The Flash finish the regular season on the road against Fútbol Club Santa Clarita this Saturday, July 7. The following weekend San Diego will host a first round matchup of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) playoffs. Eventually, they hope to play in the national finals being hosted in San Diego by the Flash at the end of July.
Second placed Fullerton travelled down the freeway from Orange County on the back of some great form that has seen them move into second place on the ladder and looking for the result that would have confirmed their own place in the finals. The Flash could have been seen as vulnerable in this instance having already confirmed top spot and a home final but with an undefeated regular season a distinct possibility, the squad looked focused on the job at hand.
The first half saw rapid end-to-end action with both teams trading attacking runs. More than once the Rangers took advantage of some uncharacteristic mistakes in the heart of the San Diego defense to make dangerous counters that forced goalkeeper Nick Harpel to make a couple of brilliant saves.
San Diego had their best chance at the 32-minute mark when Justin Picou was brought down just at the edge of the penalty box. However, Perez’s free kick was tipped up and off the crossbar and the half finally ended with a 0-0 score.
In the second half it was the away team that started the brighter and they scored in the opening minutes. Pressing the early attack, Fullerton crossed a pass to the back post where a height mismatch saw Fullerton striker Rodan Elders head the ball in past Harpel. The Rangers bench erupted with emotion and they could smell an upset on the cards.
“The ball went to my left outside,” said Harpel after the game. “It was a great cross, a phenomenal cross. We had a mismatch on the back post – a guy that was 5’6” marking a guy that was 6’1”. It happens. He tried to go up and battle it. It was right next to the post and I was hesitant going up for it, and things happen. You can’t take a second off – you take a second off and things happen.”
Where Fullerton may have made their biggest mistake was in celebrating “as if they had scored in the World Cup,” as one observer put it. The over-enthusiastic display fired the Flash up and the home side went on the offensive. After several strong runs, Perez connected for the first of his goals on a beautiful bending shot from the right flank in the 65th minute. The blast seemed to catch everyone on both teams off guard.
That goal seemed to take the fight out of the Rangers, and San Diego worked to press the advantage. Eight minutes later Perez netted his second, with the assist going to Justin Picou. Less than two minutes later Nelson Pizarro took advantage of a Rangers miscue to put the Flash up by two goals. This is the second games in the past three weeks that has seen the Flash go behind and then fight back with three quick goals which is an ominous sign for any future finals opponents.
But the Flash were not done yet and with less than ten minutes left Perez finished off his hat trick for a 4-1 lead. The icing on the cake came with under two minutes in regulation left, with Joe Shah closing out the scoring by rounding the Fullerton goalkeeper and slotting the ball home to give the Flash their flattering 5-1 victory.
After the game Flash head coach, Warren Barton spoke candidly about the win. “The quality showed again,” he said. “We showed good character, and that’s what I said to the guys. They celebrated their goal like they just scored one in the World Cup, so we had to respond to that – and we did, with five goals. I’m very pleased with that.”
Asked what he told the team that helped them settle down from a shaky first half, Barton said, “I just told them to relax a little bit more. Just pass the ball a little more crisply, have a little more composure on the ball, and they did.”
’65 Juan ‘Kichi’ Perez-Bernal
’73 Juan ‘Kichi’ Perez-Bernal – assist Justin Picou
’75 Nelson Pizarro
’81 Juan ‘Kichi’ Perez-Bernal
’88 Joe Shah
Man of the Match: Juan ‘Kichi’ Perez-Bernal with a second half hat-trick.
’48 Roldan Elders
The match also saw the Flash ‘go pink!’ in support of breast cancer research. All funds raised at the game were donated to the San Diego Affiliate of the Susan G Komen Foundation for the Cure through local partners the Kickin’ It Challenge and local junior soccer club, the Poway Vasqueros.
Information from SoccerNation.com was used in this report.