FRESNO, Calif. – In terms of which player Fresno FC’s fans would have expected to provide the goal that helped keep the Foxes’ playoff hopes alive in a 1-0 win against Saint Louis FC at Chukchanski Park on Saturday night, Zach Ellis-Hayden – he of no shots on goal this season prior to Saturday’s game – might not have been high on the list.
But when the right back pulled out a strike from 25 yards that picked out the top-left corner of the net for his first goal in the Foxes colors, Ellis-Hayden knew he’d produced something special.
“I felt [it] right when I hit it,” he said. “Sometimes when you score a goal it takes a minute to register. Things go off in your head and you start celebrating or something; it all happens so quickly.”
The goal wasn’t Ellis-Hayden’s first in the USL. The Canadian had scored once a season ago for Orlando City B, and his attacking tendencies that saw him register four assists previously this season when available for the Foxes have been part of the club’s inaugural season success.
Ellis-Hayden even had a role to play in setting up his finish on Saturday night, sending a deep ball down the right side to find Danny Barrera, who held up play before slotting back to the defender as he followed his pass to join the attack, allowing Ellis-Hayden to unleash the sort of finish the Foxes had previously seen from the likes of Juan Pablo Caffa – who himself had hit the post with a spectacular long-range free kick inside the opening five minutes – Jemal Johnson and Pedro Ribeiro this season.
Fresno FC's Zach Ellis-Hayden gets congratulations by teammates after scoring his first goal of the season against Saint Louis FC on Saturday at Chukchansi Park. | Photo courtesy Kiel Maddox / Fresno FC
“I mean it was a heck of a goal,” said Foxes Head Coach Adam Smith. “We’ve had a few great goals this season, so I don’t think the home fans will be disappointed with some of the attractive football that they see at home. The type of goals that they’ve seen look at Pedro’s, Juan Pablo’s free kicks, Zach’s tonight, we’ve had a lot of great goals.”
It was also a vital one for Fresno’s playoff hopes. Breaking a four-game winless streak, the Foxes pegged back Saint Louis’ recent run of form, to move within a point of the playoff places with eight games to go in the regular season. With numerous teams around them in the playoff hunt having games in hand, the Foxes are still only a 28 percent chance at making the postseason after last night’s victory according to fivethirtyeight.com, but with each win comes a renewed hope that the postseason might be waiting.
On Saturday night, while Ellis-Hayden provided the goal the Foxes also got a sterling effort by goalkeeper Kyle Reynish to make it stand as the winner. The veteran shot-stopper had made a big save to keep out Saint Louis’ Wal Fall before Ellis-Hayden’s strike, and ended with three saves overall as the Foxes’ defense held firm late on.
“There were some saves I had to make early but to really just grind out to the end it just shows the difference [in the side at this stage of the season],” said Reynish. “We are growing and developing and really showing a little bit of character at the end of the game to finish the plays and get back all the messy flips to get the result.”
With five of the club’s last eight games on home turf, the Foxes are hoping they can grind their way through the crucial games that lie ahead to earn a place in the postseason.
“I think we’ve been able to get many more results whenever we come home,” said Reynish. “We know we are going to get a good support from the fans and they give us that extra energy, that 12th man. So, I think it was not as much as an offensive push but defensively to really grinding that game and the fans played a huge part of that.”