Like a brand-new slot machine that hadn’t paid out yet, Reno 1868 FC was due for a big jackpot, and the men of the Truckee collected three points and a little respect in Phoenix on Saturday, with a 4-0 win over Rising FC.
Bad jokes aside, this day was probably a little late in arriving. Reno has a solid roster, a head coach with pedigree, and from what I’ve seen, a supportive fanbase. They just hadn’t put the pieces together yet. A three-goal performance in Utah was outdone by Real Monarchs’ five. Then a 2-1 lead at home was erased by a demoralizing stoppage-time equalizer from Colorado Springs.
You had to know that their moment was coming, and USL all-time leading scorer Dane Kelly was just the man for the moment.
Kelly was electric on Saturday, scoring his first goal in just the second minute from space outside the box that he created with his own feet. His second was superb as well, if “easier” than the first, as he had been left all alone by a shell-shocked Phoenix defense. The third was the cherry, as the Jamaican received the ball at the six-yard box and patiently shook a defender and a goalkeeper before scoring off the inside of the post.
Kelly doesn’t waste words, and while acknowledging that it was nice to add to his USL-best 50 goals, he is living in the present. “When you score a hat trick, that’s always a plus in your career, you know?” he said.
Head coach Ian Russell, a man who needs no introduction in San Jose, earned his first full head coaching position in pro soccer this year, and now has his first win.
Asked about what that win does for the organization, Russell didn’t hesitate. “It gives them confidence,” he said. “I think the players, they needed this really bad. The coach needed it, you know? But we’ve got a good team, and I think we can definitely win some more games.”
Perhaps the happiest man at Phoenix Rising Soccer Complex was Reno goalkeeper Matt Bersano. A Phoenix-area native, Bersano played at the respected Real Salt Lake Academy in nearby Casa Grande, Arizona, before playing college soccer at Oregon State and Penn State, and finally landing an MLS contract with San Jose after a year in Seattle.
“It feels incredible to get the win,” he said, “and it also feels great to get it here. Because what they’re doing at Phoenix Rising is incredible, and I’m a huge supporter of what this state is doing for soccer.
“It’s been fun. I’ve learned something everywhere I’ve gone. And coming from RSL, going to college, different college, then Seattle and now San Jose, and back and forth with Reno...the experience is tremendous. It’s pretty exciting to then come back to Phoenix and get this first win for this club. It’s huge.”
The Biggest Little Club in USL now sits a respectable 12th in the Western Conference table, a full two points ahead of Portland, on whom Reno has two games in hand. It’s a long season, and if you didn’t know, then you know now, that 1868 are here to play.