round of cheers in the 85th minute.
For Armen Ekezyan, the game was more than an exhibition — it was the start of a rare weekend of elite-level soccer. The highlight is Saturday's 7 p.m. match between the MLS' Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes.
"It's very exciting seeing the pros and their reserve teams come to Fresno," said the 35-year-old father, who brought his wife, Rimma, and their six children to Thursday's game.
"We're going to bring even more people on Saturday, our in-laws and everybody," Ekezyan said.
The Fresno native is a Galaxy fan whose favorite player is Landon Donovan.
But the visit comes a year too late to perfectly suit his 13-year-old son, Armen Jr. His favorite footballer, David Beckham, retired from the Galaxy last year.
"It'd be cool to see Beckham but since that can't happen, hopefully we see a lot of goals get scored," Armen Jr. said.
The Fuego open what is being billed as the Central California Cup at 4 p.m. Saturday with an exhibition against the San Jose Earthquakes reserves.
The Galaxy-Earthquakes match follows.
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