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Hollywood falls to Fusion 3-1 in OT

Hollywood United Hitmen News Release -

Saturday, July 25, 2009

PACIFIC PALISADES, CA -- In the end, the movie star ending did not go according to the script for the Hollywood United Hitmen, who were beaten 3-1 in extra time by the Ventura County Fusion at Pacific Palisades High School Saturday afternoon.

Despite having secured the divisional regular season title and a bye through the semifinals, Hollywood found themselves facing a tenacious Fusion side. With the win, Ventura progress to quarterfinals.

The Hitmen were buoyed by the return to fitness of midfielder Federico Bianchi, and the return of former head coach Mike Erush, back from the Maccabiah Games in Israel, and who took his place on the bench alongside coaches Matt Harold and Jason Mathot.
Although midfielder Diego Barrera was absent from the Hollywood lineup (he was in Croatia on trial with several teams in the Prva HNL, and as a result would not face off against his twin brother Danny on the Ventura team), Hollywood began with a strong starting eleven. The Fusion, meanwhile, stated with the same lineup which beat Los Angeles Legends 2-1 in the first round on Thursday, featuring ex-MLSers Adam Smarte, Brennan Tennelle, Bryan Byrne and Anthony Hamilton.

In front of a season-high crowd, in blazing afternoon sunshine, and with the salty smell of the Malibu surf wafting through the air, the game kicked off with a sense of expectation on the part of both teams. Hollywood had won their first encounter 4-0 back in May and Ventura won the return game 3-2 on a 90th minute winner from Hamilton in June. This third matchup would decide their post-season fate.

Hollywood started the brighter of the two teams, and enjoyed a couple of early sniffs at the Ventura goal, with Corona striking just wide from 35 yards out, and Hill making a decent save from Willie Sims at close range.

The Fusion thought they had taken the lead after 25 minutes when the Hitmen failed to clear Danny Barrera’s free kick from the right and the ball was nodded home from six yards by Dillon Barna, only for the assistant referee to disallow the goal for an offside.

Instead, it was Hollywood who took the lead 60 seconds later, when Jaime Chavez won a corner off Fusion defender Dylan Riley; Earl Alexander took the resulting set piece, which was powered past Hill off the forehead of Hollywood’s giant Croatian defender Peter Hazdovac, who had come up from the back and risen majestically above the Fusion’s defenders.

Hollywood almost doubled their lead 10 minutes later when Willie Sims took a beautiful through ball from Rene Corona in his stride and unleashed a shot from 30 yards, which beat Hill in the Fusion goal but smacked off the crossbar.

The close call seemed to wake up Ventura’s players, and they equalized in the 36th minute. Danny Barrera’s corner from the right resulted in a brief game of head tennis in the Hollywood box, until former New England Revolution player Bryan Byrne nodded it home from six yards.

Hill was forced into action again just before half time when he pushed Rene Corona’s swirling, dipping free kick over the bar, and the first half ended all square at 1-1.

The second half was tighter, less open than the first half, as both teams began to feel both the pressure and the heat. Both teams began to make changes to personnel as the half wore on and players began to tire.

Willie Sims came close to restoring Hollywood’s lead in the 60th minute when his shot-cum-cross towards Jaime Chavez drifted over Hill’s outstretched hand but bounced along the crossbar twice before falling harmlessly over.

Fifteen minutes later, Rene Corona was Hollywood’s savior when he blocked a shot from Danny Barrera on the line when a Fusion goal looked certain.

And so the chances continued, most of which involved Hollywood substitutes. Fergie Agwu rattled the Fusion crossbar for a third time with 10 minutes remaining, and Federico Bianchi saw his goal-bound shot deflect off Estuardo Sanchez’s back, while at the other end Alfonso Motagalvan wasted a chance to give Fusion a last-minute winner, shanking his shot over the bar with the goal at his mercy.

Referee Steve Elliott blew the final whistle, and in doing so sent both teams into uncharted territory: extra time, and possibly a penalty shootout. All 22 players took on water during the break, as dehydration and fatigue began to take hold, but the temperature rose considerably five minutes into the first period of extra time when Hollywood’s Nick Blanco and Ventura’s Danny Barrera clashed by the far touchline, resulting in a brief skirmish and a yellow card for Barrera.

Moments later Jose Miranda saved Hollywood’s skin with a magnificent double-save to thwart Artur Aghasyan and Sam Myerson – both Ventura substitutes – at point blank range.

Despite playing their third game in six days, Ventura looked to be the fresher of two teams at this point in the game, while Hollywood seemed to be suffering more in the heat.

In the second minute of stoppage time at the end of the first period of extra time, the inevitable happened; on a quick counter-attack, Fusion striker Sam Myerson turned the Hollywood defense and sent a shot at Miranda, which the Cuban keeper couldn’t keep out, and Ventura were ahead with just 15 minutes left to play.

In a desperate search for an equalizer, Hollywood coach Harold moved central defender Pete Hazdovac forward to play as a third striker alongside Sims and Sanchez.

Unfortunately, this left the Hitmen exposed at the back, and Ventura exploited this space in the 117th minute, when Myerson broke free for a second time and sent a low show under Miranda, which squirmed agonizingly out of the Cuban’s grasp and rolled home to give Fusion an unassailable 3-1 lead.

At the final whistle, Hollywood’s players sank to their knees, Ventura’s bench raced onto the field to celebrate with their team, and an excellent season for the Hitmen came to an early close.

Despite the loss, Hollywood can take plenty of positives from the debut season in the PDL. They were clearly one of the best teams in their division, as evidenced by the regular season title and the several notable results they enjoyed throughout the year, while the impressive strike team of Jaime Chavez and Willie Sims is clearly a force to be reckoned with. The Hitmen will be back, and will undoubtedly challenge for honors once more in 2010.

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