The Fresno Fuego are headed to the Premier Development League playoffs for the first time in three years, securing their ticket in Thursday’s 2-0 win over the visiting BYU Cougars at Chukchansi Park.
The club’s unbeaten streak is nine, putting the Fuego (8-2-1) in prime position to clinch the Central Pacific Division title.
Fresno can take another step toward the title, and potential first rights to host a postseason match, with a win Saturday when it hosts the Southern California Seahorses (2-6-2) in the regular-season home finale. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
Three points against the Seahorses, paired with a Burlingame Dragons’ loss or draw against BYU (a 7 p.m. kickoff), would see the Fuego crowned as outright division champ. Fresno has 24 points with three matches to play and the Dragons (5-4-1) 16 with four games remaining.
It’s been a long ride for the Fuego, which started with an 0-2 record and at minus-1 point in the standings before the sudden resignation of coach Sean Lanigan.
Fast forward less than two months and Fresno has turned it around through stellar team play led by forward Christian Chaney, who scored his 13th goal of the season in the 26th minute against the Cougars; midfielder Alvaro Nogales; and captain Milton Blanco.
Blanco, who leads the team with five assists, was absent Thursday but will suit up for the home finale.
It’s about covering each other’s backs and you’re seeing that in the results.
Brian Zwaschka, Fresno Fuego interim head coach
“Gosh, I mean the spirit is awesome and everybody is really taking care of each other,” interim coach Brian Zwaschka said. “That’s the most important thing.
“Everybody is playing within our means. I think we have a good game model, and it’s important for everybody to show the discipline to respect it, and that’s what’s helping us get some results.”
While the Fuego’s offense is tops in the PDL, the defensive line of Elliott Hord, Sergi Nus, Trevor Spurgeon and Bruno Brumati has stepped up in the past three weeks, helping goalie Agustin Rey net five clean sheets in their past six matches.
329 minutes played since Fresno Fuego has allowed a goal
“It’s massive, obviously,” Zwaschka said. “One of the questions we asked of the players is, ‘What is our defensive identity going to be?’
“There’s no question that we’re a talented attacking unit and that we’re going to get goals and we’re going to cause teams problems, but if we’re going to be a really, really top team, which we want to be, that we have to take care of the defending side. So the identity is something we’ve kind of constantly worked on and I think the guys are constantly seeing and feeling it.”
WPSL: FRESNO FREEZE VS. CALIFORNIA STORM
- Kickoff: 5 p.m. at Chukchansi Park
- Records: Freeze 6-0-1, Storm 4-1-1
- Of note: Freeze look to extend unbeaten streak to eight against second-place Storm, six points behind Fresno in the NorCal division.
PDL: FRESNO FUEGO VS. SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SEAHORSES
- Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. at Chukchansi Park
- Records: Fuego 8-2-1, Seahorses 2-6-2
- Last meeting: Fresno won 1-0 on June 4 in La Mirada.
- Webcast/TV: Youtube.com/CMACFresno (Xfinity 94/AT&T U-Verse 99)