FC Tucson tryouts bring out Old Pueblo's best footy fanciers
Coach Schantz & FC Tucson pleased with level of players
FC Tucson held tryouts on Saturday for the their 2013 season at Kino Sportspark. Not all of the 59 the soccer players that showed up necessarily knew what kind of team FC Tucson was.
"What division does this team play in?" asked one player, Jesús Duarte, during a break between the morning and afternoon sessions.
Duarte aside, FC Tucson made a splash last year both locally and nationally. The team made the conference final in its first year, and the club earned Rookie Franchise of the Year honors from the United Soccer Leagues. With that better reputation, head coach Rick Schantz thinks a better crop of player is trying out.
"A lot of people didn't know what we were capable of that first year," Schantz noted. "So we got a hundred guys from the local men's leagues to try out."
"This year, we still have those guys, but it's the top 10 percent," he continued.
The typical player this year was, Schantz noted, "pretty decent," with many of them having experience playing for college teams.
Players also came from far afield. One player, Jeff Miller, came down from Salt Lake City. In addition to college experience, he has trained with Real Salt Lake.
Players were put together on make shift small teams for the morning session. During a mid-afternoon break, Schantz and the other coaches organized full squads that would play against each other to see what the players could do in a situation that looked more like an actual game. Even with the hours of observing, Schantz says some players can be evaluated fairly quickly.
"It takes 2-5 minutes to watch a player," he said. "His touch, his ball movement, his technique, his movement off the ball."
"To find the top 25 percent isn't that difficult," he said. "And the bottom 25 percent isn't either. It's sorting out those in the middle."
"Fifteen of these players will get a call back," he said.
Not all of the players on the grass were unfamiliar faces, but two of the most familiar to fans will be unlikely to be wearing the black jersey this year.
Travis Campbell played in the tryout after an invite from FC Tucson staff. Campbell was critical to an FC Tucson defense that went unscored on for six straight games last season. Unfortunately, an injury sidelined him for the last half of the 2012 campaign.
He returned from injury to finish out his senior year at the University of New Mexico and played in 20 games. He'd be a sure starter for a 2013 FC Tucson squad, but his performance has attracted the attention of Major League Soccer teams that may pick him up in this month's supplemental draft.
Fellow defender Reid Schmitt also made an appearance. Schmitt appeared in all but one of FC Tucson's 2012 matches, but he's signed on with the third division team up the road, Phoenix FC. So what brought him down?
"Just helping out Rick and (General Manager) Jonathan Pearlman," he said. "They wanted me to give them my opinion on some of the players and also just be down here and help out."
"It's even better than last year," Schmitt said. "It's good for FC Tucson to get more and more faces from the college level coming home to play."
In the mass of players, how do you stand out, especially when playing as a team is so important. Asani Igulu, the Congolese-born Palo Verde High/Scottsdale Artichokes striker who trained for a short time with FC Tucson last year, has some advice.
"If you play as a team member, you are always going to get noticed," he said. "Make some nice passes to people. Make a nice run. Make a nice move. Everyone is going to see you."
Trialist Jesús Duarte, who has played soccer in Mexico, the United States, Canada and Jamaica, concurs.
"I see a couple of guys that are good, but they don't play like a team," he said. "You need to play like a team, fast and strong. It's not you play alone and you score the goals."
"You show your skill as a partner on a team," he said. "I don't play alone, like Cristiano Ronaldo. I play it simple."
Unfortunately for some reporters, there was an age limit
Khalid al-Maliki is a University of Arizona student and Manchester United fan from Saudi Arabia who paid his 10 bucks to try out.
"I just played in school tournaments," he said of his experience in Saudi Arabia. "I came with my friend."
Al-Mailiki admited that the experience was "tiring" and that he's not in the best shape. Despite his enthusiasm for the game, he probably will not be starting a match against the Ventura County Fusion this year.
Does the presence of not-so-PDL ready players at a tryout bother Schantz?
"It's great for Tucson," Schantz said.
"Those guys get to train at a great facility in an extremely professional environment," he said. "They can say, 'Hey, I tried out for FC Tucson.'"
"The team is for the community, for the fans. We don't want to turn anyone down."
But Donny Toia is on there too
Schantz also said that many FC Tucson players from last season would be returning. Most notably Carlos Montes.
The news about Montes will be particularly special to FC Tucson's supporter's group, the Cactus Pricks, since the banner they designed last season features Montes's face.
And the Cactus Pricks are all about recycling.