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Posted May 17, 2012, 3:36 pm
At Thursday morning practice, FC Tucson defender Conor Spence got something that wouldn't always be expected of a player at his level in American soccer: an interview with a local TV station.
The hype surrounding the recent Desert Diamond Cup hasn't worn off, Spence said, and it's good for his team as they get set for their first home match against the Southern California Seahorses at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Kino Stadium.
"I think it's tremendous having all the big players like David Beckham and Thierry Henry coming in," he said in comments after his television interview. "It helps us get a fan base and spreads the word for FC Tucson."
Spence has been paired with fellow defender Kareem Smith in the middle of the back line. The two kept the score manageable against Major League Soccer teams in preseason and secured a shut-out victory over Pali Blues on May 12.
Smith has made five appearances for Trinidad and Tobago, starting in three matches for the Soca Warriors, and has played for teams in both Europe and the Caribbean. Spence finds Smith's experience invaluable for both he and the team.
"He's keeping the guys focused; always encouraging them," he said. "If Kareem is yelling at them, they crumble a little bit. They don't want to mess up for him."
Saturday's match will bring back a familiar face for Spence: Dominic Papa. Papa and Spence both grew up in Phoenix and have played together before. Papa has been a defender in the past, but whether he'll be on the back line or further up field has yet to be decided.
Spence and the team have not had a chance to get the measure of the Seahorses, and he admits to not knowing exactly what to expect. Still, he has a prediction: "We haven't been at home yet; we'd like to take it to them," he said. "We're used to playing in the heat. We can go at these guys."
23 hours of glory
Last Saturday's win rocketed FC Tucson to second place in the PDL's Southwestern division. Second place is pretty good for a team that's new to the league. Also, the first place team was undefeated last season.
It wasn't to last. The next day, the Los Angeles Misioneros defeated the Ventura County Fusion, putting them in a solid second place, two points ahead of FC Tucson.
FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz still sees accomplishment buried in the math.
"We have three games in hand and we're even with the Misoneros," he said.
Not quite even, but the Misioneros have 5 points in five games, where Tucson has earned 3 points in two games. It looks pretty good after you do the division.
Schantz looks forward to this weekend's match that starts a stretch of three league games at home.
"If we win these three games, we've set the season."
Nine extra points, that's pretty good if it works out.
3rd round Open Cup pairings announced
The 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup is already underway. The long-running soccer tournament is unique in American sports because it includes teams from all levels — from amateur up to professional.
U.S. Soccer, which administers the tournament, announced the pairings for the third round, the first one that includes Major League Soccer teams.
Two of FC Tucson's PDL Southwestern Conference foes are still in the tournament and now know who they will face off against should they survive the second round next week.
The Fresno Fuego won their match against Stanislaus United Turlock Express on Tuesday by a score of 2-0. The Express, a team of the sons of local farmworkers, was the first team from U.S. Club soccer, the lowest division of soccer in the United States, ever to qualify for the tournament. Fresno will face the San Jose Earthquakes if they defeat the second-division Fort Lauderdale Strikers on Tuesday .
The Ventura County Fusion also have a match next week against the third-division Los Angeles Blues. Should they win that match, they are slated to go up against CD Chivas USA.
The tournament has been in existence since 1914. Although there have been many lower division teams that have defeated MLS teams in the tournament, only one — the Rochester Raging Rhinos in 1999 — has won the final since MLS started entering teams.