The mood at Mission Bay Stadium was electric with excited and loyal fans streaming into the stadium after a long winter break. After several days of rain, the San Diego sun prevailed, shining warmly as ASC San Diego kicked off the 2018 NPSL season against the defending conference champions, FC Arizona.
Both teams had their fair share of opportunities in an attack-oriented, push-and-pull match. ASC led for most of the game, until a sudden FC Arizona comeback in the final minutes, and a stoppage time equalizer for ASC closed out their opening night contest, leaving it 3-3 at the final whistle.
ASC pressed the action early in the in third minute behind solid efforts from first-year players Dallin Cutler and Garrett Heine. Cutler, ASC’s new attacking midfielder, sprung free – as he would frequently throughout the game – and laid a ball across to Heine, whose point-blank redirection forced an excellent save from the FC Arizona keeper.
Just a minute later, Heine again blazed past defenders and got into space for a one-on-one chance at goal, which he converted with ease.
ASC controlled the ball well through much of the first half, attacking relentlessly and creating scoring chances against a stunned Arizona defense. Arizona bounced back quickly, responding at the half hour mark with a scrappy clean up goal. Carlos Mexia picked up a deflection from inside the box and put it low across the goal, just out of the reach of ASC freshman keeper Marius Heislitz. The game remained tied 1-1 heading into halftime.
ASC continued to press hard from the second half’s opening whistle, maintaining the possession advantage throughout and creating frequent scoring opportunities. The deadlock held until the 60 minute mark, when it was finally shattered by a blistering goal-bound header off a Dallin Cutler corner.
ASC’s 2-1 lead held for the next 11 minutes, when a swift FC Arizona counterattack evened the score. Carlos Mexia evaded the defense and streaked down the field to kick the tying goal. Mexia wasn’t done there though, completing his hat trick just seven minutes later, putting ASC in a tough spot, down 3-2 with 12 minutes left to play.
ASC San was in desperate need of a response and created a flurry of chances in the last ten minutes to get back into the game. It wasn’t until stoppage time that they finally got their dramatic equalizer. Doug Andrade, a late-game substitute, pounced on a low cross delivered by Cutler, to notch the point from the first week of play.
“I saw Dallin going for the first post, and I knew my spot, I had to get to the PK mark,” Andrade explained of his late finish. “Honestly he did all the work there. He faked it, and all I had to do was put the ball in. I was fortunate to get the goal.”
After the game, head coach Ziggy Korytoski focused on the road ahead.
“It’s one point against the defending conference champion, so we’re in a good spot to start the season,” he said of the night’s result. “We don’t have an easy schedule and getting points early on is a very big deal, given what our goals are for the end of the year. Fortunately, we’ve got the team that is capable of finding a solution every game.”
Korytoski’s message to the team after the match showed his commitment to team excellence. He stressed the value of tenacity, urging players to dig deep and finish every play – especially in moments when the team finds itself pressing an advantage.
On the sidelines, fans revelled in the excitement of a thrilling opening game match and enjoyed family-friendly activities with balloon sculptures and face painting. At halftime, Joe “Wacky Willy” Binning was recognized for his work with the San Diego Center for Children, ASC’s charity partner for the game.
ASC will now take on Riverside Coras on April 7th. $1 of every ticket will go to benefit Rady Children’s Hospital, matched by team partner Classy.org.