FC Tucson: Soccer club revels in a season of firsts, with more to come

2013-07-28T00:00:00Z FC Tucson: Soccer club revels in a season of firsts, with more to comeDave Ord Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 28, 2013 12:00 am  • 

For a sports franchise in its second full year, FC Tucson sure had its share of firsts.

In 2013, the USL Premier Development League soccer club reached greater heights on the field, set records in the stands and started new programs involving the community.

"I think we're maturing into a real soccer club," said Greg Foster, one of FC Tucson's managing partners. "This has been a really great summer from the perspective of having more connections with the community."

Those connections included starting up a youth team, holding its first formal camp and turning match days into doubleheaders that included games involving local recreational teams and Tucson Soccer Academy FC, a new entry in the Women's Premier Soccer League.

"One of the things that's important to us is that we are a fully integrated club, and that's everything from the grass roots level to the highest level of the game," Foster said.

"We're fortunate because we are in a position to host Major League Soccer teams in Tucson for the preseason. … We also need to be concentrating on the grass roots side of the game - recreational youth players, recreational adult players."

But that didn't take away from the focus on the team, which became the first Arizona squad to reach the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup when it traveled almost 900 miles to defeat a professional team, the San Antonio Scorpions, 4-3 on penalties on May 21.

"All that travel and that success was so emotionally and psychologically draining," coach Rick Schantz said of the club's first Open Cup run that ended with a 2-0 road loss to the Houston Dynamo of the MLS. "Not just for the players, but for the coaching staff. None of us had ever been in that situation.

"It kind of put a damper on the rest of the season a little bit. You go from the highest of highs to all of a sudden the grind of the season."

Playing with a much younger team than the prior season - this year the average age was about 21; last year's squad was closer to 24 or 25 - FC Tucson finished 2013 with 10 wins, six losses and four draws overall. In the USL PDL, it went 5-5-4 and finished in fifth.

That's one place where the club will be looking for an elusive first - first place in the division and beyond.

"The reality is that the West Coast plays some of the best soccer in the United States," Schantz said.

"Since we're getting a lot of the best players, that's what we should really aim for - not only winning the division and the playoffs and the national title but setting the bar for the PDL."

One of the things that should help them set the bar next year is a new stadium.

The facility, which is just a goalkeeper's punt from the current digs at Kino Sports Complex North Field No. 5, is set to be finished by late October. The main stand will seat about 1,800 and, with added bleachers placed behind the endline, the venue is expected to have a capacity of more than 2,000.

"I think we are one of the only PDL franchises that has its own soccer-specific stadium," Foster said.

For the first time, the club topped the 1,000 mark for a home USL PDL match. It accomplished the feat three times, including a high-water mark of 1,061 in the season finale July 20.

"I'm never satisfied until the building's filled out completely," said chief business officer Chris Keeney.

"But I would say it was a great year because we did go over a thousand three times, and we increased our overall average (to 771 a game).

"The crowd evolved. It got better and better, especially as the season went on.

"They really started getting into this thing I like to call the 'authentic soccer experience.' There's the singing and the chanting, and there was more progressive involvement."

"The new stadium raises that visibility all the more. It's another game-changer."

And the latest first for a club that's changing the game in Tucson.

FC Tucson firsts in 2013 season

• First U.S. Open Cup match (May 14 against Phoenix FC)

• First U.S. Open Cup win (2-1 over Phoenix FC on May 14)

• First Arizona team to reach the third round of the U.S. Open Cup (with 4-3 win on penalties over the San Antonio Scorpions on May 21)

• First crowd over 1,000 for a USL PDL home match (FC Tucson accomplished the feat three times in 2013)

• Holds first formal soccer camps

• Creates first youth team

• Claims first win over Ventura County.

• Turns match days into doubleheaders for first time

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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