FC Tucson is off to a scorching start, and we decided to take a closer look.
It’s pretty simple – the talent is up, the balance between goal scoring and goal prevention is the nation’s best, and the team has caught a case of World Cup fever and has soccer on the mind. All that has led to a 9-1-2 record as the team welcomes the visiting Ventura County Fusion at 7:30 tonight at the Kino Sports Complex. Here’s how:
Head coach Rick Schantz said that the combination of top-notch facilities and equipment, a proven recent track record of success and aggressive recruiting has helped FC Tucson land premier players, some of whom have postponed professional deals in lieu of preparation.
“A lot of the guys coming here are here for what we call the Trampoline – you’re coming here a short time and then off to the pros,” Schantz said. “We’ve been able to recruit, and that would be my No. 1.”
Team captain, forward Ricardo Velazco, says that the program’s double down on professionalism has lured top players.
“We’re very talented but it’s not just that, it’s the equipment these guys have brought to this team and this city,” Velazco said. “It’s outrageous. Our talent is greater, but the commitment is much, much bigger.”
Big up front and in front of the net, FC Tucson has matched a potent offense with a 6-foot-6 spider of a goalie in Billy Thompson.
“If I can equate it to football or hockey, we’ve got guys who can score,” Schantz said, “but it’s also goalkeeping. He should be playing wing forward in the NBA. He’s athletic, he’s played a lot, came from LA Galaxy Youth system. When you’re getting the ball in the net and keeping it out, you’re gonna win.”
A 36-6 goal differential tells the entire story, but Thompson added that the dominating offense has loosened him up.
“When you’re putting the ball in the net, it makes things easy,” Thompson said. “When you’re scoring goals, everything is going great. It takes a lot of pressure off. If you make a little mistake, you have guys who cover for you.”
World Cup mania
If the World Cup – and the United States’ win over Ghana, in particular – has the normal population excited, the sport’s premier event has turned normally hard-working albeit docile soccer players rabid.
“For guys who are at this level and are this much of a fan, our life stops,” Schantz said. “They watch all three games every day. We’ve actually canceled morning sessions so they could stay at their apartments and watch.”
Players who normally practice and play, practice and play, now get to enjoy their sport in full, and it’s kept them attached to the sport even during their down time.
“For sure, it’s soccer fever right now for everyone in the country,” said Velazco, who will be a junior at Louisville. “Especially for us; we’re constantly playing, constantly training, and in our spare time, we get to watch soccer. We’re all around soccer now, and it’s good. Good for the city, good for us. It’s nice we have soccer fever going on in the U.S.”
Added Thompson: “It’s kinda like the feeling you have trying to go to sleep the night before Christmas as a kid. We get that every day for a month.”