Spectacular second-half goals gave the Ventura County Fusion their victory.
Spectacular second-half goals by Nathaniel Opoku and Marley Edwards gave the Ventura County Fusion a 2-1 victory Saturday night over the Long Island Rough Riders in the USL League Two national championship game in front of a packed house at Ventura College Stadium. It was the Fusion’s second national championship, the other coming in 2009.
The Fusion entered the 32-team tournament as the 5th seed in the Western Conference, after finishing second in the Southwest Division with an 8-2-2 record. The team, however, entered the title game having won eight straight games dating back to July 1. In the playoffs, the Fusion took out some of the best teams in the country including the Flatirons Rush, Southern California Seahorses, Ballard FC and Flint City Bucks. The Rough Riders, featuring east coast college players, advanced to the title game after winning the Eastern Conference with a record of 15-1-2.
After a scoreless first half, the Rough Riders tallied the first goal of the game at the 54-minute mark in the second. After dispossessing Fusion midfielder Bastien Oberli just past midfield, Justin Weiss took a through ball from Roc Carles Puig and slammed it past Fusion goal Tetsuya Kadono to give the Roughriders a 1-0 lead.
The lead did not last long. Five minutes later 16-year-old Fusion academy product Sergio Villapando drove down the right side of the field to the touchline before dumping a pass to Opoku directly to the right of the goal. Opoku, with his back to goal, controlled the pass and floated a deftly weighted bicycle kick over goalie Wessel Speel’s head and into the Roughrider goal.
Marley Edwards doubled the Fusion lead in the 83d minute, firing a screamer into the bottom corner of the net to give the Fusion the lead and ultimately the championship.
“This has been a great journey,” said Fusion head coach Mike Elias after the game. “We shared it with a great group of boys, and this is the ultimate. I said to them the first day that we were in the training room that I wanted to win everything this year. Guess what, we won everything this year. It’s absolutely superb. They surprised me, they stepped up to the challenge and they are just a fantastic group of boys.”