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Fuego settles for tie against Liga del Valle

The battle of the Rogue Valley will have to wait for another — day.

In Friday night's exhibition soccer action at Phillips — Field, the Southern Oregon Fuego and Liga del Valle All Stars of Medford — knocked each other around until they literally couldn't see anymore, only — to end in a 2-all draw when the game was called due to darkness.

Technical difficulties left the stadium floodlights black — the entire contest and, as time

wore down and visibility diminished, the play became more — and more physical.

But the challenge seemed to inspire Fuego after a sluggish — first half.

"It's a tale of two halves," Fuego assistant coach Steve — Isser. "We played kind of slow and lethargic the first half. The second — half we changed the tempo."

The total soccer strategy Fuego began employing at the — start of the season didn't have the same level of effectiveness against — Liga as it did during last week's game versus the Cascade Surge.

"I think we do better against stronger teams," Fuego head — coach Radovan Dhuly-Smith said. "For some reason, we have a hard time — keeping our game up against weaker teams. But it happens. Every game is — different."

The difference on Friday turned out to be the final score. — Although Fuego won't chalk one up in the W column just yet, the general — consensus was that the knotted finish feels a lot

better than a loss.

"Just because it was two valley teams, I'm happy with — the tie," Fuego forward Davey Grantland said. "We played much better against — the Surge."

The problems on the field were evident.

"The other team, they seemed like they wanted it more," — Grantland said. "I think we came out flat. They had a lot of talented — players we didn't expect."

The first 45

After almost 20 minutes of play, Fuego struck first.

With Liga keeper Tomas Iboa drawn out of the box, Fuego — forward David Peterson popped a loopy kick dead-center in front of the — goal. The ball appeared to travel in slow motion, but no one would touch — it before it caught the back of the net to put Fuego up 1-0 early.

The rest of the game wouldn't be that easy.

In the 26th minute, Liga's Rene Barajas slipped one into — the right corner of the goal, far out of Fuego keeper Mike Welch's grasp.

Each squad had decent looks at the net, but the two goalies — ensured the half would end with a 1-all tie.

"[Our] keeper was excellent today," Dhuly-Smith said. — "He did a wonderful job and he had a lot of great saves."

In addition to his stealth saves, Welch had several decent — punts. He'd spent most of the week working on his deep kicks.

"I think he was the best player on the team today," Dhuly-Smith — said.

The last half

After a spotty first stanza, Fuego came out of the locker — room looking like a different team.

"I think, in the second half, we really improved," Dhuly-Smith — said. "We played good soccer. They came out more physical."

Fuego stayed together as a team better and was able to — put together stronger downfield play.

About 10 minutes into the second half, Grantland snagged — the ball and squirted past a Liga defender at midfield to pass the ball — off to midfielder Jeremy Warner. Warner drove the rest of the way down — the left side of the field, working past two more defenders to take a — shot right on goal and put Fuego up 2-1.

After that, though, it was nothing but close calls and — missed opportunities for Fuego.

"Our system needs to be much better," Grantland said. — "We need to want it more."

Liga eventually scored on a free kick courtesy Francisco — Miranda in the 80th minute that would be the last score for either team. —

Still, the tie is an improvement and Fuego has six games — remaining on its summer schedule.

"We have more games coming up and and I think this is — good for us to always be aware of where we need to improve," Dhuly-Smith — said.

With just over a week until Fuego's two-game weekend road — trip, the team will go back to fine-tuning the total soccer strategy for — the contests against the Chico Rooks and the Sacramento Knights that could — provide that elusive first win.

"They're so hungry and they play with such heart," Isser — said. "They're very dedicated."