Dawn brought storms ahead of FC Wichita’s debut Friday night in the National Premier Soccer League against the Joplin Demize at Stryker Soccer Complex.
The rain – literally – put a damper on the new club’s plans for its franchise opener. VIP tents were underwater. The field, set to be mowed at 10 a.m., couldn’t be touched until 5 p.m., 2 1/2 hours before kickoff.
It was a big, sloppy mess – and one that seemed to work just fine even though FC Wichita lost 1-0.
“Couldn’t ask for a better night,” FC Wichita owner Blake Shumaker said. “It didn’t go exactly as planned, but it went great.”
Fans filled up most of the bleachers. The national anthem went off in an electric-guitar solo. A group of two dozen soccer fanatics carrying Wichita flags and beating a drum went hard for the entire 90-plus minutes, even setting off a flare and a red smoke signal at the start of the second half. There were long lines at the concession stand and beer tent.
“I felt that we controlled a lot of the game, I felt very positive about our play,” Wichita coach Larry Inlow said. “It’s disappointing we didn’t win in our debut, but I saw a lot of positives, a lot of things we can build on.”
Wichita went on the attack in the first half, with four shots to Joplin’s zero, and couldn’t muster a goal.
Former Wichita B-52s indoor star Matt Clare missed two point-blank attempts – the first on a slightly off angle to the left of the goal that hit the post at the 29-minute mark. The second came when he beat two Joplin defenders and the goalie, but sailed the ball over the top of the goal on a left-footed chip shot.
“Created a lot of chances tonight, and it looks like we can have some success moving forward,” Clare said. “On the first shot, I pulled it back and kind of slipped and the angle went away on me. The second one, touch let me down in the end … the ball went 50 yards over the goal, that’s terrible.”
In the second half, Joplin jumped on a Wichita mistake for its first shot and first goal. Joplin’s Mario Pinto captured an errant pass by Wichita’s Osmon Mendez just outside of the box and easily beat goalkeeper Mauricio Vargas for a 1-0 lead in the 66th minute.
“The first half they pressed us whole time and second half, we started to press them high,” Pinto said. “(Mendez) missed the touch and I was right there. We’ve been practicing for a couple of weeks, so we’re used to playing on the wet fields.”
A good portion of Wichita’s players didn’t join the team until this week as they were finishing final exams at their colleges.
“We got the lion’s share of the opportunities in the first half,” Inlow said. “We just couldn’t capitalize on them.”
FC Wichita returns to action at Stryker on Sunday, hosting Liverpool FC’s International Academy team at 5 p.m.
Second half—Joplin, Pinto (unassisted). Shots— Joplin 0-2—2; Wichita 4-1—5. Saves—Joplin, Haseltine 2-1—3; Wichita, Vargas 0-1—1.