They didn’t give up without a fight, but unfortunately in the end the season came to a close this past Saturday for the Turlock-based pro soccer team, Academica, in the National Premier Soccer League playoffs, when they traveled to FC Arizona and fell in a close 3-2 game.
This was just their second season in the NPSL and they managed to make it all the way to the playoffs, beating FC Davis, 3-1.
“Overall this season was great for us,” said Academica Manager Sergio Sousa. “We've competed on multiple fronts since January. Players from all around the Central Valley came together and showcased themselves very well. We made a run in the US Open Cup for the first time ever. We went to the NorCal State Cup Final. Qualified for the postseason for the first time ever in NPSL after never giving up and believing that we would make it happen. We played against both Club America and Fresno FC this year with decent showings.”
Sousa also mentioned how the progression of the club overall has helped in all facets.
“Our fan base has grown. Our club has grown tremendously. We have received 3 All-Conferences awards and hopefully we can get some Regional and National Awards, as well,” said Sousa. “But this season now comes to an end and we get to recharge the batteries a bit. We have had a hell of a year and we have to continue to push towards building off of it and improving.”
They were hoping the season would continue past the Western Region Semifinal against FC Arizona on Saturday.
Manuel Villegas tied the game for Academica in the 43rd minute, firing it into the bottom corner from a Cody Golbad lay-off, which made it 1-1 after Arizona notched their first goal in the 33rd.
Things remained intact going into halftime, while the second started off well for Academica. It took just five minutes into the second half to take a 2-1 lead at the 50th, when Jorge Carmona found the back of the net with a free kick.
“We we're feeling up to the task,” said Sousa. “We knew we had the team to go and make it happen, if we were able to find a way to get our entire squad available. If we were able to be the best version of ourselves on the day, we were confident that we'd come home with the win.”
Arizona tied it just four minutes later at 2-2 and the score stayed the same until the end of regulation.
Two 15-minute halves ensued with the possibility of penalty kicks if the score remained tied, but it looked like one side was going to score the way the contest was going.
"We pressed and pressed,” said Sousa. “Caused so many turnovers and turned out defense into offense. Offensively we worked to exploit in between the lines as well as in behind. We made them have to defend us in many ways. When we were able to disconnect them, we were getting in at goal. Defensively we made 2 to 3 errors and that can't happen against a team like FC Arizona. One misplayed clearance equals a goal for them. And that's exactly what had happened. It hurts but that's what it is. We knew we had to minimize our mistakes."
Arizona went ahead at the 91st as they poked one in after a blocked shot and they were able to fend off Academica for the remainder of the game.
“I was pleased with the amount of fight we put up in the game,” said Sousa. “Every player gave everything they had. We had lost the game, but not for a lack of effort. I truly felt that we outplayed them. I was accepting of the fact that the result hadn't gone our way. But I was very disappointed that we couldn't get the best version of our team on the pitch. We deserved more.
"I was happy with how we played,” Sousa continued. “We knew we had to be a bit physical in this game. We had to make this a battle. Arizona is a team that has the ability to control the possession and can be very dangerous in attack. We knew we had to make them defend us. We knew we had to be unified in everything that we did. And we did. We defended and attacked aggressively. We had a plan and we carried out very well. We forced Arizona to have to work to earn everything."
The 2018-19 has been the best year ever, said Sousa.
“But now we have to focus on 2019-2020 so that we can say this again next year,” Sousa added.