The BYU men’s soccer brought some fire of its own to South Field Saturday night where the Cougars earned a 1-1 draw with last year’s regular season champs, the Fresno Fuego.
“I’m really pleased with the result tonight,” Head Coach Chris Watkins said. “I’m proud to see us go toe-to-toe with Fresno. That doesn’t happen very often.”
Fresno came into the game 28-1 in its last 29 regular season games. The first half proved the game was going to be a hard-fought victory for either side though, as both teams went into halftime with zeroes on the board. The Fuego showed their division dominance coming out of the locker room as they took four shots in the first five minutes of the second half including a go-ahead goal in the 48th minute.
“We gave our opponent too much time on the ball,” Watkins said. “Our defense was a little too passive coming out.”
Halfway through the second half, Watkins put forward David Gates and midfielder Bryson Pope into the game to help the Cougars score an equalizer. Almost instantly, the feel of the game changed and Fresno found itself on the defensive trying to control the speed and strength of the attack Gates and Pope brought with them.
“Gates and Pope made the difference when they came into the game,” Watkins said. “We planned those subs for the second half and I told them to go out strong when the Fresno defense was a little tired.”
Six minutes after being subbed into the game, Gates scored off of an assist from teammate Doug Clark to equalize the score.
“It’s a relief to get a goal to tie,” Gates said. “It’s a relief to get back in the game. It’s like the score goes back to 0-0 and we start playing again.”
In the last 25 minutes of the game, the Cougars shot six more times and even found the back of the net in the 78th minute, but that second goal by Gates was wiped off the board by a foul called against BYU just before the shot. Jonathan Junca had a shot go off of the near post and Pope had back-to-back shots blocked by the Fuego keeper in the 86th minute to end the game tied at one goal each.
“Coach told us to come into the game with energy and get the team pumped,” Gates said. “We really found our fire in that second half. Bryson and I came in with fresh legs and knew the game was on our shoulders. I’m happy not to have let the team down.”
The draw keeps the Cougars undefeated on the season. They begin a road trip next week starting with a game against the Pali Blues on June 1st.