FC Tucson’s long-awaited season opener on Saturday night proved to be worth the wait as the Men In Black scored two goals in the closing minutes to snatch a 2-1 win over Fort Lauderdale CF in Florida.
Michigan native Azaad Liadi scored in the 87th minute to even the score at 1 and Tucsonan center back A.J. Valenzuela netted the game-winner in the 90th to cap one of the greatest rallies in the franchise’s 10-year history.
In a season debut match that was delayed four months by the COVID-19 pandemic, FC Tucson gave up an eighth-minute goal when Ricky Lopez-Espin right-footed home a cross from about 10 yards to make it 1-0.
But the Men In Black didn’t fold early and created numerous threats when left back Elivelton pushed forward. FC Tucson eventually began to dominate play after Fort Lauderdale midfielder Joshua Saavedra picked up two yellow cards — and thus a red card — on crunching tackles in the span of three minutes just before the first hydration break. The Florida club lost its second man of the night when Ian Fray did the same thing, two yellows equaling a red, in the final 10 minutes before intermission.
Those reds forced Fort Lauderdale to switch to a packed-in 4-3-1 defense and allowed FC Tucson to steam forward and create numerous opportunities in the second half. FC Tucson outshot Fort Lauderdale 25-7 in the match.
After coming excruciatingly close quite a few times, the Men In Black found the equalizer when Liadi headed home the club’s first goal of the season on a lofting ball into the box by Elivelton.
Spurred on by Liadi’s goal, FC Tucson went right back to work and was rewarded with the deciding goal three minutes later. Shak Adams, one of three FC Tucson subs involved in the play, aimed a cross to the far post that was kept in play by Darryl Longdon’s header and bounced to the feet of Liadi. The strike by the former Georgia Southern University forward squibbed to the foot of Valenzuela, a Desert View High School alum, who scooted it past the outstretched right hand of keeper Dylan Castanheira and into the net.
The FC Tucson defense silenced Fort Lauderdale in the five minutes of stoppage time, snuffing out a late corner attempt just before the final whistle.
The win was the 10th time in franchise history that the Men In Black pulled out a result in the 89th minute or later.
FC Tucson will continue its road trip with a 2 p.m. match against the Chattanooga Red Wolves on Aug. 1.