FC Tucson soccer
Revs defeat FC Tucson
Tucsonenses put up spirited fight in tilt against MLS side
FC Tucson's Miloš Dragić scored a goal in the final minutes of a preseason match against the New England Revolution, but Tucson fell to the Major League Soccer team by a score of 2-1. Both New England goals were scored by their Gambian players, Sainey Nyassi and Kenny Mansally.
The tune-up match was the first against outside competition for both teams and followed an unusual format: two periods of 35 minutes followed by a final 45 minute period.
Tucson's back line, helmed by center backs Connor Spence and Kareem Smith, kept New England scoreless in the first period despite the Revolution holding possession for most of the frame. New England outside midfielder Jeremiah White was particularly troublesome because of his speed, but Tucson's new keeper Cody Suppe was able to save his shots.
The first Rev goal came after the break, when their first-round draft pick Kelyn Rowe sent a cross to Nyassi, who headed it past Suppe in the 37th minute.
The third "half" started with a raft of changes for both teams. Most notably for the Revs was the replacement of long-time netminder Matt Reis with backup Bobby Shuttleworth.
FC Tucson was able to keep the Revs from scoring, until the 89th minute when Artery Martinez was whistled for a take down of the Revolution's Ryan Kinne in the penalty box. Suppe, who was one of the few players to stay in for all 115 minutes, made a bad guess and dove the wrong way as Mansally calmly placed it in the back of the net.
Both the Revs and Tucsonenses had one more group of changes to make. It wasn't long afterward that Tucson's Dragić took advantage of a Revs error and hit a low ball that snuck past Shuttleworth for Tucson's only goal of the match.
In the final moments, right winger Juan Mendez tried to even it up with two shots on the Revs goal. Neither of his spirited attempts was on frame and the final whistle blew.
'They did Tucson proud'
Head coach Rick Schantz was more than a little happy about the performance of his team against the big boys.
"They were expected to fall apart, but they did a great job."
Schantz had particular praise for the defensive tandem of Connor Spence and a new team member, Kareem Smith.
"Our center backs were fantastic, our outside backs were great too," he said, although he lamented that due to the Revs speed on the wings, the outside backs were unable to push up.
FC Tucson general manager Jonathan Pearlman, who had a hand in bringing Smith to the team, called his performance "tremendous."
Schantz had high praise for his entire squad.
"They did Tucson proud. They made the badge on that shirt a little shinier."
After a performance like that, maybe a bit of hyperbole is called for.
The Revs speak
Newly installed Revolution head coach Jay Heaps was satisfied with the competition provided by FC Tucson.
"They were a physical team, had some pace. They were tough to break down, which is always what you want in your first couple of challenges," Heaps said after the game.
"They were a good team, they made us work hard," said the Revolution's Benny Feilhaber. This is the second of three trips Feilhaber will made to Arizona this pre-season. He came here last week as part of the U.S. National team and will return with the Revs for the Desert Diamond Cup.
Heaps admits that the Revs have some more work to do before they face MLS opponents in that return to our state at the end of next month.
"We have a long way to go," he said.
"We're starting to establish that we are a possession oriented team. We want to keep the ball and we did that tonight. But, we didn't break guys down; we didn't get in behind; we weren't as dangerous as we wanted to be. That's something we're going to work on."
"They were accommodative, they let us choose the halves and the time," Heaps said, referring to the unusually long match broken into three periods. "Rick [Schantz] was really good about that."
Schantz was happy to follow Heaps's wishes, and not just because he wanted to be good to a team that he'll be hosting in a few weeks.
"I think they expected me to react differently, but I figure that the more minutes my players are exposed to MLS is good."
The unusual format was because Heaps wanted to give his core players a longer time on the field with a seventy-minute "game within a game" as he called it. This is longer than the sixty minutes they have been playing in practice.
This also enabled him to get a few newer players who aren't yet match fit into a game situation: two Colombian players, Fernando Cardenas and John Lozano are new to camp this week. Jeremiah White played his last competitive match for GKS Bełchatów in the 2010 Polish Ekstraklasa season.
"It was amazing," said Miloš Dragić of his first goal scored against a professional team.
"We played well, even though we really didn't know each other that well," he said of his teammates.
There is a core of local players on the squad, many of whom are familiar with each other, but then there are also Phoenix area players like Dragić plus some that come from either further afield.
Kareem Smith hails not from Arizona but for Trinidad and Tobago. He has five caps for his national team and has previous experience with Klaksvíkar Ítróttarfelag in the Faroe Islands and United Petrotrin back home in Trinidad. He's new to FC Tucson but feels he fits in with the team.
"I had a good time playing with my fellow center back, Connor [Spence]. The whole team played solid. I liked the way the defense was organized."
Smith has a background playing against professionals, but many of his fellow players don't. He admits that many were "tense" and had "a bit of nerves."
"They are above the average because they are professional, but a lot of our guys have the potential to play on the professional level. Once they felt they could play with these guys, they were more confident on the ball."
"Fitness wise? We still need to work. We're about 70% ready," said forward Miloš Dragić describing one issue common to teams in a pre-season, even more so to one that is not a pro side.
Rick Schantz pointed to the issue as well, especially seeing as how the outside midfielders couldn't keep up with the Revs as the game wore on.
"Their guys were shot out of a cannon; ours were shot out of a sling shot," he said.
Fitness will not be the only issue in upcoming matches for the squad.
FC Tucson is scheduled for a closed door scrimmage against San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday. San Jose, like the Revolution, is rebuilding their squad this year. Despite this, Schantz thinks they will be a bit more wary of Tucson than the Revs were.
"San Jose will know about this game," he said, "and no one wants to be the guys that lose to FC Tucson."
There are also upcoming scrimmages against Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake. Both teams were strong contenders for MLS Cup last season.
Kansas City, unlike New England, doesn't have any questions about who will bring the goals. C. J. Sapong, Teal Bunbury and Kei Kamara gave defenses fits all last season, a fact not lost on Schantz.
"If all three forwards play, we are up against it."
RSL will make for another tough opponent.
"Salt Lake is the most attractive, quick passing team in the league. They could pick us apart."
There would be no shame in losing to any of those teams. After the performance against the Revs, how does Schantz think FC Tucson will do when the PDL season starts?
"I think we'll win more than we'll lose," he said.