Fusion Plays Long Island Roughriders Saturday Night in USL2 National Final At ventura college
The Ventura County Fusion chases its second USL League 2 national championship Saturday night at 7 pm at Ventura County Stadium, taking on the Long Island Rough Riders in the league championship game. The Fusion will be pursuing its second USL League Two title, and first since 2009. This is the second time that the team has reached the national title game since joining the league in 2–7.
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, peaked at exactly the right time, and enters the title game riding an eight-game win streak that dates back to July 1. In the playoffs, the Fusion have defeated the Flatirons Rush, Southern California Seahorses and Ballard FC. The Fusion advanced to the national championship by defeating the Central Conference champion Flint City Bucks, 1-0 on July 31 in the national semifinals.
The Fusion relies on a stingy defense led by goalie Tetsuya Kadano (San Diego State) and central defenders Juan Pablo Alvarez (Cal State Bakersfield) and Giovanni Calderon (Cal State Fullerton) that has let in only three goals in the team’s four playoff games.
The Fusion attack relies on a trio of NCAA Division 1 college players. Forward Logan Farrington, who plays for the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, leads the team in scoring and has provided rock solid hold-up play all season long. Second leading scorer Nathaniel Opoku, who will play for ACC powerhouse Syracuse University this season, scored the game-winner against the Flint City Bucks and provides speed and defensive pressure on the wing. Marley Edwards, who played the 2021 season at Fresno Pacific University, has scored four goals on the wing, providing speed down the left side. Highly regarded 16-year-old Fusion Academy product Sergio Villalpando, who has scored three goals on the year, rounds out the Fusion’s attacking quartet.
“The squad has come together nicely since the start of the season,” said Fusion head coach Mike Elias. “We are peaking at the right time and have put in some good performances as we have progressed throughout the playoffs. The final stages have seen the best of us, however, I still feel there is more to see from this group of players. I am hoping that we will peak on Saturday evening.”
The Long Island Rough Riders won the USL League Two Eastern Conference with a record of 15-1-2. Despite that record, it had to take out some of the best teams in League 2 to reach the national final game. It took down the previously-undefeated Ocean City Nor'Easters, before putting away Vermont Green, and Seacoast United Phantoms. The Rough Riders advanced to the title game with a semifinal 2-0 defeat of North Carolina Fusion Under-23 to capture the conference championship.
The team is led by the high-scoring trio of Matthew Vowinkel, Ryan Carmichael, and Bjarne Thiesen. Vowinkel, who plays his college soccer at Hofstra University, led the Roughriders with 15 goals on the year including four in the playoffs. His Hofstra teammate Carmichael scored 13 goals on the year including three in the playoffs. Vowinkel and Thiesen each scored against NC Fusion U-23 to put the Rough Riders through to the Playoff Final.
Thiesen was a 2021 United Soccer Coaches All-America Third Team selection for West Virginia University. Carmichael was a 2021 First-Team All-Colonial Athletic Association selection and led Hofstra with 15 goals and 39 points for the season. Vowinkel, who played five seasons at Hofstra, was drafted with the second pick in the third round of the 2021 MLS SuperDraft by FC Cincinnati but was not signed to the team.
“The Rough Riders are another quality team,” said Elias. “They would have to be to make the final of Nationals. They also play a very similar style and system to us and it will be interesting to see how things play out. We have a few ideas we would like to try and I guess you just have to be there to see if we can execute them on the field of play.”
Long Island, which won a team-record 15 games this season, is trying for its third national title in its 29-year history. It won the U.S. Interregional Soccer League crown in 1995 and the USL Pro championship in 2002.
The gates will open Saturday at 6:15 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at ticketleap.com