As if the Fresno Fuego didn’t already have a bitter taste in their mouths heading into Saturday’s home exhibition against Sacramento Republic FC, the same club that eliminated them 6-0 in last year’s U.S. Open Cup tournament. Ahead of the rematch, their uniforms were stolen.
General Manager Jeremy Schultz had given the kits to defender Jesus Garcia to take with him to work at the Pro Soccer Shop for some adjustments.
But the night before, his car, with the uniforms inside, was stolen.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Schultz, who heard the bad news Tuesday morning, minutes before going live for a TV spot promoting the match. “I thought somebody was messing with me at first.”
Other players learned about the theft at practice that night.
Nonetheless, the club is amped for the “Highway 99 Derby,” as it hopes to reverse last year’s third-round Open Cup defeat and knock off a team that also is the defending champ of the professional-level USL PRO league.
“That’s motivation,” coach Scott Alcorn said. “They kind of made a mockery of us and we’ve never lost to a pro team like that. I want us to redeem ourselves. That’s not who we are.”
For Paul Islas, tensions built up in last year’s match will carry into Saturday’s 7 p.m. exhibition at Chukchansi Park.
“They call these ‘friendly’ matches, but there’s nothing friendly about them,” Islas said. “You go ask Sacramento if this is going to be friendly match and I guarantee you they’re not treating is as one.”
Fresno will field a number of veteran players, including Milton Blanco, Elliot Hord and Alberto Navarro, who are looking to sign with professional clubs this season. Jose “Chiva“ Cuevas is the only returning veteran who is locked up, agreeing to terms with USL PRO’s Arizona United FC in November.
Republic FC held its first practice of 2015 on Monday. Its stop in Fresno is the first of three exhibitions before beginning its second USL PRO season.
“I’m looking forward to the atmosphere,” Hord said. “It’ll be nice to step on the field with an experienced group. … That’s what we’re going to need.”
PDL schedule released
The Premier Development League released its schedule for the 2015 season Wednesday and the Fuego will open their title pursuit at home against the Golden State Misioneros at 7:30 p.m. May 2.
It is a 14-game regular season, seven each at home and away, with the Fuego remaining in the Southwest Division of the Western Division. Fresno finished fourth a year ago at 6-7-1 for 19 points. Ventura County (8-3-3) was the division champ with 27 points.
Open Cup format set
The 2015 U.S. Open Cup tournament will include a new geographically based draw among the final 16 teams, with one of the goals to reduce travel.
The U.S. Soccer Federation said Wednesday that 91 teams will participate, up 11 from last year and the most since the tournament’s modern era began in 1995. Forty-seven teams come from the three professional divisions (Major League Soccer, North American Soccer League and USL Pro).
Teams with shared ownership-affiliation won’t be allowed in the same quarter of the fifth-round draw June 18, and the semifinals would be redrawn if teams with shared ownership-affiliation are scheduled to meet.
The tournament starts with play-in matches April 22-26 and ends Sept. 29-30. The winner gets $250,000 and a berth in the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League.
MLS will have 17 of its teams enter in the fourth round. Nine from the second-tier NASL enter in the third round and 21 from USL PRO in the second. The other 44 teams come from the amateur ranks, including 19 from the PDL, though the Fuego were not among the qualifiers. The initial pairings announcement is April 8.