Head Coach Adam Smith sat down to discuss the highs and lows of Fresno FC's first season in the USL. / Photo by RGVFC Toros
2018 was a milestone year for the City of Fresno and Fresno Football Club, with Los Zorros making their professional debut in the United Soccer League and making a chase at the playoffs. As the season nears its end ahead of our final match of the regular season, head coach Adam Smith reflects on the memories, challenges, and expectations from the club's inaugural season.
Q: A lot of incredible memories have taken place over 2018. If you could narrow it down to your top 3 to 5 moments of the season, which would you pick and why?
A: There’s been a lot of good moments this year and I’ll start right at the beginning. I think the opening night was a big moment for everybody. There was a lot of hard work put in during the offseason and the preseason, and then to walk out and see the crowd that we had on the opening night, with the flags waving, and the atmosphere in the stadium, it was great. And then to have the comeback we nearly got showed me straight away that the guys had spirit and determination and we’re going to fight, and despite being 3-nil down, they came back and nearly got to the top of the mountain and it was just a good night. Even though I was disappointed to lose the first game, it showed me that we would have a chance. That we were going to be able to compete, and the scouting and the recruitment, for the most part, had gone well.
I think for me, the second is going to Portland and to win comfortably there 4-2 was a very big moment. And then again against Sacramento, one of my old teams, the 2-0 win with an unbelievable goal at the death scored from Franck Tayou from more than 70 yards out, or whatever it was, those were some of the incredible moments this season.
But there are other things we can look at this season. Going to LAFC for the US Open Cup was a huge moment for Fresno FC. That was great just going to a new stadium like that and playing in the spotlight. And there are others like that like beating Phoenix at home, beating Swope at home, beating Seattle at home, those matches were all fantastic times. But if you had to pin me down on my three best, I’d go with opening night, the 4-2 win at Portland and the trip to LAFC for the Open Cup.
Q: It’s been an incredible year for an expansion franchise. But as much excitement there is, there are some challenges. What challenges have you seen or not foreseen in your first year?
A: I’ll start right at the beginning with the obvious challenge is not having any players signed to a team. Most managers when they join a club already have players to work with and the challenge then is getting rid of the ones they don’t want and bringing in the ones they do want.
OHH COME ON! @KingTayou smashes it from Fresno straight to #SCTop10 #FRSvSAC #USL https://t.co/IDz2fumWW4
It’s an exciting challenge that Frank and I had by starting from scratch, and I know Frank has done it before in Arizona. I liked it, but of course, you have to take a little bit of risk when you start from nothing. We didn’t have the time or expense to fly around the country every day scouting talent, so you rely on good information from people you trust in the game and you have to rely on trying to get players that you know, hence why I brought in a few guys from Sacramento. But the real test of knowing a player is seeing them over a course of games and seeing how they play. We’ve had to take some educated risks, but once we were able to get a core group of guys together, we had to find a staff. Front office had their own challenges in building a staff and finding offices. There’s a lot that goes into building a club and if you want to be professional and do things right and succeed, you have to go and find these all of these pieces. All of that had to be done, on top of attending MLS combines, league meetings and scouting players. It was a busy time, an exciting time, but overall on every level, we can sit back and look at all the good things that have been achieved on and off the field.
Things that maybe were overlooked early on was the travel, because there were weeks during which we had to take an extra day to bus to LA or San Jose to catch a flight that isn’t offered out of Fresno. We also dealt with a big spate of injuries and had to resolve those issues, which hurts as a coach, but it comes with the territory of the sport. It has all had an impact on the season, but we’ve been able to sit down and learn from it.
Q: With all these challenges you’ve dealt with as part of the club’s leadership club, did you meet your expectations?
A: I personally am a little bit disappointed because I thought we had enough once we had done the recruitment and once I saw the guys in action I felt that we still had enough to make playoffs. That would’ve been phenomenal, but it just wasn’t our case. In many respects looking back, I think my target this year was OK. I just wanted to compete in year one. Let’s put a good product together. Let’s get as many round pegs in round holes as we can. Let’s get the organization up and running and give the fans some really good nights at home.
We just missed playoffs, but for year two it’s still a very reasonable expectation. So, come year three the expectations is to not just make playoffs but to see what can we do and how far can we go. We want to finish as far up in the table that we can, and for a three-year plan that makes a lot of sense. Still, I thought we could do it and after the midway point of the season, once we played everybody in the league, I didn’t fear anybody. I thought we competed against every single team in the league. The only team to beat us by more than one goal was Orange County SC away, and when we played them again, we were arguably the better team.
I still feel that we shouldn’t fear anybody, and you see that in the league that it’s very, very tight this season. So, I think the important thing now is to improve on the road, we need to tie fewer games and turn those results into wins, and finish our chances. We’re third-highest in the league in shots, so when you look at that, it’s obvious we need to convert those opportunities and get our forwards scoring into double figures.
Despite the disappointment of not making playoffs, I think you have to look back at everything and say the glass is half full because there have been so many positives that have happened in the community and on the field. We’ve had incredible goals, we’ve had comebacks, we’ve demoralized teams and it’s been an amazing experience with our fans. So, we look at all those positives, remember that, and build for 2019.
Jemal Johnson (above) and Juan Pablo Caffa (below) are tied for the team lead in goals scored in 2018 with nine apiece.