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Arizona soccer club faces FC Tucson in friendly

2017 club champions look forward to challenge against pro side

The University of Arizona Men's soccer club is not among the school's varsity programs. They offer no scholarships and no fancy training facilities. Still, they have established a consistent winning record over the last few seasons.

"When I took over the program we were excited to win once," said coach Eric Rhodes. "But now we've won three out of four conference titles and the time that we didn't win the conference title, we won the national championship."

Their season ended months ago, but they have another opportunity to play this Saturday when they take on FC Tucson in a friendly at 6 p.m. at Sitton Field.

It wouldn't be the first time that the Arizona club has faced FC Tucson, but it would be the first time since FC Tucson became a professional club. Arizona has faced professional competition before, with preseason matches against both the New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas over the last couple of years. Most college club teams don't get the chance to face professional competition.

"I want them to soak in that most of them, even though when they left high school and weren't going play at the college level, they will get the opportunity to play against people that get paid to do this," he said. "You want them to see the gravity of the moment but not get intimidated by it."

"It's a fantastic opportunity to represent the school," he added.

The match will be the last Arizona club appearance for Karai Keil, who was the MVP in the team's run to the national club championship. Keil will be playing for Phoenix-based amateur side Sporting AZ this summer.

As for tactics on Saturday, Rhodes is keeping the emphasis simple: speed and passing.

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"If you play slow in this match, it's going to be over in three and a half minutes," he said. "One of the things our culture emphasizes is letting go of the ball, playing the position when you aren't on the ball. A game like this really works that skill for us."

Although he recognizes Rhodes and the Arizona club as having a partnership with his team, first year FC Tucson coach Darren Sawatzky admits he's unfamiliar with them.

"I don't know enough," Sawatzky said. "I know that they play against some local and regional college teams.and have had some decent success. Personnel wise, I really don't know enough."

Although he hasn't scouted the team, Sawatzky has some familiarity with him as FC Tucson has Kyle Cornell, a former player for Arizona and staffer for Rhodes, on its administrative staff.

Sawatzky will be looking to give some players coming off injury time in the match along with more minutes for his bench. Rhodes has a different set of motives in the match, which will be the last before their fall season.

"I tell my guys, you will not face an 11 that's better than the teams we play in our off season," he said. "It's an awesome opportunity... we are excited to show off who we are excited to show off and say if you are from Southern Arizona there's a path to play here."

William David Sitton Field is located at 1400 E. 6th St., across from Arizona Stadium. Admission is free.

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Arizona men's soccer/Instagram

Arizona men's soccer club's Bernardo Nieto Jr. will be playing in the midfield for his team on Saturday night as they take on FC Tucson.