Ricardo Velazco is the epitome of a professional. Except for the part about being paid.

The 5-foot-7-inch FC Tucson forward has the skills that make him a constant threat when he has the ball - his team-leading five goals in nine matches this season can attest to that. But he's not afraid to drop off and help at the back.

He's always in the mix during a match and is almost always the last to leave practice, continuing to hone his game by working on free kicks.

A native of Casa Grande, Velazco is no stranger to the Tucson soccer scene. He played two seasons at Sunnyside High School and was a standout at Tucson Soccer Academy.

"Ricardo is the most driven player I've ever coached, bar none, and I've coached some really good players at TSA," said FC Tucson assistant coach Jeff Rogers, who is the director of coaching at TSA. "But Ricardo is the epitome of a kid that eats, sleeps and dreams soccer and about being a pro. And that's where he is a professional player. He's unfortunately in an amateur environment; he doesn't have a contract, but every aspect of his game, of his mentality, of his approach is professional. It's all he thinks about; it's all he dreams about."

After spending two seasons at the Real Salt Lake Arizona Academy in his hometown and this past fall playing at NCAA Division II Cal State-San Bernardino, Velazco returned to FC Tucson for a second stint. He played in the last six matches during the team's playoff run in 2012.

This season, he joined the team from the start and hit the field dribbling.

He scored three goals in his first four matches, including a strike from long range in FC Tucson's historic win over the San Antonio Scorpions in a second-round match of Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

His mazy runs have sent many a defender the wrong way, often to the delight of the FC Tucson faithful.

But then again, some of those sitting in the stands have a rooting interest.

"Most of my family drives down from Casa Grande for the games," said Velazco, who's headed to the University of Louisville with a full scholarship in hand when FC Tucson's season ends. "It's awesome having them here. When we have a home game, they all try to make it - cousins, aunts, my dad, my sisters. It's around 15, so I have to make a big list when I put down my guests."

Those guests are obviously familiar with the spelling of his last name; the rest of the soccer world clearly was not.

Early in the season, he informed FC Tucson that his last name is spelled "Velazco," not "Velasco."

"It got spelled wrong with Real Salt Lake, and they couldn't change it," Velazco said. "They kind of left it, and I had to keep the 's.' So I just kind of got stuck with it. It just seemed to transfer wherever I went. When I came here, I said it's with a 'z.'"

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet; just ask FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz.

"He's just a really dynamic dribbler. He can beat players 1-v-1. He's a great striker of the ball," Schantz said. "But what many people don't know is he's also a tremendous defender. He works extremely hard. He doesn't like to get beat himself. He's kind of this really, really good all-around athlete and all-around player. He plays very aggressive, and we like that about him."

In each of FC Tucson's last two matches, Velazco has had particularly impressive strikes.

"Velazco's goal, the third goal we scored, was world class," Schantz said about the forward's tally in a 5-1 win at the Southern California Seahorses on June 11. "He cut inside from the left and curled a ball into the far right corner. It was pretty spectacular. I think that was a back-breaker."

Velazco's celebration included a simulation of a surfer paddling and then riding a board.

Not a bad analogy: Catch a wave and you're sitting on top of the world - even if you aren't being paid.

Up next

• What: FC Tucson at Fresno Fuego

• When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Up next

• What: FC Tucson at Fresno Fuego

• When: 7 p.m. Saturday