Going into a second year, teams are usually just trying to improve on inaugural growing pains with a slight chance of becoming a contender.
Considering their Year 2 situation this season, coach Amy Garelick and Tucson Soccer Academy FC would probably be happy just to repeat last year’s first campaign.
TSAFC lost just one regular-season match in 2013 and easily earned a postseason berth.
But playing in a new, tougher division of the Women’s Premier Soccer League and going up against more experienced players, TSAFC equaled the 2013 loss total by splitting the first two matches of the season on a Southern California road trip two weeks ago.
TSAFC will open its home schedule Saturday at 5:30 p.m. against LA Premier FC at Kino Sports Complex North Stadium.
It will precede FC Tucson’s 7:30 match against the Southern California Seahorses. Three of TSAFC’s home matches this season will be part of doubleheaders with FC Tucson.
The switch — TSAFC left the Big Sky-North Division for the Pacific-South Division — means it will play five new Southern California opponents along with Phoenix Del Sol. A new division foe, the San Diego SeaLions, defeated TSAFC 2-0 in the playoffs last season en route to winning the WPSL title.
“This division is so difficult,” Garelick said. “Every coach kind of goes through the schedule and looks for which games are wins and which games are losses. ‘What do we have to do to get to the playoffs?’ Now, every game is difficult. That’s really what we want.
“Nobody wants to go out and play a 5-0 game. You want to go out and play a game that you’re challenged, and forced to get better, especially when you have a team full of college kids. We want them to be better in August. We’re going to get that for sure.
They’ve already started learning. TSAFC opened with a 2-0 win over Legends FC on May 17 and were awakened the next day with a 5-1 loss to Beach Futbol Club.
“Anytime you start in a new division, especially a division in California, and then you bring on a new team, you’re a little unsure of what you’re going to get,” Garelick said. “Our first game, we really started to dominate the game. … Eighteen hours later, we played Beach FC — which is an established program with great, former college players — and they were amazing. We just didn’t play as professional as we needed to. We played a little bit immature and didn’t rise to the occasion. Luckily, in this division we play home and away so we know what we need to fix.”
Helping to repair those holes are some key returners — defender Kelly Kearns, center midfielder Karina Camacho and forwards Kaitlyn Lopez and Shannon Shields.
“We have two noncollege players, Karina and Kelly, but everybody else is college or pre-college,” Garelick said. “We have a couple kids that will step in that graduated from high school and going into their freshman year of college. We even have a couple that are incoming seniors in high school (Ironwood Ridge’s Jessica Nelson and Victoria Cooper). The experience that they get is unbelievable.
Literally, they are the new kids on the block in the division.
“Three-quarters, if not all of the teams, are post-college players with a couple college players filled in. Our team is the complete opposite,” Garelick said.