Fresno FC clinches a USL Championship playoff berth in thrilling fashion

CJ Cochran saved the match for Fresno FC. Not once, but twice.

Cochran made two penalty kick saves in the second half to preserve the Foxes’ 2-1 victory over Phoenix Rising FC, clinching a playoff berth in the USL Championship Western Conference before 4,523 fans at Chukchansi Park on Saturday night.

Fresno snapped Phoenix’s 20-match win streak.

“I wanted to make the save for the team,” Cochran said. “They’re the highest-scoring team in the West and won 20 games in a row. We knew going in probably have some moments in the game with some pressure and you only can hope it was late in the game trying to hold the lead and that’s what happened. The guys battled all night.”

On the second penalty kick save, Cochran dove and deflected the ball with a fingertip. The referee apparently didn’t see the touch, though, awarding the ball to Fresno to the goalkeeper’s relief.

“I was a bit happy to see the ref point at the goal kick line instead of giving them a corner,” Cochran said. “You like to be credited with saves, but the last thing I wanted to do is defend a corner against the giants they have.”

The Foxes (16-5-8) are alone in second place with 56 points - three more than Reno 1868.

“We did it in style,” Fresno FC coach Adam Smith said.

Smith said the most important match for his team was Wednesday’s 5-0 victory over Rio Grande. “That gave the guys confidence going into today. It took pressure off the guys. The pressure is on them and not us. They’re the team that won 20 in a row and we were the underdogs tonight. I know we were the home team, but still feel we’re the underdogs. To go and beat them is phenomenal, but we have to dust ourselves down and refocus and we have a tough couple road trip games coming up where we have to try to pick up points to try to secure that second spot.”

The USL Championship playoffs begin in late October. Ten teams advance in each conference.

Fresno FC plays at San Antonio and at El Paso before coming home for its final two regular-season games at Chukchansi Park, Oct. 5 against Tacoma and Oct. 12 against LA Galaxy II. The Foxes finish the regular season Oct. 19 at Orange County.

Anthony Galaviz: 559-441-6042, agalaviz_TheBee

Anthony Galaviz writes about sports for The Fresno Bee. He covers the Oakland Raiders, high schools, boxing, MMA and junior colleges. He’s been with The Bee since 1997 and attended Fresno City College before graduating from Fresno State with a major in journalism and a minor in criminology.