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For club and territory: Two FC Tucson players jet off to Guam for World Cup qualifiers

Newly revitalized underdog squad includes Jaye, Nicklaw

Given where FC Tucson is in the soccer firmament, it would probably surprise you that they have had two players on their roster that have appeared for national teams.

One-time player and coach Henry Brauner, now a coach for RSL’s youth academy in Casa Grande, and Kareem Smith, who now plies his trade for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks, made appearances, or were “capped” in soccer-speak, for the Philippines and Trinidad and Tobago, respectively.

It might surprise you even more to learn that not one but two current FC Tucson players will be taking their leave from the squad for a few weeks to take the field for Guam. The team for the tiny U.S. territory begins its quest to qualify for the 2018 World Cup on June 11 with a match against Turkmenistan.

Guam registered in FIFA in 1975, but it wasn’t until 2009 when they earned their first victory. In 2012, the team brought in Gary White, an English coach who was previously employed by the Seattle Sounders. He’s improved Guam to a spot where they could skip the “play-in” round in Asian qualifiers.

“I’ve played for two years now, and I’ve seen tremendous growth,” said Travis Nicklaw, an FC Tucson defender who will be making the trip to Guam. “We’re going into the qualifiers as an underdog … grinding out some victories and ties and hopefully that will get us into the next round.”

Nicklaw and his brother Shawn, who plays for the NASL’s Jacksonville Armada, are American-born to a Guam-born mother. He has made 14 appearances for the team dating back to 2012.

FC Tucson goalkeeper Dallas Jaye’s ties to Guam are more tenuous. His mother wasn’t born there, but most of her family was. It was, however, the Danville, Calif., native’s mother that got him involved in the team.

“I was walking around Surf Cup, and they had sent a team,” Jaye said of the youth tournament he participated in back when he was 16. “The second my mom saw that, she lit up. She spoke to them and tried to find out what they were all about. They ended up staying in contact with me and I participated in their under-19s”

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Jaye’s time with the youth team led to him getting capped for the senior squad. His appearance for the senior squad was in an East Asian Cup match against Northern Marianas where the team had a 2-1 victory. Nicklaw made his debut then as well. FC Tucson coach Rick Schantz has already been preparing for his absence, allowing Keegan Rogers to play in the second half of the team’s matches so far to get him some playing time.

Seven Asian teams have already been eliminated (including one that has been disqualified). Over the next two years, the 40 teams left will be narrowed down to five. It is unlikely that Guam will be taking the field in St. Petersburg or Moscow in 2018, but the Matao, the Chamorro word for “courageous ones” that gets applied for the team, measures success in a different way.

“Success in the past has meant keeping the score low. It was always ‘let’s not get beaten by too many,’” said Jaye about a team that lost a match 21-0 a decade ago. “That was five or ten years ago … we play to win. Obviously, we are one of the lower-ranked teams, but we’re playing to beat the bigger teams.”

The group they are in includes Turkmenistan, Oman and India, none of which has played in a World Cup. However, there is a “bigger team” in the group, a perennial World Cup qualifier: Iran. FIFA does not list a location for Iran’s home match on Nov. 17. Even though Guam is not the U.S. national team, the match is still politically fraught and may be played at a neutral site. Jaye and Nicklaw are looking forward to playing in the match, not so much for the politics but for the soccer.

“It’s going to be a fun game to play in and a fun game to watch,” said Nicklaw. “It’s just going to be an interesting and exciting new adventure for Guam.”

FC Tucson is scheduled to take on unaffiliated club Frontera United at Kino North Stadium Tuesday night at 7:30 pm.

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Joshua Pearson/Tucson Sentinel, and University of San Diego

Dallas Jaye and Travis Nicklaw