OPEN CUP: Fusion topples Blues in OT

FULLERTON -- Might there be no better soccer team in the country from the 91st minute on than the Ventura County Fusion?

After scoring four goals in overtime to win their U.S. Open Cup opener last week over the Fullerton Rangers, the Premier Development League powerhouse netted two on Tuesday, dispensing with the L.A. Blues in a second-round clash.

Francisco Lopez scored his second goal of the game in the 107th minute -- 17 minutes into the extra period -- and Travis Bowen, Chivas USA forward Tristan Bowen's brother, added another with four minutes to go, and the Fusion stunned the USL Pro club, 3-1, before a sparse crowd at Fullerton College's Sherbeck Field.

Their reward: a third-round showdown next Tuesday night against Chivas USA at Ventura College, pending expected U.S. Soccer approval of the site.

Francisco Lopez converted an extremely iffy penalty kick to force overtime, and UCLA goalkeeper Earl Edwards made a save on Allan Russell's penalty kick for a Blues win in the 85th minute, but there was no doubt which side was more deserving.

With Rodrigo Lopez, a former Chivas USA and the Portland Timbers midfield, running the field, the Fusion absorbed heavy early pressure, gave up an own goal after just 13 minutes, and spent the rest of the game outbattling the Blues all over the field.

“And now we have a home game against Chivas, which we really relish,” said Fusion head coach Ole Mikkelsen, who watched the final 23 minutes of overtime from just outside Ventura County's locker room after he was sent off for angrily protesting a call. “I have to say, I thought we were [the better team]. We came out slow, which is to be expected: They're a pro team, they play together every day, they're more comfortable with each other.

“Unfortunately, a miscommunication led to that own goal -- those things happen. It could have buried us, but we kept battling, we added some rhythm, and as soon as we got that first goal, I knew that we were in it, and I knew we had a chance to take it from them.”

The Blues, one of three (of 10) USL Pro teams to lose Tuesday, nearly scored three goals in the first six minutes and got one when Fusion defender Tim Pontius' pass under pressure on an L.A. counterattack skipped past Edwards and into the net. Ventura tied the score on Francisco Lopez's 34th-minute penalty kick after Cory Miller was whistled for tugging an opponent's jersey as a free kick sailed into the goalmouth, as flimsy a spot kick as can be awarded.

The Blues had further opportunity: Edwards parried an Irving Garcia shot early in the second half and dived to stop Russell's PK after another questionable decision by referee Ramon Hernandez; George Davis IV's stupendous weaving run nearly paid off late in overtime; and former Chivas USA star Maykel Galindo, making his L.A. debut off the bench, failed to finish two good chances at the 6-yard box, a sign of rust and the hamstring injury he's returning from more than anything.

Head coach/GM Charlie Naimo wasn't impressed.

“We played poorly. We didn't deserve it,” he said. “We gave some guys a chance to prove they belong on this team, and they failed. Miserably, to be honest with you. ...

“Early on, we could 3-0, 4-0 in the first five minutes, and you miss easy, squander simple chances, and the next thing you know, it's a match. Bottom line: The guys didn't play with heart. I think getting all those chances early on might have hurt us. I think we might have thouyght it was going to be easy the whole time, because it looked easy the first bit. ... It was a complete letdown tonight.”

The Blues were down to 10 men by the end, with Miller picking up his second yellow card in the 86th minute, but they weren't on par with the Fusion even with 11. Lopez and Chivas USA draft pick Daniel Steres took command of midfield for Ventura, and Pontius and Mickey Daly led a strong backline performance.

Naimo said he was considering releasing players who were on the field.

“We're really unhappy with some, and I think some people are in a hole so big right now, they need to move on, because they're never going to play here. They just completely played themselves out of favor tonight. This was their big chance.”

Naimo did not identify the players he was considering releasing.

The Blues lineup featured nine regulars and two players -- Welsh midfielder Chad Bond and former Cal Poly Pomona star Luis Gonzalez -- who have seem extremely limited time in the USL Pro matches. Bond was pulled at halftime for Garcia, and Gonzalez departed in the 66th for Galindo, whom Naimo hadn't planned on using until he needed offense late. The only other substitution was for an injury, with forward Matt Fondy exiting in the first half for midfield leader Ricky Waddell after hurting his left ankle.