Photo courtesy Kiel Maddox / Fresno FC
FRESNO, Calif. — With back-to-back victories over the past two weekends, Fresno FC has moved back into the hunt for a place in the 2018 USL Cup Playoffs, only sitting outside the top eight places in the Western Conference by virtue of having one fewer win than eighth-placed Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. The resurgence of the team has come mainly from the team’s success on the wings, as spreading the ball wide proved successful in victories against both Sacramento Republic FC and the Portland Timbers 2.
In both games there was a heavy use of the wings, but it was the opposite wing in each match as the Foxes favored the left flank against Sacramento and the right against Portland. The side's second and third goals against Portland in a 4-2 victory this past Sunday highlighted this, with the second coming from a penalty kick that was drawn from a switch that caught out the T2 defense and the third coming from a cross into the penalty area the defense was unable to deal with, setting up a simple finish.
Being able to utilize both wings gives the Foxes a flexibility which makes defending hard for opponents, as does the side's willingness to shift players to match up different skill-sets in one-on-one matchups. When something isn’t working on one wing, the team can either change tack, play on the other wing, or even shift players and set up potential mismatches. Those movements have seen Juan Pablo Caffa be the most recent beneficiary, with three goals in the last two matches.
The players on the wings that have been utilized heavily are former USL All-League selection Danny Barrera and young Canadian standout Noah Verhoeven, who in the last two matches have created five chances combined. Verhoeven managed a passing accuracy of 87.2 percent against Sacramento and Portland, while Barrera recorded an 83.8 percent accuracy rate.
Caffa’s work has gone beyond scoring goals, with the captain the main man to receive balls when they’re played into the middle. As a traditional No. 10, the Argentine veteran has gone on to create chances as well as put them away with four key passes in the past two games, making him integral in setting up chances for the Foxes.
One other area has been crucial for Fresno in fueling its attack, with the Foxes' interception-rate allowing it to spring forward quickly from midfield. In the last two games, the Foxes managed 34 interceptions, bringing their total for the season to 286, fifth in the league. But gaining the ball through an interception is not enough, it’s what you do with the ball when you get it that matters.
In recording 16 interceptions in their 2-0 victory against Sacramento Republic FC, the Foxes managed to create chances consistently after turning over possession. As the side prepares to take on Phoenix Rising FC on Saturday (10 p.m. ET | Match Center | ESPN+) putting up similar numbers may be difficult with Phoenix one of the more careful teams in possession this season having given up only three shots and one goal from defensive errors this season, but finding a way to so so would allow the Foxes to step up to the challenge of hosting the second-placed team in the USL Western Conference as they continue their push for a playoff berth.