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Posted Jan 15, 2012, 2:40 pm
The 2012 vintage of FC Tucson was unveiled Saturday night in front of a small crowd at the end of a day of play in the Ft. Lowell Shootout. Appropriately, the intersquad match ended in a tie with a goal for each Tucson side.
It was a low-key start for a team that will be staring down Major League Soccer squads in a few weeks. The field was drawn on top of two baseball diamonds and a small carnival associated with the Shootout was still being taken down just off the pitch. Only a smattering of fans, including members of FC Tucson's supporters' group, was there to watch the contest.
The White team, coached by former FC Tucson player Yoshi, started the game with possession and held the ball on Black's side for a nice stretch at the beginning of the first half. The Black side was able to pull the ball away when Phillippe Garre made a run up the field, passing it off to young speedster Shye Ozalvo. Play was broken up, and the White side regained possession.
The earliest strong shot at goal came a few minutes later when the Black team earned a corner kick. Returning Tucsonense C. J. Kaufmann set up to take the corner, but his delivery into the box was broken up by White 'keeper Kyle Hibbart.
White had another chance from the run of play when Jesús Ortiz (known as "Freshman" to his teammates) sent the ball to forward Harvey Martinez. Martinez's shot was batted away by second year netminder Michael D'Arrigo.
The match was by any reasonable definition "friendly," but players knew that they were fighting for a spot in the line-up. Passions boiled up a bit around the 20th minute, when the white-shirted Juan Mendez kicked at defender Bryan Dejohnge's ankle. Dejohnge became animated with his appeal for a call and Kaufmann came over to calm down the pony-tailed Dejohnge, possibly reminding him that they were all on the same team.
Field conditions weren't ideal, as "Freshman" Ortiz discovered a few minutes later when his run was broken up not by black-clad defenders, but by a divot in the grass that sent him tumbling down.
Two more chances came for the Black team. Garre, a former trialist with San Jose, had a strong shot blocked by a defender and a free kick taken by Dre Saldana was so high above the net that it would have done more good in the Broncos-Patriots game on TV that night.
At around the 25th minute, both coaches made mass substitutions. Some confusion ensued when coach Jeff Rogers realized that there were too many black shirts on the field. A bemused Dre Saldana was called off the pitch without incident.
The changes opened the game up a bit, with White Martinez sliding the ball to Hermosillo-born Joab Beltrán for the first goal of the evening. Only a few minutes later, Black midfielder Carlos Albelais crossing the ball to Mitch Garcia to tie-up the match.
White player Edgar Reyna was taken out after the goal when he took a knock on the shin.
The half was cut off at the 40-minute mark.
One change from the first half was White 'keeper Hibbart was pulled for Alex Rangel. In the first half, D'Arrigo was barking orders at his teammates, where Hibbart was quieter. Rangel was trying to lead more in D'Arrigo's style: constant verbalization.
D'Arrigo was tested early when white-shirt Martinez had a diving header. D'Arrigo was able to get both hands on it to keep the score tied.
A shot by Black's Nick Peppe went safely wide of goal, the first of several off-target chances for the black squad in the second half.
Beltran made an attempt to intercept a cross. He was never able to touch the ball and he slammed his fist into the turf. Within moments, however, the passionate forward was up and demanding another pass from his teammates.
Moments later, the dreadlocked Bo Bechtel was able to make a run up the field and it took two white shirts to foul him and stop his advance.
The Black team was able to regroup, and Shye Ozalvo made another run up the right. This time, he sent the ball to forward Miloš Dragić, but the play was broken up by White's Rangel.
The last strong chance came from Bechtel, who shot the ball far right of Rangel's net.
A bit of a dispute about some contact near midfield could have gotten ugly, but the referee blew the whistle to end the half.
The match fittingly ended in a 1-1 draw.
'You have to run for every ball'
The white shirts' lone goal was scored by Sonoran-born Joab Beltran. After the game, Beltran described his scoring effort as just making sure you are in the right spot.
"The first thing is, you have to play very hard. You have to run for every ball," he said, still breathless minutes after the game. "You have to chase it. I ran diagonal. The ball was there. The play was there, and I scored."
Still, even for a skilled striker, things don't work out more often than they do.
"I couldn't get the ball," said Beltran about another delivery that didn't quite become a goal. "It's frustrating, I want to score...it was a good ball."
Even with that sort of frustration, Beltran's effort did show up on the scoreboard.
The team will be culled further, and several national players will be brought in to round out the club prior to their first matches against the New England Revolution and San Jose Earthquakes. The "national" players will likely be brought in at forward and in the defense.
Even so, FC Tucson's staff is largely satisfied with the product on the field Saturday night.
"The skill was much higher than I was expecting ... the level was very very high," said Jeff Rogers, who coached the White team.
There was one issue that Rogers admitted may be a problem, however:
"I think fitness was a big issue. If we can get these guys fit, we'll be a very competitive team."
The sentiment was echoed by Black team coach Yoshi, who not only plied his trade with FC Tucson last year, but has caps for the Philippines national team.
"The technique is there. The ability is there. They just have to get that base of fitness."
Fans at last year's Desert Cup saw this writ large in first day matches where FC Tucson and the Arizona Sahuaros took on the reserve squads of Sporting Kansas City and the New York Red Bulls.
Both Arizona sides were able to hold their own through technique and talent in the first halves of their respective matches, but were worn down by the professional teams whose fitness was honed by daily drills. This was pointed out by none other than the coach of the Sahuaros after their second half drubbing by Sporting KC.
Bigger and better
Former player and current coach Yoshi saw what FC Tucson had last year, and is impressed by the direction the team is taking.
"'Leaps and bounds' doesn't begin to describe how much bigger it's gotten, or how much bigger it's going to get," he said after the game.
"Jumping to the PDL (Premiere Development League) is a big step for us as a club. Once we can establish ourselves in the PDL, the sky is the limit," he said.
He sounded almost giddy as he continued, "Hopefully USL after that, and on and on and on."
"First things first, we've got to get through the summer," he said.
Can he go blind doing that?
Yoshi would probably be happy to know that FC Tucson has already acquired one trapping of a big-time team: a supporter's group known as the Cactus Pricks.
The group was out last night and one particular member could be heard making a loud allegation about the referee's personal habits. Given that both sides were really the same team, it's hard to tell about whom he was making this accusation.
Hopefully, by the opening of the PDL season, the fan will have a second thing to shout about.
Long live No. 4
It was chilly for the game, but chilly enough to wear gloves? Alex Anderson and Miloš Dragić thought so.
Maybe not. Maybe these players were paying tribute to the late Charlie Colombo, who played for the U.S. National team side that defeated England in the 1950 World Cup.
Colombo was famous for always wearing gloves when he played, no matter the weather. This earned him an all to easy nickname: "Gloves."
They weren't just gloves: they were boxing mittens. They matched his hard-nosed style as a defender. His damn-the-torpedoes defensive pose almost cost the U.S. at one point in that World Cup match. England nearly leveled when Colombo's take down of English great Stanley Mortensen gave the Three Lions a free kick in a dangerous spot just outside the box.
Colombo played his club soccer for a team in St. Louis, Simpkins Ford, and won two U.S. Open Cups with them. He stayed despite an offer to play in Brazil. He died at his home in the famous "Hill" neighborhood in St. Louis in 1986.
According to Geoffrey Douglas's book about the 1950 team, "The Game of their Lives," his teammates didn't know why he wore the gloves and Colombo didn't like to be asked. The gloves he wore at the 1950 match are currently in possession of the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame.