Can you hold a reunion when you’ve only been around three years?
FC Tucson is going to give it the old pro development league try tonight, when a team comprised mainly of the soccer club’s former players takes the field against Major League Soccer’s Chivas USA. The exhibition will christen the new Kino Sports Complex North Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7.
The reunion is unofficial and will certainly take a back seat, in the new 1,700-seat grandstand, to the new venue. But without those players who represented the club in FC Tucson’s first three years, there probably wouldn’t be a new stadium to celebrate.
Fourteen of the 22 names on the FC Tucson roster for tonight’s match have put on the black uniform at some point since the club’s inception in 2011. That group includes four members — Kareem Smith, Reid Schmitt, Michael Kraus and Dom Papa — of the 2012 team that reached the playoffs in the franchise’s first year in the USL Premier Development League.
“We thought this would be a really cool thing to give to guys like Kareem and Reid and Mike Kraus and Dom because they took a chance on us at the very beginning — a lot like the community and Pima County,” FC Tucson coach and co-managing partner Rick Schantz said. “Are they at the level they should be at? Maybe, maybe not. But they are part of the reason that we’re here. I believe in loyalty and tradition. Those guys all speak very highly of us in the soccer world. We kind of wanted to repay them with an opportunity to shine in the new stadium.”
General manager Jon Pearlman “had to find players, and between the two of us we made as many calls as we could. I think we put together a pretty decent roster considering,” Schantz added.
Nine players on last year’s USL PDL squad are on the roster, including five key cogs — David Clemens, Dakota Collins, Isaac Ikyurav, Saeed Robinson and Gabe Silveira — of a FC Tucson offense that netted 31 league goals in 2013. Silveira and Ikyurav just finished their senior seasons at Sacramento State, while Clemens recently wrapped up his collegiate career with two goals and two assists in his final season at Virginia Tech.
“There are going to be some familiar faces,” Schantz said. “All along, that’s what we’ve been trying to establish. When you build a new franchise sometimes it’s hard at this level to have continuity. Fans can’t really build a relationship with players. We feel that in our short existence, we’ve had enough repeat performances that it’s starting to really build that solid fan base. The players really care about the fans.”
In an ironic twist, it is the players of the past that will open up the facility of the future. And the night’s biggest standout will not be on the field — the new grandstand, along with the new facilities that go with it, will be front and center.
The roofed stand gives fans more comfortable seating and will provide shade that had been lacking at Kino Sports Complex North Field No. 5. It will also, no doubt, add to the atmosphere — fans can create quite a racket by banging on the metal seating and that noise will reverberate off the roof. New restroom facilities replace the portable toilets of the past and the concession stand will be in a freestanding building rather than a fenced former baseball dugout.
“The grandstand is very impressive,” Clemens said an hour after touring the new facility Thursday. “It’s really an honor to come back and play a game for this city and franchise. It’s really a steppingstone for both myself and the franchise in terms of future goals. To play against players of MLS caliber is really an honor.”
He’s not the only one eagerly awaiting tonight’s match.
“I’ll definitely have chills,” said Schantz. “I was there when we were trying to figure out what type of P.A. system we were going to have for games, where we were going to get an American flag. And all those things now are built into our facility.”
“What I’m most excited about is that not only is it an MLS team (as the opening opponent), but I think our community deserves it.”
— FC Tucson has gone winless and managed just two draws in seven matches against MLS competition over its three years, but has been competitive in most matches — including the last one. The Tucson lads lost 2-0 at the Houston Dynamo on May 29 in the U.S. Open Cup’s third round.