FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz and the word “giddy” are about as close as opposing goalposts.
But there’s no denying his enthusiasm is piqued by a new league season in a new division with a partially new, well-stocked squad going into Saturday’s home opener.
After a couple of “learning experiences” and three points from a pair of tight road matches to open the USL Premier Development League season last week, Schantz and his charges open their home campaign with a 7:30 p.m. match against the OC Pateadores Blues on Saturday at Kino Sports Complex North Stadium.
“This roster is loaded with talent and they’re very smart,” Schantz said before Wednesday’s practice. “They’re all wide-eyed. They love being here. I think they’ve really bought into it more than in years past. We’ve presented a more professional atmosphere.
“We’ve hired a few more staff so that the players can be treated a certain way and it allows the coaches to set up training, to operate with a better plan. Last year, we were all doing so many different things that it impacted what was happening during training. This year, you see there is a clear focus on what the game plan is.”
That game plan includes reaching the playoffs, which the club failed to do last season after making it to postseason in its inaugural year in 2012.
To get back to the playoffs, the club knows it must play better on the road after picking up just one win and three draws in seven away matches in 2013.
That concern was quickly tested last week when FC Tucson, handcuffed by a limited lineup, went on what could be its toughest road trip of the season. After losing 3-2 to the BYU Cougars in Provo, Utah, FC Tucson came back with a 2-1 win over host Las Vegas.
“We had a couple of learning experiences,” Schantz said. “But considering all the circumstances, three points is great on the road. We’ve already set our goal that if we can get our points at home and split on the road I think we’re going to be in really good shape.”
With the first foray out of the way, the team will play the first USL PDL game ever at the new North Stadium on Saturday against a club with a new name and plenty of new talent.
The OC Pateadores Blues — pateadores is the Spanish word for “kickers” — were known as OC Blues Strikers FC last season. The year before they were called Orange County Blue Star.
Last year, FC Tucson scored a record number of goals in a 9-1 home victory over Orange County.
“What I’ve learned about the OC Pateadores Blues is that they are very good,” Schantz said. “We cannot take this opponent lightly. I believe our performance will be very spirited. We’ve got a physical team and a very skilled team. I think the fans are really going to be excited about the passing and the movement as opposed to just kicking it down the field and chasing after it.
“One of the players to watch would obviously be Ricardo Velazco. We’re really excited to see Christian Volesky, how he fits in with the group. Tommy Ramos has probably been the greatest find under last-minute circumstances, and I think the fans will be really appreciative of his quickness. Connor Brandt is back and playing really, really well.”
- FC Tucson added two more nonleague matches to its home schedule this week. The men in black will play National Premier Soccer League side Temecula FC on June 10 and face the Arizona Sahuaros on July 15. Both matches will kick off at 7:30 p.m. at North Stadium. In its first match ever, FC Tucson faced the Sahuaros in 2011, coming away with a 3-3 draw in the inaugural Desert Diamond Cup. FC Tucson beat Arizona 2-0, also in 2011, in the only other match played between the clubs.
- Tucson Soccer Academy FC begins its second season in the Women’s Premier Soccer League this weekend with two road matches in Southern California. TSAFC, the 2013 Big Sky North Division champion who has moved to the Pacific South Division, faces Legends FC in Chino Hills, California, on Saturday and then takes on Beach FC at Long Beach State University on Sunday. TSAFC will open its home season May 31 against LA Premier FC at 5:30 p.m. The match will be part of a doubleheader at North Stadium with FC Tucson taking on the Southern California Seahorses at 7:30.