Ahead of Fresno FC's Championship season opener against New Mexico United, we mapped out the Foxes' Road to Victory:
Without question, the most glaring part of Fresno FC’s unbeaten preseason was its strength of opponents. A string of 6 games over the last five weeks saw the Foxes play just one team from the USL (LA Galaxy II), another from the fourth-division NPSL (Academica SC), three NCAA programs (UC Santa Barbara), (Fresno Pacific), and (CSU Bakersfield), and local junior college Fresno City College. That’s not much of a defensive challenge for a returning back line of Alex Cooper, Zachary Ellis-Hayden, Ramon Del Campo and Mickey Daly. So, these minutes matched with intra-squad scrimmages at training will need to keep the Foxes above a New Mexico side that features former Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC midfielder Josh Suggs, ex-ATL UTD 2 forward Devon Sandoval and 2017 USL Rookie of the Year Chris Wehan, along with a sellout crowd cheering behind them at Isotopes Park.
The departures of Rony Argueta, Pedro Ribeiro, Agustin Cazarez, and Danny Barrera left plenty of open spots in the Foxes midfield that head coach Adam Smith has managed to fill in the offseason. It’s evident former MLS winger Jackson will take the right wing and provide another explosive force opposite of Jemal Johnson on the left. Meanwhile, at the center of the pitch, ex-NY Red Bulls homegrown player Arun Basuljevic, former Pumas UNAM and U-21 Mexican National Team player Jorge Escamilla, two-time Japan Football League MVP Hiroki Kurimoto, alongside Emir Alihodzic (Saint Louis FC) and Seth Moses (Indy Eleven) will fight for the starting positions in a crowded midfield. Whoever the pair are, they’ll need to support an offense that returns four goal scorers (Jemal Johnson, Juan Pablo Caffa, Renato and Christian Chaney) and brought on two more (Jaime Chavez, Qudus Lawal).
The biggest eyesore from 2018: Fresno FC’s away record - 2-9-6
It was the one obstacle that stopped Fresno FC from reaching the postseason. It was the late goals conceded at San Antonio (L, 1-2), Phoenix (D, 1-1), Reno (D, 1-1), Sacramento (L, 0-1) and Rio Grande Valley (L, 1-2) that ultimately kept Fresno from breaking into the upper half of the Western Conference table. That trend cannot continue in 2019 if the Foxes want to reach their first postseason, and that means leaving New Mexico with three points in hand and not a draw. It may help the Foxes that New Mexico is in the same scenario they were a year ago – an inaugural franchise that made its big debut at home. The home opener was spoiled for Fresno and now the Foxes have the chance to play spoiler, too.