The Fresno Fuego will start the Premier Development League playoffs next week against the only team they’ve lost to this season (not by forfeit) when the Burlingame Dragons visit Chukchansi Park. Kickoff is 7 p.m. Tuesday.
It’ll be the fourth meeting between the two clubs this season, with the Dragons leading the series 2-1-0.
The Fuego (10-3-1) dropped their season opener 1-0 to the Dragons on May 6 at home. After a Week 2 forfeit against San Francisco City FC, the Fuego went unbeaten in their next 10 matches, including a 2-1 victory over the Dragons on June 2 at home.
However, the Dragons (7-4-2) won 2-1 on July 8 in Burlingame to lead the all-time series 4-1-1.
But the Fuego may carry an upper hand, with home-field advantage and eight days of rest – five more than the Dragons, who will close out the regular season Friday against SF City FC.
Interim coach Brian Zwaschka is hoping the extended break won’t cool a blazing Fuego squad that won the franchise’s first division title in three years.
“Sometimes when there’s a little bit too much time between games, it’s easy to take too much of a break,” he said. “But we’re going to make sure we’re managing that, and the discipline in the group has been good enough that we don’t really foresee that being a problem.”
The winner of Tuesday’s playoff game will represent the Central Pacific Division in the semifinals of the Western Conference Championships.
Burlingame Dragons won the 2015 Southwest Division title and are 4-1-1 all-time against the Fresno Fuego
The Fuego will to look contain the Dragons’ forwards Jamael Cox, Daniel Musovski and Khalid Arramdani, who was named to league’s Team of the Week on Wednesday. They’ve helped Burlingame reverse a 2-3-1 start by going 5-1-1 since then.
Fresno, which has produced seven clean sheets in its last nine matches behind goalie Agustin Rey, has never held Burlingame scoreless in their two seasons playing each other.
10-1-1 Fuego’s record under interim coach Brian Zwaschka
Offensively, Fresno will count on breakout forward Christian Chaney, who has scored a league-best 13 goals this season (tied with OKC Energy U-23’s Noah Keats and Ocean City’s Chevaughn Walsh), and additional offensive threats Alvaro Nogales (five goals, four assists) and Milton Blanco (three goals, six assists) to cause mayhem.
Chaney was not at practice Wednesday. Instead, he was training with the USL’s Sacramento Republic FC. Chaney is not expected to leave the Fuego ahead of the postseason for the Republic, according to Zwaschka.
“(Chaney) just went up there to visit and they were good enough to recognize what he’s been up to (in Fresno) and invite him in to make sure that he was acquainted and understood their interest level,” Zwaschka said. “We’re going to support him with whatever comes of it, if he ends up getting a great opportunity, we want to make sure we support him and support that. But likewise, we know his heart is here and he’s going to help us in every way he can.”
They have been very respectful of the idea of what we’ve been doing here and he’s certainly been a key ingredient.
Fuego interim coach Brian Zwaschka, on the Sacramento Republic FC’s interest in star forward Christian Chaney
Should Chaney be absent, the Fuego could look to Nick Moon, who scored a goal and assisted on another in a 2-0 win at SF City FC on July 10. Chaney did not play in the season finale, with Moon starting in his place.
FIRST ROUND: FRESNO FUEGO VS. BURLINGAME DRAGONS
- Kickoff: 7 p.m. Tuesday at Chukchansi Park
- Records: Fuego 10-3-1, Dragons 7-4-2
- Webcast/TV: Youtube.com/CMACFresno (Xfinity 94/AT&T U-Verse 99)
- Tickets: $8 for youth general admission, $10 for adults and Fire Squad members, $13 Phoenix Club. On sale starting at 12:01 p.m. Friday at TicketReturn.com or the Chukchansi Park box office.