FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz is hoping for a hot time in the old town tonight.
The hotter the better.
Schantz and his men in black will play their first home playoff game in franchise history when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps Under 23 team at 8 p.m., at Kino Sports Complex North Stadium.
“The fact that it was 109 (degrees on Thursday) is huge,” Schantz said. “I’ve heard a lot of these other coaches talking about ‘the heat won’t bother them’ and that it’s not that big of a deal. When you’re kicking off at 8 o’clock and it’s 100, it’s going to bother a soccer player.
“Even our players, they’ve been here all summer but most of these guys from Washington and California and even the Midwest told me they couldn’t breathe for about three weeks. It was really hard for them. It’s the dry air that’s difficult to play in for a lot of them. So coming from Vancouver, where it rains about every other day, I expect that this dry air is going to be a challenge.”
FC Tucson will also benefit from another environmental advantage – a possible record crowd at tonight’s USL Premier Development League Western Conference semifinals doubleheader. The Kitsap Pumas will face the Ventura County Fusion at 6 p.m., in the other semifinal. In seven league matches at home this season, FC Tucson went 6-1, outscoring its foes 19-2.
Schantz said he’s expecting “high-paced soccer and a very large crowd.”
The winners of tonight’s semifinals advance to Saturday’s Western Conference final at 7:30 p.m., at North Stadium. The survivor from Saturday moves on to the Final Four at a site to be determined.
FC Tucson, which advanced with a 2-1 first-round win over L.A. Misioneros FC in Las Vegas on Saturday, will have to get past a team that’s on a roll and has Major League Soccer connections.
Vancouver has outscored opponents 31-6 while winning its last nine matches. The Whitecaps U-23 team, which is made up of college players and members of the MLS team’s residency program, finished third in the Northwest Division and then beat Victoria Highlanders FC 7-2 on July 16 in a first-round playoff match to reach today’s semifinal.
“Probably the biggest difference is that the Vancouver Whitecaps have a very good youth system, and they have players coming through that are 14, 16, 18 years old and they move up to their MLS squad eventually,” Schantz said. The under 23 team “is kind of an intermediate step. A lot of these players have already been signed to their pro contracts. … The difference in Canada is that college players can be pros, so they can have a roster full of players that are already on pro contracts.
“It doesn’t mean a whole lot to us because our players down here we feel very confident in, and if they could have pro contracts while they were in school, I think many of them would.”
FC Tucson defender Josh Phillips, who played against Vancouver for three seasons in the Northwest Division, feels very confident as well.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt in anybody’s mind that we’re ready for the game,” said Phillips, who has started 11 league matches for FC Tucson this season. “Definitely there’s a lot of excitement to play in front of the home crowd. … They help us out every game. I know the fans will be excited and it’s going to transfer straight over to the players.”
- FC Tucson announced Thursday that Section 104 is sold out for tonight’s matches. Tickets for the remaining grandstand sections are available for $10 at fctucson.com or at the box office starting at 5 p.m. Fans can also purchase tickets to the corner bleachers for just $7 at any Eegee’s.
- The team is calling tonight’s match a “black out” and is encouraging fans to wear black.
- Kitsap, which won the Northwest Division, is located in Bremerton, Washington. Like Vancouver, the Pumas are one of a handful of teams in the USL PDL that use pro players.
- Ventura County, the Southwest Division champion, handed FC Tucson its only home defeat of the USL PDL season, 2-1 on June 21.