The slogan “What happens here, stays here” was linked to Las Vegas more than 10 years ago.
The Cactus Pricks have been around just four years, but they should have their own slogan: What happens with the Cactus Pricks, stays with you.
The supporters group, which has been there with FC Tucson since its first soccer match in 2011, faithfully cheers on the men in black and does everything in its power to steer the matches FC Tucson’s way.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the Cactus Pricks’ dedication. A band of about 20 members made the 400-mile trek up to Las Vegas. They brought enough enthusiasm to turn the field on the UNLV campus into another FC Tucson home match and helped create one of the more memorable nights in the club’s short history.
10:15 a.m.: A silver Toyota Prius pulls onto Interstate 10 carrying four passengers — the Cactus Pricks president, a fellow Cactus Prick, a bass drum and a writer. Keaton Koch, 21, is a Pima College student and soon-to-be Arizona Wildcat. He’s the driver, which is only fitting because he’s been the driving force behind the Cactus Pricks since the beginning. He embraces both the game of soccer and his local team like the first man to reach the World Cup-winning goal scorer after his celebratory run.
Henrik, 28, is a software engineer. The native of Corvallis, Oregon, who declines giving his last name, went to USC before moving to Tucson. He’s been a member of the Cactus Pricks for a year and a half. The bass drum is only a few years old, but is held in such great reverence that it receives a spot in the back seat — fully buckled in, of course.
The topics of conversation are often the expected car banter for soccer fans on their way to Las Vegas — the heat, gambling, the best Mexican food, gambling, the state of Major League Soccer and gambling. But the dialogue also dips into areas less expected — horseradish, PBS and Arizona’s highways.
12:51 p.m.: There’s a stop-off at the Carl’s Jr. in Wickenburg. Three members grab food, the fourth keeps to the beat of its own drummer and stays in the car.
5:01 p.m.: The car pulls into the parking lot of the Vegas hotel, which is about two blocks from the Strip.
9:30 p.m.: During a walk from Planet Hollywood to Aria, we pass by the first of five guys dressed as minions from “Despicable Me.” One of the more entertaining things about walking the Strip is seeing people dressed as characters or stars and trying to get people to give them tips for a picture. Also spotted throughout the night are Woody from “Toy Story,” Michael Jackson and Elmo.
11:32 p.m.: We meet up with five more Cactus Pricks at Ellis Island, a just-off-the-Strip casino that Keaton calls “old-school.”
2:22 a.m.: A walk back to the hotel includes more talk about soccer in Tucson.
3:30 p.m.: After either sleeping in to conserve their energy for the evening’s match or enjoying the Strip on a cloudy day when the searing heat abated somewhat, the Cactus Pricks begin meeting up at Hofbräuhaus, a German restaurant located just a few blocks from the stadium. If there was ever a bar for soccer supporters, this is the place. If there were ever soccer supporters for a bar, it’s the Cactus Pricks.
You can stand on the benches. You are obligated to sing and encouraged to make noise in between bites of jägerschnitzel or schweinebraten. Raising a liter glass stein each time the jovial master of ceremonies, MC Johann, tells you to is considered compulsory.
On an alphorn, a long horn that’s the musical equivalent to the stretch limousines that are constantly cruising this city, MC Johann plays “Amazing Grace,” and the theme from “Star Wars.”
Five more Cactus Pricks come in at halftime, giving the group two completely full tables.
5:21 p.m.: Keaton leaves to set up for the playoff match against L.A. Misioneros FC on the UNLV campus.
5:45 p.m.: Keaton finishes putting up three banners — a long, black banner with the words “Cactus Pricks” in white, an Arizona state flag and an equality flag — on a fence at the field’s west end.
5:58 p.m.: The rest of the Cactus Pricks arrive after the walk over. They parade past with flags in hand, singing, “Oh when the Pricks go marching in.” The FC Tucson players, who are warming up, clap for their fans.
6:25 p.m.: With the match just five minutes away, most of the Cactus Pricks are standing at the fence or walking around giving each other high-fives, all part of the pregame anxiousness that the postseason brings.
But David Smith, 82, sits, almost regally, in the second row of the Cactus Pricks’ home for the next two hours. He has lived in Tucson since 1951 and is a salesman for RainSoft, a water and air treatment company. “I tried to retire, but it didn’t work out,” he says.
He is a Cactus Prick because of his son, David J. Smith.
“When it started up, my son said, ‘I’m joining the Cactus Picks, and I’d like you to come to the games with me,’ and I said, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” the father says. It’s a simple gesture but speaks worlds about the Cactus Pricks. The group not only brings generations together, it gives people from different backgrounds a common bond.
6:30 p.m.: The match kicks off. Like their team, the Cactus Pricks are in fine form. Keaton bangs the drum to keep cadence as they belt out a litany of chants before the first 10 minutes have expired.
6:58 p.m.: The bleachers rattle, the screams get louder, and the black streamers fly as FC Tucson’s Peter Kelly scores the first goal.
6:59 p.m.: The pandemonium repeats a minute later when Christian Volesky makes it 2-0 and the Cactus Pricks sing, “We love you, Tucson, we do; we love you, Tucson, we do; oh, Tucson, we love you.”
7:37 p.m.: L.A. scores early in the second half to make it 2-1. It’s a nervous time for the team and the Cactus Pricks, but that doesn’t quell their voices.
8:20 p.m.: FC Tucson goalkeeper Billy Thompson saves a penalty kick in the 93rd minute to assure the team will advance. It’s the moment of the night and one that will no doubt live long in the memories of the 20 or so Cactus Pricks.
8:25 p.m.: Misioneros goalkeeper Jose Miranda applauds the Cactus Pricks in the west end, despite putting up with 45 minutes of heckling. That kind of respect is rarely seen in sports.
10:15 a.m.: On the open road home, there’s still plenty of conversation. Even the drum chimes in, rattling when the car vibrates over the rough road on I-40 just outside Kingman.
In Wickenburg, Keaton finds out FC Tucson will host the Western Conference semifinals on Friday. That sets off a whirlwind of social networking with other Cactus Pricks.
5:30 p.m.: The car reaches Tucson, going the whole way on one tank of gas. The Cactus Pricks haven’t run out of gas, either. Plans are already being made for Friday before all are dropped off after a busy three days.
To be a member of the Cactus Pricks is $15. To be with the Cactus Pricks is priceless.