Soccer

Fresno FC’s first season a success based on popularity

Fans of all ages welcome Fresno FC for its first game in downtown Fresno

Fans of soccer watched the new Fresno Football Club play Las Vegas Lights FC at Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno. ,Fresno FC lost to Las Vegas 3-2 under threatening rain clouds Saturday night,
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Fans of soccer watched the new Fresno Football Club play Las Vegas Lights FC at Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno. ,Fresno FC lost to Las Vegas 3-2 under threatening rain clouds Saturday night,

Fresno’s first season with professional soccer wraps up Saturday night with Fresno FC hosting Real Monarchs SLC.

And if the regular-season finale is anything like the majority of the Foxes’ home games this season, it’ll be another vibrant atmosphere at Chukchansi Park.

Led by their rambunctious hardcore fans called Fire Squad Fresno, Fresno FC has ranked 11th in attendance out of 33 United Soccer League franchises.

Fresno FC apparel has done well, too, with the club saying it sold twice as much merchandise as it had projected going into the season and ranking seventh in the league in revenue.

That level of initial interest could go a long way in the pro soccer franchise establishing a long and strong presence in the central San Joaquin Valley.

“There’s been a lot of excitement this year,” Fresno FC coach Adam Smith said, “and that’s been wonderful to see.”

Popularity, however, can only go so far.

Now, the Foxes’ on-the-field product just needs to catch up to their fans’ enthusiasm.

Fresno FC (9-12-12), which has the 12th-best record in the USL’s 17-team Western Conference, was unable to finish among the top eight and qualify for the playoffs out of the gate.

There have been signs that the Foxes could be on track to getting there.

Fresno FC generated the fifth-most shots (486) out of all 33 USL teams.

The Foxes also allowed the sixth-fewest goals as often was reflected at Chukchansi Park, where Fresno FC allowed on average of 1 goal per home game. Overall at home, Fresno FC outscored opponents 36-18 and finished 9-3-6.

“It’s been a good ride,” Foxes forward Pedro Ribeiro said. “We’ve played well at home, which I think is important when you’re starting something new and wanting to give the fans something to enjoy.

“Obviously, we wanted to make the playoffs and we fell short. We need to play better on the road. But for being an expansion team, I thought we did pretty good.”

Keep in mind that the Foxes spent half the season bouncing around different practice venues – often restricted to how much time they’re allowed to use the field – until the club finally found a permanent training facility at Fresno City College.

Though Fresno FC plays its games at Chukchansi Park, the club wasn’t always allowed to practice at the downtown venue because of the wear and tear on the field. The soccer team shares the stadium with the Fresno Grizzlies baseball team, the venue’s primary tenant.

Fresno FC also spent some time searching for support staff, such as a team chiropractor, psychologist and chaplain.

“As said, ‘Rome was not built in a day,’“ Smith said. “None of these are excuses. We expect more and expect better.

“But I think we achieved a lot in such a short amount of time.”

Bryant-Jon Anteola: 559-441-6362, @Banteola_TheBee

If you go

Fresno FC vs. Real Monarchs SLC, final game of inaugural season

7 p.m. Saturday

Chukchansi Park

$17.50 and up

559-320-2525, www.fresnofc.com

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