The trip back east seems to have done Ricardo Velazco a world of good.
The 5-foot-7-inch midfielder has returned to FC Tucson a year older — turning 21 on Monday — a good bit wiser and with a hatful of goals to start this season.
After finding success at the University of Louisville last fall, the Casa Grande native has opened his second season with FC Tucson by tallying a league-leading five goals in four USL Premier Development League matches.
His constantly bustling game has helped FC Tucson take nine out of a potential 12 points to move into second place in the USL PDL Mountain Division. The No. 2 men in black will take on the No. 1 BYU Cougars tonight at 7:30 at Kino Sports Complex North Stadium. A win would pull FC Tucson into a tie for first with 12 points.
On Saturday night, Velazco netted his fifth goal of the season as FC Tucson defeated the Real Colorado Foxes to run its league win streak to three straight and its overall streak to four in a row. The former Sunnyside High School and Tucson Soccer Academy standout leads the USL PDL with 12 points (five goals at two points apiece plus two assists at one point each) and is tied for the lead in goals.
“I’ve connected well with other players,” Velazco said. “It’s working well for us and we’re just trying to keep it going.”
Velazco’s role is to play behind the forwards, usually Odaine Sinclair and Tommy Ramos, and orchestrate the buildup. And when he sees the opportunity, give it a go himself.
“Growing up, I’ve always played a No. 9 or No. 10,” said Velazco, who has 13 goals in 26 matches over his two seasons with FC Tucson. “But this year it’s worked out even better because we have Odaine, who’s really big and holds balls off for us, and Tommy makes a lot of runs in behind and then I can work in between them. We just glue together very well.”
Velazco quickly cemented his name with Louisville last fall. After a year at Cal State San Bernardino, he notched seven goals and 23 points in his first season with the Cardinals to earn All-Midwest Region first-team honors.
“I learned a lot more at Louisville. I matured,” said Velazco, who is already being promoted on the Louisville schedule poster for the 2014 fall season. “It’s a big summer for me. I’m going into my junior year, and I want to hopefully enter the MLS draft.
“I’ve been West Coast my whole life, but Louisville was awesome. It was totally what I didn’t expect. It was unbelievable — the coaching staff, the players, the soccer there was great. Honestly, I want to go back. My whole life I didn’t want to play college soccer, and now I want to go back to Louisville.”
Right now, though, he’s focusing on showing FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz how far he’s progressed.
“You know what I’ve really seen in Rickie is a level of consistency,” Schantz said. “In the past you’ve always seen these moments of brilliance, but this year, from start to finish when he’s on the field, his work rate is consistent, his lack of turnovers is consistent with his maturity level.”
“In the role he’s playing for us he has a little more freedom. It requires him to have self-discipline. What’s really been great about him this year is that he’s working harder defensively than he is offensively but yet he’s leading the nation in points.”