FC Tacoma 253 already made history this month, becoming the first team in the modern professional era from Tacoma, Washington to qualify for the U.S. Open Cup.
They made history again Saturday night, playing their first NPSL game, but a resilient Real San Jose denied the expansion team victory.
The match ended in a 1-1 draw after FCT 253 was unable to capitalize on consistent pressure in the box, including in stoppage time.
FCT 253 hosted RSJ at Memorial Stadium in Seattle, with the iconic Space Needle looming over the pitch. Memorial was the site of FCT 253’s historic 6-1 win last Sunday over San Diego Flash to qualify for the U.S. Open Cup.
After a scoreless first half, Real San Jose was able to break the draw with a hard strike from 15 yards out by forward Daniel Martinez. The FCT 253 bench wanted offside on the play, one of several judgments that received vocal disagreement during the match.
Shortly thereafter, the frustration seemed to boil over for the home team. After defender Sofien El-Merik was downed in a collision, there was pushing and shoving between the teams on the near sideline. El-Merik would have to leave the game after staying down on the pitch for several minutes. Real San Jose’s David Sifuntes received a yellow card.
FCT 253 answered in the 66th minute, collecting their first goal in NPSL play. Forward Abdi Galgalo, an early sub, punched in the short equalizer after the ball deflected off the goalkeeper’s hands.
Galgalo had another promising threat on a breakaway in stoppage time but had his progress stopped by the RSJ defense, another non-call that got a rise out of the FCT 253 bench. On the ensuing corner, FCT 253 defender Colin Dalrympe missed wide right on a header from feet away. The whistle blew shortly thereafter, sealing the draw.
Coach Filippo Milano blamed his team’s inability to capitalize on inexperience. “The NPSL has a steep learning curve, and our team was feeling pressure after the U.S. Open qualifying wins,” he said. “We had 5 players that were not cleared for eligibility, and I had to put in players who were 18 years old. You need that expertise, that experience in the box.”
Milano is a product of FC Tacoma 253’s strong Italian ties. The team has Italian ownership, management, and several Italian players.
But overall, he was still pleased with the result. “They fought very hard, and RSJ played well,” he said. “And we’re going to get better the next game, and the game after that.”
Both sides had opportunities in a back-and-forth first half. FCT 253 almost had their first goal 5 minutes in when midfielder Jose Ramos’ cross barely missed a diving Oussama Essabr for what would have been a spectacular header.
From there, FC Tacoma 253 kept the pressure on but was unable to score as RSJ’s defense refused to yield.
Real San Jose’s two best opportunities in the first half were denied by exceptional saves by FCT 253 goalkeeper Elmer Rodriguez. The first was a well-timed and aggressive sliding stop; the second blocked a rocket headed center goal from just outside the box. Rodriguez was shaken up after the play but stayed on.
FC Tacoma 253 has to wait until next Saturday, April 4, for their next match. They’ll be playing CD Aguiluchos USA at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, WA.
Real San Jose is looking to improve on last year’s 9th place finish in the NPSL’s West Region. RSJ travels south to Portland to play Spartans FC tonight.