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Posted Jul 6, 2012, 8:55 am
FC Tucson only has four games left in its season, but that hasn't stopped the team from picking up three players.
All three—Junior Gbapou, Ricardo Velasco and Miguel Salazar—spent time with the Tucson Soccer Academy before joining Real Salt Lake's Arizona academy in Casa Grande.
Tuesday's friendly with Municipio de Juarez gave the team an opportunity to put all three on the field and see what they could do. It was not, however, the first time the three had shared a field with los Tucsonenses.
FC Tucson has a scrimmage with RSL's academy last month, and it gave the players a chance to reconnect with at least one familiar face.
"We had a game versus FC Tucson with RSL. Me and [FC Tucson General Manager Jonathan] Pearlman, we go way back," said Salazar. "He was my coach in TSA, so we just connected from there."
Pearlman is happy to have him training with FC Tucson.
"Tremendous vision on the field, great point changer, great range of passing," Pearlman said, talking in scouting report bullet points. "He's got a calm, it almost looks like he's playing slow."
"He's the kind of player who can stretch a team out, keep them honest."
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"It's great down here, the environment, everything," Salazar said of playing with FC Tucson. "The facilities are nice and the crowd is amazing. I look forward to playing my first home game."
Velasco spent time with TSA and played a short time at Salpointe before returning to his native Casa Grande to train at RSL's academy.
"It was a great experience; it took me to a different level," Velasco said. "It changed my game a lot."
"He's an incredible competitor," Pearlman said of Velasco. "A sprited playmaker with all the qualities you'd want."
"He certainly has a bright future ahead of him collegiately and at the next level."
Gbapou joked with reporters after Tuesday night's game that his name is pronounced like "guapo," Spanish for handsome. His humor and good nature off the field translate to an enthusiasm on the field.
'They have great soccer brains, they have great feet'
"An amazing, quick player with soft feet," said Pearlman. "Runs brilliantly off the ball. He's got a nose for the goal and a smooth running style. He can run forever."
"He's a super dangerous player that's tough to deal with."
Gbapou isn't sure yet where he'll take those skills.
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"It's the beginning, you never know where you are going to go," he said. "Take this seriously and take it to the next level."
As for the more short term future, how much playing time will the three get in the final four matches of the season?
"They have great soccer brains, they have great feet," said Pearlman. "The question is, will we get to utilize them this season...they certainly represent the future for the next couple of years for FC Tucson."
When asked who they looked to as a mentor on the team, Velasco didn't hesitate.
"Most definitely the center back, Kareem," Velasco said of former Trinidad and Tobago international Kareem Smith.
"He's a good guy, he'll protect me 'cause he's the center back," he laughed.
Salazar named another defender, Conor Spence, as someone he's already come to admire on the team.
Gbapou is still getting used to his new teammates, but that hasn't stopped him from picking favorites.
"That big man over there," said Gbapou, pointing to the 6' 7" Reid Hukari. "I don't know his name yet, but he's cool and funny."
A glance at the Premier Development League's Southwest conference table shows that FC Tucson are, as the TV sports guys say, in charge of their own destiny.
The four games left give los Tucsonenses the possibility of twelve points in the last stretch of the season, leaving the outside possibility of ending in first place. That would, however, have to take a complete collapse on the part of the first place Ventura County Fusion, a team that has only been beaten twice this season.
A second-place finish is more likely, and would still put Tucson in the playoffs. Fresno is nipping at Tucson's heels now, but they only have two games left (albeit against two of the conference's weaker teams) to make up points. Get out your slide rule and you'll see that seven points in Tucson's final matches would be enough to keep them clear of the Fuego.
Tucson's upcoming schedule includes two home matches against BYU and Ogden. Both teams were beaten on the road earlier in the season. Then Tucson closes out their season with two matches in Southern California, against the Seahorses and Orange County. They are road games, but both teams that FC Tucson has beaten before.
Securing that seven points would mean FC Tucson would make the playoffs in their first year in the league.