FC Tucson has a new league — and, as of Wednesday, a new coach.
The club hired Tacoma Stars and Seattle Sounders U23 coach Darren Sawatzky as its new boss. Sawatzky will lead the club into its first season in the professional USL League One, which starts this spring. FC Tucson previously played in the USL PDL, a developmental league made up mostly of college players.
Sawatzky, 45, becomes the fourth head coach in FC Tucson history. Dave Cosgrove, who coached the team in 2018, will remain the head coach of the Pima College men's soccer team, which just won a national championship. The first two coaches in FC Tucson history, Rick Schantz and Jon Pearlman, were founding members of the club. Schantz is now the coach of Phoenix Rising FC, the professional club that owns FC Tucson. Schantz and Sawatzky played together at the University of Portland.
"I am very excited and grateful for the opportunity to help build on the history of FC Tucson and all of the great people that have built the brand and opportunity in Tucson,” Sawatzky said. “Helping the development pathway for Phoenix Rising through the USL League One team in Tucson is a great opportunity and working with Rick and the staff at Rising is something I am really looking forward to. A big thank you to (Rising general manager) Bobby Dulle and the ownership group at Phoenix Rising and to Lane Smith and Cliff McElroy at the Tacoma Stars/Sounders U23 for everything in this process. We are looking forward to building a winner."
Sawatzky was most recently coach and general manager of both the Stars, a Tacoma-based indoor team, and Sounders U23, which played alongside FC Tucson in the old PDL. He also served as the general manager for both Sounders U23 and the Sounders Women of the Women's Premier Soccer League. Sawatzky will coach his final home match for the Stars on Saturday, when they take on the Ontario Fury.
Stars goalkeeper Danny Waltman said he was "in shock" but happy for his coach.
"That’s something I never thought I’d hear, but not surprised at all that he’s got the opportunity," he told the Stars' website. "He’s a great coach and looking back I knew it was a matter of time before he got an opportunity. Congratulations to him and he’s created a great family here that can handle this. It’s hard to imagine how we’re going to go forward, but we’re going to.”
Sawatzky's strength is player development. While he was with the Sounders, the club's soccer academy produced future pros DeAndre Yedlin and Jordan Morris, among others. From 2016-17, Sawatzky served as interim coach of Guam's national team.
As a player, Sawatzky played 69 Major League Soccer matches, scoring six goals.
“We are privileged to have someone with Darren’s wealth of experience to lead FC Tucson in our first year as a professional club,” Dulle said. “His strong relationship with Rick Schantz will allow him to have a significant impact on our plan of developing talented players that can succeed at the top professional levels in the United States and around the world.”
FC Tucson's 2019 schedule includes 28 matches — 14 of them played at Kino North Stadium. The regular season runs from March 30 to Oct. 4. The club's first home match is scheduled for April 13.