After more than an hour of frustration, FC Tucson finally found the net and finally wrapped up the division title on Friday night.
Vance Rookwood’s goal in the 67th minute gave FC Tucson a 1-0 victory over Albuquerque Sol FC and secured the USL Premier Development League Mountain Division crown before a record crowd of 2,983 at Kino Sports Complex North Stadium.
The team that led the league with 32 goals going into Friday’s action had plenty of opportunities but couldn’t break down the Sol defense until Rookwood’s goal.
The win — combined with BYU’s draw against the L.A. Misioneros in Provo, Utah, earlier in the night — clinched the USL PDL Mountain Division title for FC Tucson. The men in black (10-2-1) have 31 points with one USL PDL match to play. Second-place BYU has 23 points with two matches to play, meaning the Cougars could only reach a maximum of 29.
“The first division title in our first three years and we’re really happy about it,” FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz said. “It does mean a lot. You are not just winning a game that everyone is expecting you to win, it’s not just Fourth of July, it’s a division title and a chance for us to maybe have home advantage in the playoffs.”
The win also secured the Golden Rattler trophy for FC Tucson. The new trophy will be given each year to the best team in the matches between FC Tucson and the Sol. In the two matches played in Albuquerque, FC Tucson came away with a 1-1 draw and a 3-0 win.
It was all secured when Rookwood, a second-half substitute, gave the record crowd what it had been waiting for the first 67 minutes. After a corner by Tim Harbison bounced off FC Tucson forward Odaine Sinclair’s head and dropped to Rookwood. The Jamaican took a shot at it and then slammed it home on the rebound.
“Watching from the bench, I could see they were giving us a lot of space in behind,” Rookwood said. “I thought that if I went in I would use my speed and try to run in behind and get some balls. … Eventually the chances came.”
For the first time in team history, FC Tucson played in red (jersey), white (shorts) and blue (socks) uniforms. Albuquerque, on the other hand, came out in highlighter yellow, which was about the only highlight for the Sol in the first half.
Albuquerque, which has just eight goals this season, had a smattering of chances, including a late strike that went off the crossbar.
With all of the auxiliary grandstands filling up for the first time and fans still coming into the grounds, the tempo was set quickly with a foul by Albuquerque in the first five seconds and an FC Tucson chance in the first minute.
In the first 15 minutes all of the good chances belonged to FC Tucson.
Dan Antoniuk had a clever back heel but couldn’t capitalize on it in the 14th minute.
The FC Tucson offense, with Sinclair and Antoniuk switching sides intermittently up front and Ricardo Velazco coming up from behind in support, was causing havoc but couldn’t get the finishing shot off.
A dangerous free kick from 21 yards by Velazco went off the wall in the 32nd minute.
In the 41st minute, Velazco dispossessed an Albuquerque midfielder, weaved his way past three defenders before being chopped down by Ivan Ramirez for a yellow card.
The first 20 minutes of the second half were more of the same with FC Tucson having most of the chances.
Greg Carter headed down a cross from Harbison that Albuquerque goalkeeper Victor Rodriguez batted down in the 62nd minute.
FC Tucson has won three straight league matches and five of its last six USL PDL games.
FC Tucson’s next league match is Saturday against the Real Colorado Foxes at North Stadium. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
• In the Chapman Tucson Champions League final played before FC Tucson’s match Friday, Menlo of the Menlo Soccer League scored two second-half goals to defeat Errea of the Tucson Metro Soccer League 3-2.
Menlo will play FC Tucson on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. at North Stadium. It will precede a 7:30 match between Tucson Soccer Academy FC and the Phoenix Del Sol.
TSAFC is 1-7-1 in the Women’s Premier Soccer League’s Pacific-South Division.