Fuego FC seek first postsesason appearance with dependable group of returnees | Image Credit: Central Valley Fuego FC
FRESNO, Calif. - Professional soccer made its triumphant return to Fresno in 2022 as Central Valley Fuego FC embarked on its inaugural campaign a season ago. After downing 2021 League One Final runners-up Greenville on the road in its first professional match, Fuego FC continued its impressive early-season form with a comprehensive dismantling of USL Championship side El Paso Locomotive FC in Central Valley’s first Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup contest and first home match.
Earning points in seven of its first eight league matches, Central Valley challenged the top of the table early before the wheels came off. Fuego FC cooled off considerably as the season progressed, earning just five victories out of 15 mid-season contests. Impressive back-to-back shutout victories to end the season ultimately proved futile in the young club’s playoff push, as Central Valley finished just two points shy of the playoff line.
Central Valley allowed leading scorer and native son Christian Chaney to leave for Madison in the offseason, but Fuego FC is reloading with one of the league’s most prolific midfielders in José Carrera-García who helped Chattanooga to a League One Final appearance in 2022. Additionally, Central Valley will hope to see continued success from veteran winger Villyan Bijev and promising goalkeeper Ofek Antman in the duo's second season with the club.
Villyan Bijev | Image Credit: Central Valley Fuego FC
30-year-old Bulgarian midfielder and USL Championship veteran Villyan Bijev is set to return to his adopted hometown of Fresno, Calif. to suit up for Central Valley Fuego FC’s second season. The former Bulgaria youth international’s expansive career has taken him from the youth ranks of Liverpool FC to Germany’s Bundesliga and Bulgaria’s First League before returning to the United States with USL Championship sides Portland Timbers 2, Sacramento Republic FC and OKC Energy FC. In 172 games across the Championship’s regular season and playoﬀs from 2016 to 2021, Bijev has accumulated 40 goals and 27 assists. A season ago, Bijev led Fuego FC in shots (72) and shots on target (28), while finishing second on the team with a combined nine goals and assists.
José Carrera-García | Image Credit: Chattanooga Red Wolves SC
Following an ultra-productive 2022 campaign that saw José Carrera-García captain Chattanooga to a USL League One Final appearance and earn All-League First Team honors, the 27-year-old midfielder is set to return to California with Fuego FC. The Ciudad Serdán, Mexico native grew up in Ontario, Calif. before starring collegiately at California, earning All-Pac 12 First Team honors in 2017. Competing with USL League Two side FC Golden State Force while in college, Carrera-García helped FCGS Force advance to the Fourth Round of the 2015 U.S. Open Cup in which the pre-professional outfit faced MLS side LA Galaxy. Carrera-García made his professional debut with Liga de Expansión MX side Club Celaya in 2018 against Club Santos Laguna in Copa MX play. Following 22 appearances with Celaya, Carrera-García returned to the United States to make 13 USL Championship appearances with Las Vegas Lights FC in 2020 before breaking out with the Red Wolves in 2021 and 2022. The Mexican midfielder dished out the most successful passes and won the most tackles across League One in 2022.