The Pima College men’s soccer team is playing in a do-or-die match, facing an opponent it has never seen and doing it on a field it has yet to play on.
But don’t expect beads of sweat to be forming on the brows of the Aztecs — because that’s right where they want to be.
Pima (18-4-1) will host Colorado’s Otero Junior College tonight at 7 in a West District A semifinal with a berth in the national championships on the line. For the first time ever, the Aztecs will play at Kino Sports Complex North Stadium, which is just a couple hundred feet from their usual home at the North Grandstand.
“It’s exciting,” Pima coach Dave Cosgrove said of playing at North Stadium, which is home to FC Tucson and MLS preseason matches. “I would make an argument … that it would be one of the top 10 if not top five junior college facilities in the country. I think our kids are just excited about playing in an environment like that.”
A victory tonight would secure a spot in the 12-team national tournament to be held in Prescott Nov. 19-23 and would put Pima in the district final, against the winner of tonight’s other semifinal between Phoenix and Trinidad State. The district championship match, which determines the team that receives the higher seed at NJCAA nationals, will be Saturday at 7 p.m. at North Stadium.
“I think the players are confident. I think they realize nothing comes easy anymore and the further we go the more difficult it becomes,” said Cosgrove, who has led Pima to nationals twice in his 18 years at the school. “The nice thing is I’ve known these kids a while, and most of them have played in really high-pressure situations.
“Two or three of them have played in the RSL Academy so they’ve been playing against the best players in the country and played in big games in front of hundreds of college coaches. We’ve got kids from Salpointe (Catholic High School) who played in back-to-back state finals. Thirteen of our top 17 or 18 kids have all played at Tucson Soccer Academy and have played in multiple state title games and regional matches.”
Experience like that comes in handy when you’re facing a little-known foe for the first time.
“At the end of the day we really can’t find out that much information about them,” Cosgrove said of Otero, which is located in La Junta, Colorado, and has an 11-6-1 record. “You can look at their stats online, and some of their better names come up when you do a Google search. But I think most teams, and certainly we do, spend a lot more time trying to do what we do well rather than trying to figure out what they’re going to do well.”