The Cougars face the Fresno Fuego for the second time this season on Thursday night in Fresno, Calif., but now more is at stake than in the first game.
The Fuego(4-4-3) are one point ahead of the Cougars(4-4-2) in the Premier Development League standings. The Cougars can move up in the standings in the next couple games, but it starts with putting the cold on the Fuego.
“It’s a huge game in the standings,” BYU Coach Chris Watkins said. “If we win both games, or really, get four points from the weekend, it’ll be a fantastic weekend. We should move up in the standings quite a bit.”
Moving up in the standings is a focus for this road trip considering the Cougars will have four games remaining when they return.
“If we can beat both of these teams I think we’ll have a shot at getting…into the tournament,” sophomore forward David Gates said.
The game Thursday is the second time the Cougars will face the Fuego this season. The previous meeting between the two ended in a 1-1 tie. Last season the Fuego had a hot streak going of 28 straight unbeaten games in the PDL. The Fuego have gone cold more recently, losing three out of the last four games since the tie against BYU in Provo.
The Fuego are capable of catching fire. They play in an energetic venue at a Triple-A baseball stadium.
“I think last year they had 6,000 people [in the crowd],” Watkins said. “It was a crazy atmosphere. But we’ve always played pretty well there too, we haven’t always won, but we’ve always played pretty well. So we’re pretty optimistic.”
The optimism comes from the Cougars’ growth and improvement as a team through the course of the season.
“We’re much better in a lot of phases, but number one, we’re confident in front of the goal,” Watkins said, “We’re better [at putting] pressure on the ball and we’re scoring goals at a lot better rate than we were at that time. So both of those things combine for a good opportunity.”
The Cougars aim to get off to a fast start on Thursday.
“If we start off confidently, taking people on,” Watkins said, “Hopefully we score an early goal—but taking people on and being very comfortable going at our opponent, whether we score or not. That seems to give our team a bit of swagger as we go into the game.”
The Cougars look to improve their division standing against the Fuego on Thursday at 8p.m. at Chukchansi Park in Fresno, Calif.