Saturday figures to be a night of high emotions for the Fresno Fuego.
The Premier Development League team hosts its opener against Burlingame at 7:30 p.m. at Chukchansi Park.
It’s a young, but bitter rivalry in the PDL’s Southwest Division with Burlingame assuming the role of top dragon after joining the league in 2015.
The Dragons lead the series 5-1-1, their latest win eliminating the Fuego in the first round of the 2016 playoffs. The wounds from the extra-time upset are still healing.
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“Without a doubt, Burlingame is one of the top teams in the Western region and we’re well aware of that,” midfielder Renato Bustamante said. “It’s one of those games where every player wants to play.”
Fresno native Elijah Martin is excited to have his first hack at the Dragons in his first full season with the Fuego. He spent the preseason in Fresno last year, then played with the Tampa Bay Rowdies 2 of the National Premier Soccer League.
Fresno Fuego debuted at No. 2 in the PDL’s Western Conference Power Rankings. Calgary FC, the 2016 league runner-up, is first.
He watched the playoff game online from the East Coast.
“There’s still a bitter taste from last year,” Martin said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I wouldn’t want it to be any other way for our first game. We’re ready,”
Defender Luis Hernandez is from Madera but spent last season playing for Burlingame after a tryout with the Fuego.
“It’s always a special thing to play against your former club. Especially the first that gave me a chance in the PDL level,” Hernandez said. “I think it’s going to be a night of a lot of emotions.”
Quakes Unified debut – The San Jose Earthquakes Special Olympics Unified team will make its hometown debut in an exhibition against the Fresno Freeze at 5:30 p.m.
Quakes Unified comprises regular and special-education students from Fresno-area high schools who play in the TRAC Unified Soccer League. They were chosen to represent the Earthquakes in a Special Olympics California Clásico against LA Galaxy Unified.
Quakes Unified will receive a complete MLS experience May 27, attending the Quakes-Galaxy match at Avaya Stadium. After the pros play, the unified teams will square off in their own clásico and play again Aug. 27 at StubHub Center.
FRESNO FUEGO VS. BURLINGAME DRAGONS
- Saturday: 7:30 p.m. at Chukchansi Park
- 2016 records: Fuego 10-4-1; Dragons 8-5-3
- Series/last meeting: Dragons lead 5-1-1, won 3-2 in extra time playoff match July 19, 2016
- Tickets: $6 youth general admission, $8 adult GA and Fire Squad Fresno section, $11 ESPN Club; fans receive custom Fuego flags