RENO, Nev. – With a challenging final three games of the season waiting for them, Reno 1868 FC wanted to ensure it took advantage of the visit of Tulsa Roughnecks FC to Greater Nevada Field on Saturday night to close in on a second consecutive trip to the USL Cup Playoffs.
In a comprehensive 2-0 victory 1868 FC did just that, moving one point away from a return to the postseason in a contest that saw it pepper the Tulsa goal with shots without allowing a shot on target to its host throughout the 90 minutes.
“Those are the games you need to win, especially coming down to this last stretch,” said Reno defender Zach Carroll. “I think we still have a ways to go. It easily could have been five, six to zero. We just need to fine tune those offensive attacks more and our counterattacks, but I think the sky’s the limit for this team going forward.”
The fact that it wasn’t a more lopsided score was down to Roughnecks goalkeeper Fabian Cerda, who recorded 11 saves in a superb display that included a late penalty kick denial of Reno forward Brian Brown. The Chilean goalkeeper was unable to keep everything out, however, with Brown having earlier scored his 16th goal of the season to put the hosts ahead before Carroll added a second with a well-finished header from a corner kick to give 1868 FC a comfortable lead at halftime.
The hosts then piled on nine shots on goal among 20 overall in the second half but were unable to add to their lead as Cerda stood tall in the Roughnecks’ net. Antoine Hoppenot finished with five shots on goal, while Brown had four that included the late penalty kick denial that kept him from adding to his team-leading total.
Brown did make some history on the night with his opening goal, however, as his 19th goal for the club surpassed Dane Kelly for the all-time lead in the young franchise’s history. Kelly claimed the USL Golden Boot last season with 18 goals before signing with D.C. United this season, but Brown has picked up where he left off with his fellow Jamaican’s encouragement.
“If I can get over 18 goals in one season [to pass Kelly] then that’s a plus,” said Brown. “Dane wants me to beat it, he talks to me every day before games. He even texted me and told me I need to stop scoring one and get two or three because that’s how I’ll stay I the race for the [USL] Golden Boot.”
Cerda foiled Brown’s aspirations for multiple goals on Saturday night, but now the club can look ahead to its closing three games of the regular season against the Portland Timbers 2, Phoenix Rising FC and Orange County SC with renewed confidence. Victory against T2 on Wednesday night would clinch a playoff place and could also offer a path to a top-four finish if things fall right in the final two weeks with Real Monarchs SLC continuing to falter on Saturday night in its loss to Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC.
“We have to keep the momentum,” said Reno Head Coach Ian Russell. “We have to keep playing well and taking chances and get results. We always want to play in front of our home fans. Earlier in the year we were having a hard time winning at home, but I think we’ve figured it out. We’d love to play a playoff game here, but there’s still three games to go and we’ll see how we do.”