In week 3 of the USL Championship Reno had their first away game. The game was in Fresno. Reno would have to play this game without the driving force of their offence, Brian Brown. Both teams had identical records going into this match. Both teams were also looking to extend their undefeated streaks. The game was also Fresno’s home opener.
This game provided Reno fans with their first travel opportunity. There also was probably not a better weekend in March to travel to Fresno. This was because Fresno was having a street festival all day. The festival was also located right outside of the stadium. Fresno is also a generally nice place to travel to for soccer. Most of the home fans and all of the supporters are really nice to away fans. That makes traveling there a little easier and fun. It makes away fans want to be at those games. Hostile fan bases make it more of a challenge for travel. Pregame becomes harder as they can’t be at the same pregame spot. Away fans have to be more careful inside the stadium for their own safety. Having encounters with hostile fan groups, makes me really appreciate the fans in Fresno.
Leading up to this match I knew Reno was going to be without some of their top players. The Jamaican national team took Brown. The US u23 team took JT. San Jose took Duke Lacroix. In order to win the game Reno had to have people step up in some positions. I was thinking that with Brown gone, Lindo Mfeka would have to step up as far as being a set up type player. I was also thinking that Raul Mendiola would have to step up as a goal scorer and finisher. I knew Fresno had solid defense. I also knew Fresno would be playing more physically. I think that Fresno playing more physical than most teams could create problems for other teams, such as injuries.
What happened in the first half?
Both teams came out and played pretty evenly. I don’t think either team through 30 minutes had a strong advantage over the other. Then another defensive mistake cost Reno again. Thomas Janjigian would get an unlucky touch on the ball as he was trying to clear it out of the box. The ball ended up in the back of Reno’s net. It is always heart breaking to see an own goal by your team. To the team it’s self-defeating. Watching the highlight of the goal, it doesn’t look like there was much he could do. He just hit the ball wrong. I think he might not have hit it wrong if he would have tried to stop the ball and control it a little before clearing it. Even with the Fresno’s pressure in the box, I think controlling the ball was still an option.
Neither team changed up what they were doing after the score change. This benefited Reno. Reno up to that point had majority of possession all night. Reno was finally able to get one in in the 42nd minute to tie things up. The goal was scored by Raul Mendiola. He got the ball in the middle, went around a few guys and shot it from just outside the box. I haven’t found any confirmation but I think that’s his first goal with the club. It was a soft goal. None of the defenders really changed for the ball until it was too late. There were 4 defenders on him too, who all were within challenging distance. The shot was kind of soft in my opinion. It was on the ground, aimed at the near post. From that distance, it should not have gone in. Instead of getting in a position to make a save, the keeper looked like he was going to come out and challenge for the ball think that Raul would get around the defenders. This put him in no position to save the ball. That was ultimately his mistake. He got mad at his defenders instead of acknowledging his mistake. I am glad that Reno got that goal. I think it’s good that Raul was able to take advantage of the keeper’s mistake. It was what Reno needed going into the second half.
What happened in the second half?
Up to the start of the second half, the Fresno players were disrespecting the referee all game. They got into his face on multiple occasions, even going as far as to get the ref to get in one of the players faces. As the teams were walking off after the first half, one of the Fresno players decided to stay on the field. That player decided to go argue with the ref some more. He was in the ref’s face and one of the other Fresno players had to basically drag him away. I’m surprised he didn’t get thrown out.
In the 46th minute, Fresno got a yellow card for persistent infringement. That alone should tell you they are playing too aggressively. Reno’s Zac Carroll would also get a yellow card. That call was a call where the same play had happened multiple times before with a no call. That unfortunately was how the entire game was called. Multiple times the same plays happened twice, and on one it was a call and on the others, it wasn’t. In my experience, its hit or miss with USL referees. There is very little consistency in the league. At this point, there is no excuse for it. They need to be better. I don’t know if that means better trainings or getting new referees, but it needs to change.
In the second half, it looked like both teams continued with their same game plan. I don’t see that as a problem as both teams found success in the first half. One play that stood out to me was when Matt Bersano saved the game for Reno. Shortly after Reno had a few chances to score, Fresno had a solid scoring opportunity. Reno was struggling to get the ball away from Fresno. Fresno got a short pass off in the box and a deflection while Matt was diving the other way. Matt stuck his leg up and saved the game. Every in the stadium thought it was a goal as the play was happening. Play however, continued. As the game went on Reno would have more and more time of position and Fresno would get more and more aggressive.
After match thoughts
Reno put Lindo into where Brown plays. Lindo in this game had to play in the middle. He was also being fed the ball as much as Brown does. This doesn’t work. Unfortunately, Lindo isn’t tall enough or have the hops to win headers as often as center player should. He also doesn’t have the same skill as Brown to get around defenders once he has the ball. With Brown gone I thought that they would have tried to play a wide game instead of (what they normally do) a game focusing on the middle. Reno also played a lot like how they did for most of last season. They had a lot of position time which turned into attacking time but weren’t taking shots when they had the opportunity. I think not having Brian Brown or Duke Lacroix in the lineup led to some of this happening. This isn’t good as it means that the team will struggle when losing these players.
I am glad they didn’t lose. They are off to their best start ever as a club. Technically Fresno didn’t score. Although I don’t like some of the players on Fresno because of how they play, I do like their fans. I had a lot of fun on this trip. The team now has an opportunity to stretch this unbeaten streak going into Saturday. Brian Brown should be back for that one.
Player of the match
My player of the match is Matt Bersano. Besides making that amazing save in the second half, he did make other saves that kept us in the game. He also showed a lot of leadership skills following the own goal. It looked like he didn’t worry about it. It even went and tried to get his team mates not to worry about it. Then he went and tried to motivate them to score. Which they did. In contrast, the keeper for Fresno turned around and yelled at his defenders after the Reno goal for what was untimely his own mistake.
Reno 1868 FC’s next match will be against OKC Energy. This is a home match for Reno. The match will take place Saturday March 30. The match will be at Greater Nevada Field. Game time is 5:45pm.