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Sawatzky, FC Tucson getting ready for first pro season and a lot of travel time

Team will include local vets Martinez, Perez & Ledbetter

Thursday afternoon, FC Tucson is hosting a “kick-off” event for the 2019 season at Kino North Stadium.

This will be the first season that Los Tucsonenses will be playing as a professional team, joining the new division three professional league, USL-1.

The coach for FC Tucson has made visits to Kino in the past. Former Dallas Burn and New England Revolution player Darren Sawatzky coached Sounders U23 to a couple of playoff wins over FC Tucson. The local line-up that played in preseason matches was a hodge-podge of Phoenix Rising players and FC Tucson players. This has been his first week coaching a real FC Tucson line-up, one that includes a few familiar faces from last season such as Luis Martinez, Moshe Perez and FC Dallas draftee Austin Ledbetter.

“I can start training camp with my players,” he said. “There’s a lot of crossover, but we are our own entity…we will definitely be the Tucson community’s team.”

This week marks the first of a five-week preseason, which will feature scrimmages against Phoenix Rising, amateur club Sporting AZ and Grand Canyon University.

One big issue for the team will be its travel schedule. Until this season FC Tucson played in a division with teams from neighboring states. Now, they are in a league with teams from around the country. To make matters worse, the westernmost team plays in suburban Dallas.

Sawatzky calls himself a “glass half-full person” when it comes to that challenge. He says it will be a lot like his days playing in Major League Soccer in the 1990s.

“We traveled similarly to how we will travel with this team,” said Sawatzky. “It’s got to be cost-effective while taking care of the technical part of the game.”

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“We are going to travel with a lot of connecting flights,” he said. “People say ‘you are going to be on airplanes for four hours at a time.’ I say yeah, but that’s time with my team and time to bond. We’ll be a tight-knit team.”

FC Tucson’s first matches will be away from home. They’ll be facing Orlando City B on March 30 and taking on South Georgia Tormenta on April 3. They make their professional debut at home against Toronto FC II on April 13.

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Although FC Tucson has been touting themselves as Tucson’s first pro-team, there was a previous team in Tucson back the last time the United States had a professional third division.

The Los Angeles Fireballs moved their operations to Tucson in 2000 and played two seasons here as an ostensibly pro team. There wasn’t a great deal of money in the sport in those days, so despite the “professional” title, few of the players were actually paid.

The club folded in 2001, leaving only an unfortunate logo.

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FC Tucson

FC Tucson coach Darren Sawatzky